An analysis of the feasibility of transferring the English Early Excellence Centres (EEC) Programme to early childhood settings in Greece
Worldwide, accumulating evidence indicates an international movement within countries towards the development of integrated early childhood education and care services (OECD, 2001). Not only do demographic trends underscore such a demand, but also extensive research documents the cognitive, social and emotional developmental benefits of high quality integrated provision in early childhood while at the same time contributing to countries’ ability to compete in a global economy (Eming-Young, 2002). This thesis is concerned with an analysis of the feasibility of transferring the English Early Excellence Centres (EEC) Programme to early childhood settings in Greece. The EEC Programme was introduced by the English Government in 1997 to develop and promote models of high quality integrated education and care services for young children and families as an important part of Government’s broad based strategy for increasing opportunities, supporting families, reducing social exclusion, increasing the health of the nation and addressing child poverty. Case studies were constructed at three Early Excellence Centres (EECs) in England - and two key policy makers involved in the programme were also interviewed. The analysis of the interviews, questionnaires and documents collected during the research in England provided useful insights into the development of integrated services at practice and policy level, along with the successes and challenges encountered during the process of change. Further exploratory case study research took place in Greece to examine whether there is the potential and desire to move towards integration. The theory of a ‘tipping point’ (Gladwell, 2000) provided some profoundly suggestive arguments and insights to analyse the processes by which the English EEC Programme developed at policy level, and how it ‘crossed a threshold’, tipped and spread nationally and internationally. In addition, this theory offered a practical thinking tool for constructing a strategy towards integration in Greece. Analysis revealed that a change process towards integration is not easy to manage; is most productively seen as a social process that gradually unfolds over time; and which acknowledges the socio-economic, political and cultural context of each country. This research indicates that keeping our focus on the development of integration at ground level could be an effective starting point in Greece, -but the development and delivery of integrated services also needs local and central support. A strategy towards establishing integrated service provision in Greece needs to explore what already exists and start building on that; to support personal and professional development; to value the participation of parents; to promote research; and to influence policy. This thesis wishes to stimulate debate, to contribute to the limited Greek literature in the area of integrated early childhood services and to be of interest to policy makers and advocates who have the capacity to shape the direction of the early childhood system in Greece.