Provision for ‘Under 3s’ in Australian Early Childhood Education and Care Policy Commitments: A Metaphorical Canary in the Coal Mine?

  • Jennifer SumsionEmail author
Part of the Policy and Pedagogy with Under-three Year Olds: Cross-disciplinary Insights and Innovations book series (Policy pedagogy under-three year olds)


In this chapter, I make use of the concepts of events and order-words from philosophers Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari to ask “What work does the construct or category of ‘under 3s’ perform?” Taking two key events within the Australian policy context [2007–2015] in which under 3s performed an order-word in contrasting ways, I contend that with respect to policy commitments to the provision of a national system of high quality early childhood education and care, the category under 3s may serve similar functions to a ‘canary in the coal mine’. This idiomatic English language phrase refers to an advance warning of danger ahead. It originates from the days when underground miners carried caged canaries. If there were no noxious gases in the mine, the canary would survive yet another day. If noxious gases were present in the mine, the canary would perish before the levels of the gas reached those hazardous to humans. Employing this metaphor, I argue that in the current Australian context, ‘under 3s’ are at risk of being seen by the Australian Government as a category for whom policy commitments, particularly with respect to educator qualification requirements, are as expendable as the miners’ canaries. Endangered policy commitments to under 3 could portend further dangers ahead for efforts to achieve systemic and sustainable high quality ECEC.


Productivity Commission Policy Commitment National Quality Framework Early Year Learn Framework Australian Early Childhood 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Albrecht-Crane, C. (2005). Style, stutter. In C. J. Stivale (Ed.), Gilles Deleuze: Key concepts (pp. 121–130). Stocksfield: Acumen.Google Scholar
  2. Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority. (n.d.). The national quality standard. Retrieved August 8, 2014, from
  3. Australian Government Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations. (2009). Belonging, being & becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from
  4. Australian Government Productivity Commission. (2013). Childcare and early childhood learning: Productivity Commission issues paper Canberra: Productuvity Commission. Retrieved from
  5. Australian Government Productivity Commission. (2014). Childcare and early childhood learning: Overview and recommendations, Inquiry report no. 73. Canberra: Retrieved from
  6. Bown, K., Sumsion, J., & Press, F. (2010). Dark matter: The ‘gravitational pull’ of maternalist discourses on politicians’ decision making for early childhood policy in Australia. Gender and Education, 23(3), 263–280. doi: 10.1080/09540253.2010.491792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cheeseman, S., Sumsion, J., & Press, F. (2015). Infants of the productivity agenda: Learning from birth or waiting to learn? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 40(3), 38–45.Google Scholar
  8. Davis, B., Torr, J., & Degotardi, S. (2015). Infants and toddlers: How visible are they in the early years learning framework? International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy, 9, 12. doi: 10.1186/s40723-015-0014-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Deleuze, G. (2004). The logic of sense (S. Lester, & C. Stivale, Trans. 2nd ed.). London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  10. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  11. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1994). What is philosophy? (H. Tomlinson, & G. Burchell, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Duhn, I. (2015). Making agency matter: Rethinking infant and toddler agency in educational discourse. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(6), 920–931.Google Scholar
  13. Education Review Office. (2015). Infants and toddlers: Competent and confident communicators and explorers. Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved from
  14. Fenech, M., Sumsion, J., & Goodfellow, J. (2008). Regulation and risk: Early childhood education and care services as sites where the ‘laugh of Foucault’ resounds. Journal of Education Policy, 23(1), 35–48. doi: 10.1080/02680930701754039.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Giugni, M. (2011). ‘Becoming worldly with’: An encounter with the early years learning framework. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 12(1), 11–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Grieshaber, S., & Graham, L. J. (2015). Equity and educators enacting the Australian early years learning framework. Critical Studies in Education, 1–15. doi:  10.1080/17508487.2015.1126328.
  17. Logan, H., Press, F., & Sumsion, J. (2016). The shaping of Australian early childhood education and care: What can we learn from a critical juncture? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 41(1), 64–71.Google Scholar
  18. Massumi, B. (2002). Introduction: Like a thought. In B. Massumi (Ed.), A shock to thought: Expression after Deleuze and Guattari (pp. 13–34). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Millei, Z., & Sumsion, J. (2011). The place of ‘community’ in belonging, being and becoming: An early years learning framework for Australia. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 12(1), 71–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mitchell, L. (2015). Shifting directions in ECEC policy in New Zealand: From a child rights to an interventionist approach. International Journal of Early Years Education, 23(3), 288–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. (2006). Starting strong II: Early childhood education and care. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  22. Peers, C., & Fleer, M. (2014). The theory of ‘belonging’: Defining concepts used within belonging, being and becoming—The Australian early years learning framework. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 46(8), 914–928. doi: 10.1080/00131857.2013.781495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Penn, H. (2011). Policy rationales for early childhood services. International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy, 5(1), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Rutanen, N. (2011). Space for toddlers in the guidelines and curricula for early childhood education and care in Finland. Childhood, 18(4), 526–539. doi: 10.1177/0907568211399366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Salamon, A. (2011). How the early years learning framework can help shift pervasive beliefs of the social and emotional capabilities of infants and toddlers. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 12(1), 4–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Salamon, A., & Harrison, L. (2015). Early childhood educators’ conceptions of infants’ capabilities: The nexus between beliefs and practice. Early Years, 35(3), 273–288. doi: 10.1080/09575146.2015.1042961.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sims, M. (2014). Is the care-education dichotomy behind us? Should it be? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 39(4), 4–11.Google Scholar
  28. Sims, M., Mulhearn, G., Grieshaber, S., & Sumsion, J. (2015). Australian national ECEC reforms, with a focus on the national quality framework and the national quality standard: Expert report for the German Youth Institute. Munich. Retrieved from
  29. Stagoll, C. (2010). Event. In A. Parr (Ed.), The Deleuze dictionary (Rev. ed., pp. 89–91). New York: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Sumsion, J., Barnes, S., Cheeseman, S., Harrison, L., Kennedy, A., & Stonehouse, A. (2009). Insider perspectives on developing belonging, being & becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 34(4), 4–13.Google Scholar
  31. Tayler, C. (2011). Changing policy, changing culture: Steps toward early learning quality improvement in Australia. International Journal of Early Childhood, 43(3), 211–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. White, J., & Mika, C. (2013). Coming of age: Infants and toddlers in curriculum. In J. Nuttall (Ed.), Weaving Te Whāriki: Aotearoa New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum document in theory and practice (2nd ed., pp. 93–113). Wellington: NZCER Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and EducationCharles Sturt UniversityBathurstAustralia

Personalised recommendations