Tensions between quantity and quality in social investment agendas: Working conditions of ECEC teaching staff in Italy and Spain

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© The Author(s) 2018. Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) has become a strategic component of the Social Investment (SI) paradigm. Growth in this field of social policy – quantified as an increase in public spending and coverage rates – is often taken as indicative of a wider attempt to reformulate welfare state intervention through an SI approach. However, SI agendas have produced differentiated impacts in different contexts. In scenarios of budget restraints, some governments have increased coverage and controlled costs at the same time by allowing for higher staff-to-child ratios and group sizes, externalizing management costs or worsening the working conditions of professionals. These strategies can severely compromise the quality of the provision offered. This is likely to have more effect in those contexts in which provision needs to be developed under more stringent conditions of financial viability. The article analyses two such cases, Italy and Spain, where general conditions of permanent austerity are combined with a comparatively reduced capacity for public spending. Focusing on the qualifications and the working conditions of professionals working in ECEC as a fundamental aspect of the quality of provision, this article compares the two segments of ECEC: early child development (0–2) and pre-primary education (3–5), in both Italy and Spain since the early 1990s. The working conditions of primary school teachers are taken as a frame of reference. We conclude that, despite the fact that there has been an overall expansion of ECEC in both countries, only the (early) policy developments in pre-schooling can be seen as conforming to what have lately been codified as the principles of an SI strategy; at the same time an evident tension exists between the expansion and the quality of provision in the more recent development of childcare services for very young children.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)564-576
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of European social policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Childcare
  • Early childhood education
  • Italy
  • Social Investment
  • Spain
  • Working conditions,


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