'Why do we find love so difficult in education?'

Let's put love into education – it should be at the heart of early learning and childcare policies, says Jane Malcolm

Jane Malcolm

Valentine's Day: FE staff share the love

Four years ago, when I began my doctoral research study on love and education, I found the response to my topic was often the same: disbelief and doubt. Love wasn’t an academic enough topic to study at PhD level, it seemed.

However, I now find myself in demand as one of the researchers who is brave enough to challenge people to think about how we embed love in practice. There are a number of studies considering love in practice, and my research adds to this body of research by exploring how love is managed and the influence it has on the identity of lead professionals.

It’s without doubt that the idea of love is very complex. I spent many months trying to conceptualise and define love in early years, only to get to a point where I reluctantly said it was too complex. However, analysing the language used by the participants in my study revealed that love is already there in practice. What needs to catch up is the language used in the policies and practice guidance that support the management of love. I have developed a model that represents what I have called “love-led practice”.

This model defines what makes up love in practice, and supports detailed reflection of how love is delivered. Having created the model, I turned my attentions to participants’ own experiences of love. These proved crucial to their own understanding of the delivery of love in their settings. Recognition of the impact of personal experiences allows for reflection upon what professional development might be required – this is where the love-led practice model can come in and provide support.

Show me the love in Scottish education

Next, I turned my focus to the language used around love. Lead professionals, who worked in various roles with the early learning and childcare sector, spoke of staff just having “it”. When pressed on what “it” was, many – somewhat reluctantly – said love.

There is a reticence to admit to delivering love-led practice. Getting to the heart of the reasons for this became the core of my research study. Examination of key documents in early learning and childcare in Scotland shows that, whilst love was in evidence. there was much more emphasis put on safer words such as “nurturing” and “attachment”. This needs to change for lead professionals to be free to deliver love-led practice with professionalism and integrity.

Within Scotland there has, however, been a significant shift in thinking, with the current government’s 2018-19 programme stating that: “We want all our children to grow up in a supportive environment where we invest significantly in their future – not just financially – but also with time, energy and love”.

Now is the time to capitalise on this shift in thinking and really push to embed love, not in a tokenistic way but really get it at the heart of our early learning and childcare policy in Scotland.

I have been asked several times, at what point did we lose love in early years? My answer is that it has never gone away, but the policy discourse has perhaps prevented the delivery of love-led practice. It’s now time to get love back.

Jane Malcolm in a final-year PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh and policy manager in Scotland for the National Day Nurseries Association. She blogs and tweets @JaneMalcolm7

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Jane Malcolm

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