Professional Identity of the Early Childhood Professional

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Depending on who you ask, an Early Childhood professional comes in many forms within the Early Years Sector. A teacher, a nursery nurse, childminder and family support worker, but it is important to recognise that they come in all positions depending on the setting that they work within. No hierarchy or status needed here within this blog. For me, if you work in Early Years 0-5 you are an Early Childhood Professional.

As a Senior lecturer I work with students and practitioners who are already in the Early Childhood workforce in England. The majority of these are working in day nurseries and I am also fortunate to have Childminders as part of my teaching group. It is the continued discussions that we have that has given me an insight into writing this blog post and to start to understand the professional identity that is upheld within the sector. I am aware that many of them are working through a period of change, similar to the one in 2008, as outlined by (Nutbrown & Page, 2008). I am aware of the current frustration that these practitioners feel by the changing boundaries, expectations and the requirements that are externally monitored and imposed on them and within their practice.

The Early Years Framework has recently been updated in the revised Early Years Foundation Stage. The continued loss of Sure Start and the Schoolification of the Birth to Three Matters, which gave support and guidance for those working with the youngest of children, has been removed for a while now. It is the involvement of central Government and external voices that are continually changing and being adopted that is impacting the lives of young children. I question whether the voice is holistic, and whether the 0-3 age range is being forgotten? The current Government rhetoric is definitely about ‘school readiness’ and less about child development.

Moss (2010) contends that there is a relation to the early childhood worker and their professionalism and now their identity within the Early Years currently. It makes me feel uneasy that a relationship where we once stood together, shoulder to shoulder, is now being eroded by large egos and voices which are not wholly Early Childhood. It is the compulsory education system which relates to the current professional identity with Qualified Teacher Status. But where does that leave everyone else? The professional identity currently holds a boundary or divide in practice between professionals in schools, maintained sector and the professionals within the private sector. I echo many voices within the Early Childhood professions that this divide is growing. It is with this in mind that the voice within Early Childhood needs to highlight that professionals have an outstanding role to play from conception to the age of 5. This echo chamber is not new, McGillivray, 2008 outlined the divide between care and education, competing with each other rather than working collaboratively together.

Some will relate to this, not all, and across England many PVI and Maintained services work in tandem together. But the voices of the PVI sector, mainly my connections and colleagues, feel that their professional identity is being continually questioned.

The identity of the Early Childhood professional has to be taken into account to be able to move forwards and allow a much more coherent approach, where the child is the main outcome and not the continual battle of status or setting. The Early Childhood workforce is a complex organism; a community that can be made up of a range of different roles and job titles and the work they undertake is carried out in a variety of settings in which the EYFS is delivered. It is sometimes the range of titles for people working with young children that gives a false sense of belonging for the professional. The different job titles give a different understanding of their identity; such as a nursery nurse, early years’ educator, practitioner or teacher. This could lead to some confusion for those not working within the Early Childhood Workforce and further embed the sense of confusion which, in turn, could impact on the discourse of professionalism within the sector.

There have been many initiatives to raise the bar when it comes to Early Years practice. There were many leadership statuses including the Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) and the Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS). However, it is important to recognise that these are mostly post graduate roles. So, what about the rest of the workforce – no status, low pay, but they are very much informing practice, acting as agents of change and raising standards of their settings. But due to not holding a status, and for many reasons, they often do not get the recognition which is upheld from the sector.

It is this which got me thinking.
Let’s take a look at the current necessary qualification level within the Early Childhood Sector

Yes, you have to have a level 3 qualification. There is no requirement to have anyone higher than this. Plus, it is up to the setting if they have a Graduate Leader to support with teaching, pedagogy and lead practice. There are 27,200 nurseries and pre-schools in England, offering places to 1 million children. They cover 80% of all childcare places on Ofsted’s Early Years Register (EYR). The remaining 20% of places are provided by childminders (19%) and childcare on domestic premises (less than 1%). With more than 9 out of 10 providers judged good or outstanding, the level of quality in the sector is high (Ofsted 2018).

As this equates to such a large proportion of the workforce, I start to question where voice of the profession has gone. We have recently seen the rise in parts of the children’s workforce with the outcomes of the Chartered College of Teaching. I cannot currently join this as I am in Higher Education, but many of my colleagues and friends who are teachers feel that it has made a positive impact, not just for themselves but the teaching profession as a whole.

So, my question is, why can’t we have a Chartered College of Early Childhood? A body that oversees the skills and behaviours of the profession. It doesn’t even need to be for anyone with higher education, but a platform that is recognised on practice and professional identity within the sector. It would be similar in process where Early Childhood professionals are supported, celebrated and most importantly raising the status of the sector. I don’t know about you, but its sometimes being recognised for the role you do, the impact that you are making and having this recognised with a fellowship. The fellowship could have different levels depending on experience and level of service etc. I feel until we take the role of the Early Childhood Professional to a new level, we will always be divided. It isn’t about the pay for me here; for me, being recognised and valued as a fellow for the practice and pedagogy I do makes me feel a sense of belonging, identity for the role I do and the big tick for the knowledge that I have gained by being a part of the reflective, robust approach to becoming a fellow. It will be a certain feeling of the Early Childhood Professional, which I will always be. You never lose it, trust me.

If there is to be a reconceptualization of professionalism within the Early Childhood Workforce, there is a need to see far more celebration around the unique nature of the sector and the evolving quality of early childhood practice (Dalli, 2008, p. 174). For those who work in the sector, self-evaluation (Jones & Pound, 2008) provides a context where best practice can be demonstrated through critical reflection. As educators, it is important therefore to provide our students, practitioners and professionals with not only the tools to engage in this activity, but also the conditions of time, space and opportunity which will allow these skills to be nurtured and developed (Moyles, 2001). In doing this, it is hoped that an emerging workforce will claim and own their professional identities in such a way that the nature of childcare and education gains some of the value and status it deserves. So, let’s start to make the changes we need. If you would like to speak with me about the above let’s start the dialogue and change the script.

(My mentor says this all the time, can you guess who it is?) …..

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