Where is the care for our caring professions?
Nursery Nurse or NNEB was synonymous with quality training and preparation for a role with children aged from 0-7 years, until the mid-1990’s, when the NNEB merged with CACHE. The name always appeared to be slightly old fashioned and out of kilter with the roles in the sector at that time. Nursery Nursing, harks back to the Victorian era of governesses and nannies, who “nursed” young children. Nevertheless, I remember telling people proudly, that I was going to do my NNEB qualification and the response I received was often dismissive and clearly a less valuable route; in their eyes, than doing A levels. “So, you’ve got to learn to care for kids”, or a pitying “you didn’t get good GCSE’s then”, were frequent responses, much to my frustration. It was clear to me, that caring for children was not considered a profession, but a vocation and as a result it was instantly devalued. I was also informed by my own college tutors over 20 years ago, “nobody does this job for the wages, they do it because they care!”. Care and caring are significant and fundamental parts of Early Years practice, alongside a deep understanding of children’s development and the ability to provide rich and varied environment with passionate and highly skilled practitioners.
Where is the care, respect, and recognition for the practitioners? Who values them? Who supports them? Who looks after their rights and continual professional development to ensure that they can provide the children, with the best start in life?
I cannot help but make comparisons to the challenges faced by the NHS at present. As a society we have come to rely upon the exceptional care that the NHS provides …except in the recent pandemic when it has been utterly overwhelmed. Operations and key services have been cancelled leading to extended waiting lists and conditions becoming more acute and harder to treat. As we begin to emerge from the depths of the Covid pandemic, the wider caring roles within our society have once again been put under the spotlight. The media report stories of a “care staff shortage” and warning that our most vulnerable members of society may be left without the support or care needed during this winter. The country came together in recent months, to celebrate the commitment given by health care professionals and key workers in recognition of the impact they had upon so many people’s lives, but the vacancies are not attracting the applications due to the lack of recognition, low wages, and long working hours. Does this sound familiar, Early Years colleagues?
In recent months, the Early Years workforce are once again facing a recruitment and funding crisis. As a result of the pandemic and the lack of support for the sector, many of our skilled professionals have left the sector, as wages are higher in other industries such as hospitality and leisure. The sector is facing significant challenges as there are fewer skilled professionals to mentor the next generation of the workforce. Many students in their 3rd year of an Early Years (or similar) degree are planning their next steps, are realising that the wages for an Early Years graduate are often the same as a practitioner with a level 3 qualification. I am frequently asked “so why did we do a degree?”. Graduates are quickly drawn to the higher paid roles, often in teaching, which leaves a void in our existing Early Years workforce. We have a leaky sieve!!
Now, as an academic working at a university, colleagues, students, and stakeholders have all discussed their frustrations that Early Years is still seem as a “babysitting” or “childcare” job, not as a professional discipline. The Early Years sector has been “used” during the pandemic and have been frequently framed as “looking after” children, whilst parents go to work in other industries. This is not to identify parents as the issue here, merely to indicate that the sector has been trampled on to the point where we are now facing an Early Years Climate Crisis. The roles that exist including childminders, Level 3 Practitioners, and graduates, need to be celebrated and recognised for their significant contribution to the lives of children and families. The roles are complex, demanding and ever changing due to the government priorities, which is guided by a fundamental misunderstanding of “play based pedagogy” and the role of caring, in Early Childhood development.
A radical overhaul of the funding of the Early Years is needed to raise the profile and recognition of the discipline. These funding issues have wider implications for parents who have a require access to affordable Early high quality Early Years Care and Education, whilst they work, but also to iron out the creases between the PVI and the maintained sector. These measures might encourage more graduates to consider careers in Early Years (rather than it being used as a stepping-stone) and remain in roles which have a significant impact upon the outcomes of children.
Why do we value care when we are in need of it, but quickly dismiss it when the need has gone…how very Mary Poppins!