In 2007, as part of its plans to raise standards in early years education, the Government introduced Early Years Professional Status (EYPS). The move to introduce a graduate to every setting, it is argued, effectively imposed ‘professionalism’ on the sector. Furthermore, the suggestion that enhancing competencies or upskilling the workforce in a formal way will lead to the value of the early years’ workforce being held in high esteem is arguably both, “a model of social engineering” (Osgood, 2006) and “alienating rhetoric” (Freire, 1970). Asserting that credentials could assist practitioners in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities implies a level of deficiency, a manufactured crisis justifying intervention.
This “discourse of deficiency” Osgood (2009) has contested is simply a way in which professionalism is reconceptualised and ignores the “vibrant and complex practices” of the early years practitioner (Dalli, 2008), increasing “the fears of the oppressed consciousness” (Freire, 1970). The “paucity of the contribution [to reform initiatives] by recognised childhood experts” also continues to raise concern within the early years community about “the appropriateness of their rationale and foundation” (Rodd, 2013).
As a consequence of the focus on upskilling, the identity of the early years’ workforce has become inextricably linked to the notion of professionalism and there are tensions “between a workforce that is construed as caring, maternal and gendered, as opposed to professional, degree educated and highly trained” (McGillivray, 2008). This tension is exacerbated by characteristics of the workforce such as accessibility and familiarity not generally associated with careers perceived by society as being highly professional, in contrast to medicine or law, which are surrounded by “a professional mystique that induces trust in professional expertise and respect for authority” (Hargreaves & Hopper, 2006).
The importance of dynamic relationships within the early years, which are under constant reconstruction and are the site of shared meaning-making, are therefore in danger of being misunderstood. The qualifications agenda raises questions about power, access and transparency, potentially devaluing and oppressing the lived experiences of practitioners and their diverse communities of practice grounded in an ethic of care and encounter rather than fixed political agendas.
Arguably, the Government should give value to the professionalism embedded in the sector, reflective of the way in which the World Economic Forum (2017) regards “human capital” as being a “dynamic rather than a fixed concept”, not strictly defined by qualifications. Human capital, akin to professional status, is not a finite construct, it is acquired over time, unfolding through growing use or experience and emerging from reciprocal relationships (World Economic Forum, 2017).
If society takes the view that members of the early years’ workforce are “active and reflexive agents…constructing their own professionalism” from diverse sources (Simpson, 2010) then we, as a nation, ought to be scathing of any neo-liberal discourse which ultimately aims to disempower, normalise and regulate their autonomy under the guise of the formal qualifications and in the name of attaining better outcomes for children (Osgood, 2006). Rather than wield professionalism as a tool, governments and professional bodies should welcome practitioners into a dialogue as a way of legitimising reform (Freire, 1970), recognising “their capacity to step up to the role of leading pedagogical conversations” not only in their classrooms, but on a political stage.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. St Ives: Penguin Random House.
Hargreaves, L. and Hopper, B. (2006). Early years, low status? Early years teachers’ perceptions of their occupational status. Early Years, 26(2), 171–186.
McGillivray, G. (2008). Nannies, nursery nurses and early years professionals: constructions of professional identity in the early years workforce in England. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 16(2), 242-254.
Osgood, J. (2006). Deconstructing professionalism in early childhood education: Resisting the regulatory gaze. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 7(1), 5–14.
Osgood, J. (2009). Childcare Workforce Reform in England and ‘the early years professional’: A Critical Discourse Analysis. Journal of Education Policy, 24(6), 733–751.
Rodd, J. (2013). Leadership in Early Childhood. (4th ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Simpson, D. (2010). Being professional? Conceptualising early years professionalism in England. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 18(1), 5–14.
World Economic Forum. (2017). The Global Human Capital Report. Retrieved from the World Economic Forum website: https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-human-capital-report-2017