Here at PACEY we recently released the policy briefing, Towards an Early Years Workforce Development Strategy for England. But what are practitioners really thinking about their career development? Andrea Turner, PACEY Associate, childminder and trainer delves deeper into how the early years workforce has developed over the years and looks ahead to what the strategy could mean for practitioners.
The Good Old Days
As a somewhat reflective practitioner, I’ve learned that often the solution to today’s problems can be found in the past.
In those halcyon days small comforts, like abundant free training sessions in local public buildings, with urns of tea and coffee, twin-wrapped posh biscuits and finger buffets, made the early years workforce feel valued and appreciated.
We were being pampered because we deserved it for giving up our evenings and weekends for free - because we were doing it for the children.
Those days are well and truly over. But I don’t think we should get over it – I think this is the first problem that needs fixing.
And trust me, our LA early years teams are no happier about the absence of funding for this now than we are. They are all too aware of the impact this has had on our collective morale.
The second problem is better hidden - a lot less bemoaned – but it is no less significant.
When did Continuous Personal and Professional Development (CPPD) drop its first P?
When I started my teaching career in the lifelong learning sector I was perceived as a whole person. My potential was nurtured. My passion was stoked. My progress was supported. I had excellent leaders, mentors and tutors every step of the way. Special people who understood the challenges and demands of the early years workforce.
But my ongoing development wasn’t restricted to my professional role alone - there was another equally valued, equally vital element: my personal development.
I don’t know when, or why, the first P was dropped but it was definitely a turning point.
It was at this very point when our ‘leaders’ became unconcerned with developing the whole person, unconcerned with helping us to develop life skills that are useful to us both at work and outside of work, unconcerned with how [un]fulfilled and [un]appreciated we felt.
What our leaders need to remember is that we were all initially motivated to become early years practitioners when we joined the profession and what we really need is to be looked after to ensure we want to stay.
So, what demotivates us? Well, the root causes of motivational problems include: lack of training, lack of recognition and praise and limited opportunity for advancement (Cowley, 2011). It’s hardly rocket science is it?
What’s even worse is that it switched off those learners before we even got a chance to switch them on - those who had done little formal learning since leaving school, if any at all, but who have the essential skills and experience so desperately needed in the sector.
But don’t take my word for it. A 2015 Nursery World survey highlighted that practitioners are leaving the childcare sector because they feel unable to progress, whilst 88 percent of settings said that level two staff are quitting as a result of the GCSE requirements and the need for level three training.
The current situation
I’ve met, taught, mentored and worked with incredibly effective practitioners who have no qualifications higher than level two. Some with even less than that. Similarly, I’ve met, mentored and worked with woefully inept practitioners who have levels five, six, and even seven qualifications.
Some of us have it and some of us just don’t. What’s absent is the enthusiasm, the energy, the enjoyment.
That’s why we have outstanding practitioners who don’t have degrees and settings where there are a number of graduates and yet still don’t reach the standards to become graded outstanding.
And I’ve seen those same practitioners wondering why they even bothered to go to university at all when they’re still given no extended responsibilities, no pay increment, and no opportunities for further development.
We’re haemorrhaging graduates. We haven’t shown them the different career paths and specialisms they can enjoy and achieve within early years and this is where we’re going wrong.
Around one in five childcare providers told PACEY last year that they were unsure whether they’d be working in childcare in a year’s time, and that poor levels of pay and confidence in the sector is low.
Expanding on this, that’s in theory potentially 80,000 of the 400,000 practitioners thinking that they might leave the early years sector this year.
So what are we doing to improve this?
PACEY’s chief executive, Liz Bayram, declared that “the Government needs to put in place strategies to support and incentivise practitioners throughout their careers [and] address both how to encourage new entrants into the profession, as well as helping those already working in the sector to progress their careers”.
An aspirational early years workforce development strategy for England has been produced by PACEY.
- Addressing increasing qualification levels
- Identifying career pathways and progression
- Recognising and encouraging continuing development
- Better promoting the early years profession to the wider public, particularly to potential entrants who may not have previously considered it.
A different approach to CPD
Where settings identify and ‘buy in’ training these tend to be one-off events, an approach which lacks the challenge and support from a knowledgeable mentor over time which can lead to more integrated, embedded professional development.
Savvy CPPD providers are on to this and we’re seeing the emergence of more and more courses accredited and linked to the Common Core Skills and Knowledge with immediate access to apprenticeships, pathways to employment and continuous support within the workplace.
Perhaps it’s time the government considered a requirement for a minimum level of CPPD for all practitioners as is required of other professionals. Time to stop doing training for training’s sake, just to rack up the hours and gather a collection of meaningless certificates of attendance.
After the funding of the training or qualification, the most challenging thing about actually participating in further and higher education is the time management. The balancing act with family, work, study. This takes careful planning and discipline.
But just like the children we care for, we can’t be forced to learn – we can only hope to create the conditions in which we feel motivated to learn. It’s no different for practitioners. PACEY’s workforce strategy is helping open that conversation – what would work for you?
About the author
Andrea is a Registered Childminder who leads a small outstanding team of skilled and experienced practitioners. Andrea has been a member of PACEY since 2004 and, through her commitment to CPD, has achieved Fellow-Ambassador membership status. She has been a PACEY Associate for over 2 years and has her own early years training and consultancy business. She enjoys working with children, parents and carers and the wider children’s workforce. Her enthusiasm for raising the quality of childcare and education is matched only by her passion for improving outcomes for children, especially the most deprived and vulnerable.