Friday, 5 June 2009

The Early Years Professional: a missed opportunity?

Professionalism is usually a good thing, but sometimes it is just about defending your own status to keep others down. As a trained teacher, I was really disappointed recently when the National Union of Teachers advised us not to get involved in any toileting or hygiene routines at work, but delegate them to nursery nurses (to read the PDF with this advice on it, click here). I cannot imagine a faster way for a teacher to destroy working relationships than by designating the nursery nurse as sole tissue-dispenser, bottom-wiper and clothes-changer. 

Similarly, I think that many of the objections to the new role of Early Years Professional stem from a simple desire to block change. Some teachers seem to feel threatened because other professionals might be encroaching on our territory. Similarly, many experienced nursery nurses seem to feel it devalues their qualification by bringing in new staff above them on better pay. Objections of this kind are unworthy.  If the EYP role brings about better levels of training, qualification and pay to some of the best early years practitioners, then that is good for the workforce, and good for children too.  

On the other hand, there are some aspects of the Early Years Professional Status which are puzzling. Because there is no national payscale for EYPs, it seems inevitable that most will end up being employed on worse pay and conditions than trained teachers are, so by implication their status will be lower. Similarly, it seems that the training experiences of EYPs can, in practice, be quite varied and therefore legitimate questions can be asked about consistency. As there is no direct observation and assessment of the EYP’s actual work with children, there is significant room for variation in quality of practice - a recent review describes this as a "seriously flawed" process (download the full report here).  Without a probationary period along the lines of the Newly Qualified Year for teachers, there is no further opportunity to ensure quality. And whilst for teachers the first year after qualifying is about consolidating practice, EYPs are expected to go straight into leading change and pedagogy – a challenge for anyone, let alone someone who may only have one year of experience working with young children. 

So, whilst I was very pleased to drink to the success of our most recent EYP candidate at Kate Greenaway recently, I was also left worrying that candidates might work very hard to gain a professional status which is not going to be paid, supported or valued as highly as it should be.