Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The importance of being educated

I am convinced that further education for staff in the early years is the midwife that will deliver better ways of working from an old body of traditions and practices.

There is still some scepticism about early childhood studies degrees and the early years professional status. I think the doubters are wrong, and that they are ignoring the incredible potential of the early years workforce. Many committed nursery nurses have been working with young children for decades without proper recognition of their intellectual abilities, their understanding of children's learning, or their insight into the complexity of managing group care. There are thousands of bright, gifted people in the workforce who either did not get to realise their talents in school, or left school early and chose nursery nursing because it allowed them to start earning money at a young age.

The expansion of higher education, with new routes like Foundation Degrees, distance and part-time learning, has opened up study and research to many thousands of adults later in life. In the early years, this has enabled adults to begin to realise their own potential as learners, as well as benefiting the children they work with. It also means that many experienced nursery nurses can position themselves to train as teachers, if they wish to, bringing valuable experience into schools.

It is true that training for EYPs and teachers needs to be improved. But the deficiencies in training and qualifications should not taint the whole project of increasing the number of graduates working in the early years. It is no longer adequate to think that childcare is something that "comes naturally", or is only learnt through experience. Increasingly, working in the early years is about realising how complex care and emotional development are, how important it is to foster children's love of learning, and how effective multi-agency work can be when it is done well.

Few people doubt that the issues around young children are getting steadily more complex, and heated. In this furnace, a good early childhood setting is just the sort of place where parents can feel confident and secure, receive friendly advice, and feel supported.

We can choose to despair about the way things are going for children. Or we can engage with the problems, and try to do better for the next generation - which is exactly what all those early years staff are doing as they further their education.