Friday, 5 August 2016

Professionalism in the Early Years - What Does it Mean to Practitioners?

Author: Amalia Austin, Newly Qualified Nanny (NQN), Set 37

Amalia is now a
Newly Qualified Nanny
I was thrilled in February 2013 to be offered a place at Norland and start to fulfil my goal of becoming an outstanding Early Years practitioner (EYP) and Norland Nanny. However, teachers and family members asked me, ‘if you want to work with children, why don’t you do something worthwhile and train as a primary teacher?’ It was this which inspired me in my final year to explore why working in the Early Years seemingly achieves lower regard than other vocational roles, such as teaching and nursing. Here I explore how I undertook my research and some of the key findings and subsequent recommendations I put forward to improve professionalism in the Early Years sector, with specific focus on the role of a Nanny.

The aims of the research project were to investigate and analyse the factors which EYPs believe contribute to their overall professionalism, as well as examine the effect professionalism has on their practice. 

Research Methods

I decided the best data collection method for this project was a questionnaire with a mix of qualitative and quantitative questions to allow for in depth analysis. I asked for responses from practitioners in a day nursery in Bath, from students and lecturers at Norland College and from a wider network of EYPs via a social media site. All of the participants were asked the following questions:

Please briefly define professionalism, as you understand it
How long have you worked as an EYP?
Why did you decide to become an EYP?
What are the most satisfying aspects of your job?
What are the least satisfying aspects of your job?
To what extent do you feel professionalism is important for an EYP? Why?
To what extent do you feel professionalism influences your practice as an EYP?
In what ways do you feel professionalism influences your practice as an EYP?
What factors do you feel are a barrier to your professionalism as an EYP?

The response was overwhelming; the questionnaire was completed 60 times in just 36 hours and I had my data! 

What I found out 

The responses showed that EYPs recognise the significance of their role within the sector in ‘achieving’ and ‘improving’ outcomes for children. However, it also showed that this recognition is not perceived by EYPs from the government and other professionals, and this ‘lack of recognition’ is a barrier to professionalism and can be demotivating to practitioners within the Early Years sector. 

Amalia supporting the
'Lace Up For Bones' initiative
in her Norland College uniform
Conversely, respondents noted ‘applying theory to practice’ as a satisfying element of the role and the ‘bad practice’ of others as a barrier to professionalism. This highlights the significance of how effective training is linked to job satisfaction and quality of practice, as supported by Martin et al (2010), who outline the link between training and increased professionalism. This is also supported by Jorde-Bloom (1988) who notes the relationship between professionalism, job satisfaction and effort. EYPs are willing to expand on the role, suggesting that the greater the professionalism, the greater the resultant perception of professionalism, quality of practice and achievement of positive outcomes for the children. 

The research identified ‘bad practice’ and ‘lack of regulation’ as barriers to professionalism. This suggests that either current qualifications do not sufficiently prepare EYPs to deliver effective and professional practice, or that training is not sufficiently exacting to deliver the standard of practice necessary to acquire professional status. 

One of the things that stood out to me in the responses was that to most EYPs professionalism was not about the need for reward, but more about the service provision, regulation and standards, personal characteristics and recognition of the workforce as a profession. In short most EYPs are seeking greater recognition and accountability for their profession and themselves as professionals. Whilst they value the work they do, they feel undervalued by society, something I can relate to from the reactions I initially received from friends and family when choosing Norland. 

How do we raise professionalism in Early Years? 

Based on my research I think raising professionalism in Early Years requires a predominantly top-down approach to make real changes. Other than modelling the characteristics of professionalism as defined by EYPs, more needs to be done to recognise the profession as exactly that. Therefore, the recommendations I put forward below are directed not just towards my fellow Newly Qualified Nannies (NQNs) or other EYPs, but towards policy makers for the workforce:
  1. More rigorous and clear qualifications system for EYPs, in alignment with the findings of the Nutbrown Review.
  2. Regulation / registration of Nannies - The research supports a recommendation to regulate aspects of practice.  Consideration of this, alongside the EYFS (2014) concept of the Unique Child and the findings of the REPEY report (Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2002) which suggests that standardising practice would be counter-intuitive to delivering effective practice, it is recommended that EYPs could be regulated through the use of a registration number upon qualifying, as suggested by the Regulation Matters Campaign and in the manner of EYPs with Early Years Professional Status (Teaching Agency, 2012). This could then be used to enforce and monitor a sector-wide code of ethics and a requirement to access a requisite number of hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) each year.
  3. The research suggests that action be taken to alleviate poor conditions, through streamlining the amount of paperwork expected of EYPs and that the financial barriers should be alleviated through increased funding to the sector, as well as increased rates of pay for EYPs. 

I believe that, whilst I am among many Early Years practitioners who consider themselves to be a professional, until this is recognised by the government and other professionals, EYPs will struggle to achieve the status so many in the sector believe and feel the career deserves. 

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