An effective professional development system is essential for your setting. Steve Mynard explains how to set one up.

Feeling confused by the range and diversity of qualifications in the early years? Or, to put it another way, ‘Why can’t we have one system that I can understand instead of all these diplomas and awards?’ We live in times of change, not least in the world of early years qualifications, and the future does look more organised; a clearer Integrated Qualifications Framework is on the horizon. It is important, however, not to wait and see what happens; an effective professional development system in your setting is important right now.

An effective system will allow you to:

  • know what you have in terms of staffing
  • know where you need to go in terms of development
  • know what you need to do in terms of practical action.

The premise of this article is that professional development should be an integral part of the work of your setting for the benefit of the children and for the benefit of the people who work with them.

What is a professional development portfolio?

Put simply a professional development portfolio (PDP) is a file containing a copy of the staff member’s:

  • curricula vitae
  • certificates
  • performance management reviews
  • notes from continuing professional development (CPD) training courses
  • personal notes and personal goals
  • copies of articles or website print-outs of interest to the individual.

It is good practice for all staff members to have a PDP file, including managers. The file itself remains the property of the staff member and is brought along to any review meetings. It is a ‘work in progress’ that is regularly updated.

As well as being essential for the setting, a well maintained PDP will benefit the individual when they apply for other jobs. Moving between settings, building up experience is good practice and a PDP can help your staff to see the bigger picture of their career.

Who is responsible? In some settings it may just be you who manages your operation. In larger settings there may be several managers. Decide how the workload that professional development brings with it will be allocated. Each member of the management team can take responsibility for several members of staff. Managers can manager each other. Managers can meet regularly to review progress. If you are alone in managing your setting try to bring in some form of outside support to help ensure you are getting it right for your setting: you will have an early years team available at LEA level.

A professional development portfolio for your setting: Purchase a lever arch folder and file dividers. Create a section for each member of staff, including yourself. Create additional sections where you can keep a copy of any relevant policies and any government directives or details of local initiatives relevant to professional development. Also have a section for advertising materials for courses that you might like to send staff on.

Your own PDP: Set a good example by starting your own PDP divided into the sections suggested above. Or something similar depending on your circumstances. You may like to buy matching folders for all staff members and design a title page to help create a sense of shared direction. Staff like this sense of belonging in their working relationships. A contents page is also a good idea to help set a standard layout from the start.

Introduce the PDP: At a meeting of all staff explain the importance of professional development and introduce the PDP using your own copy as an example. Stress the following benefits of a PDP:

  • The professional development of individual staff members is of personal benefit to you, the staff, as you develop your careers.
  • Professional development benefits our own setting and the children in our care.
  • This approach indicates to the outside world that we are professionals.

Let staff members know that you will be meeting with each of them to get the process under way. Answer any questions or concerns.

Possible questions and concerns: Staff are bound to have some concerns and it is best to get them out in the open and deal with them early on. Members of staff who have been working with young children for many years may feel a certain degree of resentment about all this having to keep records and justify themselves all the time. Take a positive approach and stress the benefits of professional development for everyone but mostly for the children. Some members of staff may be completely new to the early years and may feel overwhelmed by all this talk of professional development and files and meetings. Reassurance is important in this situation; make sure they know they will be supported throughout the process and can come to you with any questions.

Interview your staff: Meet with each member of staff and give them their folder. Ask them to start work on it by including a copy of their CV and any certificates they have. Set a date to see all the PDPs: two weeks’ time would be appropriate. This will allow you to check that all staff have started on the process of compiling their PDP. It would be appropriate to see each file on a termly basis from then on.

Get copies of staff qualifications: Ask each member of staff to provide you with a copy of any certification they have. These can be included in the setting PDP and in doing so you indicate how much you value professionalism in your setting. 

Create a PDP Action Plan: Once you have an overview of what levels of qualifications your staff have you are in a good position to decide where you want to go with professional development and what you will need to do in order to get there. Make a list of targets. Make sure they are SMART targets: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-related. ‘Send Sarah on a first aid in the workplace course within the next two months’ is an example of a SMART target.


Even with change imminent it is important that you know what the different qualifications your current staff have mean in the day-to-day work of your setting. Make sure each member of staff knows what their qualifications mean too. This isn’t meant to be patronising – with so many awarding bodies and so many equivalent qualifications it is vital that you know who is qualified to do what.

With restructuring of qualifications well under way this exercise is good professional development for you as you get to grips with the new framework.


It is worth encouraging staff to keep a list of other experiences they have in their PDP. Historical experience, such as where they did a work experience placement or a part-time evening class in food preparation may be worth knowing about. It would also be helpful to know if any of your staff have other training or are undertaking training at the moment – as an accountant, for example.

Any additional experience, which may not at first appear relevant but is worth knowing about, could also go in here. Learning to speak French or studying yoga may be useful at some time in your setting. You won’t know the full range of skills your staff have unless you ask.

Continuing professional development

It is amazing how quickly people forget what training courses they have been on. A sheet in the PDP can record not only the date, place, title and name of trainer but also give information about how the course was helpful and how the information learned can be used in your setting. In fact, it is good practice to get staff to complete a brief report back sheet when they return from any training, which you can keep a copy of to help you make full use of their skills.

Some formal qualifications can take several years to build up. A record of the stages passed and those being studied will be useful in helping you to allocate staff to tasks and also to ensure that staff are given sufficiently challenging roles as their skill level grows.

Meetings, twilight sessions and conferences all provide additional opportunities for continuing professional development. Staff can record what they have gleaned from these in note form in their PDP. Encourage staff to also record what they would like to do with this information – otherwise it becomes nothing more than information that was once thought of as useful but now doesn’t seem so relevant.

Online courses are an increasing part of learning and some of your staff may be studying in this way. These courses, particularly if leading to a qualification, come with assessment sheets and tutor feedback. These can all be stored in the PDP.

Performance management

This issue has been covered in detail by Neil Short in issues 36, 37 and 38 of Early Years Update. In some settings this process of continuous review of the performance of staff is known as a professional development review. Your setting may know it by a different name.
Whatever you call it there are key stages that represent good practice:

  • Self assessment: The staff member reflects on their own practice and completes a self-assessment sheet.
  • Interview: The manager meets with the staff member and they go through the self-assessment sheet. They decide together a focus for the assessment and targets.
  • Targets: In most cases there is a setting target that all members of staff are working on, an individual work-focused target for the staff member and a professional development target.
  • Observation: The staff member is watched at work by the manager.
  • Review meeting: The staff member and manager discuss the observation and what they can learn from it
  • Dates: It is important to agree dates when all this will take place and the date for the next cycle to begin.

Reviewing managers

In large settings you may find yourselves, as managers responsible for reviewing each other. The same criteria should be followed. If you are the one overall manager in your setting and you want an independent review this is something your LEA can advise on.

The future

According to the the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), work is continuing ‘towards a comprehensive range of qualifications appropriate to the sector’.

Over the next year the NVQ Early Years Care and Education Awards are giving way to the NVQ Childcare Learning and Development Awards and there are significant differences in what the levels mean for each qualification. There is also some confusion over how people with existing qualifications will be absorbed into the new structure.

The Children’s Workforce and Development Council (CWDC) is responsible for creating the new structure and you can see how they are getting on at

The new Early Years Sector Endorsed Foundation Degree (EYSEFD) will take staff up to a Level 5 qualification and create ‘senior practitioners’. This is something you and your staff should keep an eye out for.


The importance of getting started on this straight away cannot be overemphasised. It is not simply a matter of keeping one step ahead of Ofsted. It is a matter of ensuring that every child you are responsible for is in the care of a professional with the correct, up-to-date qualifications and an ongoing process of professional development to maintain this professionalism. That’s what children deserve.