There are now nearly 5,000 Early Years Professionals (EYPs) across England and it is timely to consider the impact of this high-profile training and assessment programme. The vision for EYPs is that they are change agents, building on and extending existing strengths within settings to transform practice. Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) is an investment in young children and their families, developed to ‘enhance the quality of services provided to young children and their families’ (Crabbe, 2010).

The Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC), the 35 training providers and local authorities across England have together developed an extensive professional development programme. But how has achieving EYPS affected the children’s centres and private, voluntary and independent nurseries where EYPs work? As a new professional development programme built around a set of rigorous national standards, in what ways has EYPS changed the reality of professional development opportunities within the sector? This article seeks to answer these questions by looking at the impact of EYPS on professional development in terms of:

  • raising the profile of a career in early years
  • valuing work-based learning
  • support for local, part-time degree study
  • professional development beyond EYPS
  • professional learning networks
  • stimulus for reflective practice.

Raising the profile of a career in early years
Tania Schmeider’s story illustrates how EYPS has brought the sector to the fore as a career of choice for graduates:

‘I originally trained as a doctor and worked in medicine for a year after graduating. I soon realised that it was not a career I wanted to pursue so began looking for something that was equally worthwhile. I had been very impressed by the Sure Start Children’s Centres and it was through Sure Start that I found out about the EYPS full pathway, a 12-month postgraduate training programme. My new challenge soon proved to be a real privilege – working with young children and their families in a joyful environment.

‘I feel there is great scope with EYPS. It has the potential to open many different doors for an EYP’s future career and professional development, including those which encompass their other interests – in my case, health education, supporting new mothers and encouraging children to enjoy being outdoors.’

Other full pathway EYPs had always wanted to work with young children but were put off by advice eg ‘You’re too bright’ or ‘It won’t challenge you’. A graduate professional status dispels those myths and many graduates have now returned to their earlier career ambitions.

Valuing work-based learning
To achieve EYPS candidates must be able to demonstrate their workplace effectiveness at two levels:

  • their own effective practice with babies, toddlers and young children
  • their expertise in guiding, supporting and leading colleague practitioners.

EYPS professional development must therefore give genuine emphasis to the workplace as a professional learning environment. For some training providers the starting point is always ‘an ethos of building from experience, and of work-based learning’ (CETAD, 2009), using workshops, group work, real work issues and projects to develop knowledge, skills and expertise. Such programmes use a needs-based approach, with carefully tailored development opportunities to meet individuals’ needs and provide experience with children up to five across a range of early years settings.

EYPS has contributed significantly to broadening the concept of professional development. No longer is attending a course or conference considered to be the only, or best, vehicle for a positive learning journey. Visits to other workplaces, group study visits, work shadowing and responsibility sharing, peer mentoring, co-coaching, collaborating on development projects – these are just a few of the many innovative approaches to professional development that have become more established in early years settings recently. The EYPS programme is responsible, at least in part, for these approaches becoming more the norm.

Support for local, part-time degree study
EYPS provides funding to achieve a degree, in parallel to working as a practitioner. This is another excellent aspect of the EYPS programme. For example, the extended professional development pathway to EYPS spans 15 months and enables existing practitioners with a foundation degree in early childhood studies to ‘top up’ to a full degree. Courses are local and part time and release funding is available to the practitioners’ settings to enable practitioners to attend their degree sessions, undertake placements if required and fully engage with the EYPS programme.

EYPs who have followed this route have been an inspiration to others. They are role models for their colleagues, demonstrating that further study alongside a busy job is achievable. Laura Sawyer, an EYP from the West Midlands, is one such example.

‘I manage a small setting with a staff team of six, including myself. Two of my longest standing staff members have enrolled on the Long Pathway for EYPS and will be starting next week. They were so inspired by my experiences that they have undertaken Foundation Degrees and GCSEs and now the additional study needed for a full degree – and they can’t wait to join “the club”.’

Professional development beyond EYPS
Achieving EYPS is both a milestone and a stepping stone to further professional and career development. Laura goes on to reflect on the impact of EYPS on her own development:

‘Gaining the status has given me access to a group of professionals who have a passion for their chosen career and are motivated to improve practice and embrace change. I now have the confidence to assess myself as a practitioner and leader. I approach difficult challenges with enthusiasm. I find myself constantly looking for areas to improve and to challenge myself and my staff team.’

Providing placements, mentoring and training future EYPs is very much a win-win for both the EYPs and training providers. In reflecting on and sharing their practice with others, the EYPs identify further possibilities and gain new insights into strategies they can use to support children’s development and learning. EYPS training providers benefit from the involvement of EYPs as mentors, tutors and assessors. They bring grounded practice and fresh perspectives to the training and assessor teams.

Sandra Matthews, an EYP from Yorkshire, has continued her professional development journey in several directions at the same time. As well as managing her setting, she enjoys her role as EYPS assessor and full pathway tutor and last year joined a Postgraduate Certificate in Educational Improvement Development and Change, run by the local authority in conjunction with St John’s University in York:

‘The certificate is the first year of a Master’s degree, which I am now continuing. This particular course was pioneering in that EYPs worked alongside reception and Year 1 teachers to support the development of understanding of each others’ roles in delivering EYFS.

‘Initially most of the teachers weren’t aware that EYPS existed but by the end of the course a healthy respect had developed on both sides. This led to a clearer understanding of the challenges faced by both sets of professionals. The teachers were able to see how EYPs have a very deep understanding of child development and we were often able to expand their knowledge, for example on international perspectives and developmental theory.’

Professional learning networks
Most local authorities have set up networks for EYPs to meet on a regular basis. Some have linked in with other LAs to provide a wider network. EYPS training providers often work with the local authorities to support network events and may also have their own networking opportunities. The EYPs are very clear in their positive evaluations of the networks.

Laura Sawyer says: ‘The opportunity to network with other EYPs on a regular basis has allowed us to share ideas and examples of good practice which in turn benefit the children and families that we serve. The network events have provided outstanding training and guest speakers. This impacted on me directly in the observation system we have developed over the past two years. After a recent network event where we looked at the New Zealand way, I was able to tackle the elements that had proved to be difficult with renewed enthusiasm – I have found a solution that all staff members were inspired by.’

Debra Barton, a member of the Dudley EYP network, was inspired by her network’s visit to Reggio Emilia earlier this year:

‘We had an intense week of lectures and visits to infant/toddler centres and pre-schools where we saw the approach in action. Throughout the study week we were prompted to reflect on our own practice at a deeper level. It made us acutely aware that settings in the UK can’t “do” Reggio. The approach is built on a historical and cultural context not seen anywhere except Reggio Emilia. We realised that we can aspire to be ‘Reggio-inspired’ and incorporate some of the approach into our settings, but only Reggio can “do” Reggio. I brought three questions back with me, as my own Reggio aspiration and inspiration:

  • How can we better use the environment as the third teacher?
  • Do we “notice” enough about our own familiar settings?
  • Do we value time through the “rich normality” of everyday experiences – time to meet, to be, to do, to think and reflect, to talk and listen, to rest and to eat.’

(Thornton and Brunton, 2009)

Stimulus for reflective practice
It seems clear from these and other stories that EYPs are stepping confidently into the role of change agents. Achieving EYPS, participating in formative EYP networks and engaging in further professional development have given EYPs the tools and confidence to lead a culture of reflection with their colleagues.

EYPs are approaching the challenges of initiating, leading and sustaining change in a reflective, carefully considered manner. They review current practice and draw on theory and on others’ practice in small collaborative learning groups within and across settings. They are using reflective practice with their colleagues in co-coaching and collaborative reflection processes.

Jennie Lindon’s excellent new book, Reflective Practice and Early Years Professionalism: Linking Theory and Practice contains many accounts from EYPs who have been successful in engaging their colleagues in reflection in a way that moves practice forward. Sandra Matthews, one of these EYPs, leaves us in no doubt that EYPS has made a big difference to her and her setting:

‘From my own experience in the early years sector, I see the impact of EYPS wherever I go. When I began working in my own setting there were two level three qualified members of staff. I did the Foundation degree, followed by a BA in childhood studies and then EYPS. I know that this inspired my colleagues and now my deputy has just completed her Foundation degree and all other staff are qualified to level three. This has had the impact that we think very deeply about what we do. When new developments are introduced we can discuss the reasoning behind them and I know that all the staff understand and can participate fully in any debate. We have a very clear ethos and all know exactly what we want for our children.’

References

  • Crabbe, Thom (2010). Early Years Educator 11, no 9
  • CETAD (2009) quoted in Early Years Educator 11, no 8
  • Lindon J (2010). Reflective Practice and Early Years Professionalism: Linking Theory and Practice. Hodder
  • Thornton, L and Brunton, P (2009). Understanding the Reggio Approach – Early Years Education in Practice. Routledge

Maureen Lee is programme leader for Early Years Professional Status at Best Practice Network