Professional development in the early years by Maureen Lee

I have been thinking again recently about how to provide the most valuable and enriching approaches to professional development in the early years. This was sparked by a visit with our EYITT tutors to Early Excellence in London where we were welcomed so warmly and had the opportunity to see and discuss many inspiring arrangements of equipment and resources for the early years. For me, professional development isn’t just or all about formal training, it is about visits, observing and being observed, formal and informal professional discussions and reading and research too. But whatever the type of professional development, I feel there are some important aspects of early years that must be overtly valued and strengthened. They are quite simple, don’t cover everything and not new, but I hope they are helpful in some way.

Value knowledge of early childhood development above all else

Everyone working with our youngest children must have strong knowledge of children’s development from birth to five and know how young children learn best. Whilst a level of numeracy and literacy are important, other than for entry to EYITT, GCSEs are not the be all and end all. People with excellent potential are being deterred from entering the profession by rigid requirements that are probably not fit for purpose. It is very good that this distracting issue seems now to be getting proper attention.

Early childhood professionals must be trained in and fully understand the vital importance of ensuring wellbeing and happiness before children’s learning can flourish.
This learning will include:

  • Knowing how a young child’s brain develops and the ways brain development can be enabled or limited;
  • Being trained to become a ‘confident enabler’ who is able to recognise practices and approaches that are potentially limiting to children’s development so they can be eradicated from practice;
  • Developing an in-depth theoretical and practical understanding of the value of play to ensure deep understanding and the ability to champion and defend play-based learning.

Value the importance of care and developing children’s independence in personal care

With the drive to ensure every opportunity for learning is maximised, it is all too easy to downgrade or side-line the importance of care. For example, Early Years Teacher Status is about promoting the best conditions for learning and about teaching from birth to five, using effective, age-appropriate teaching methods. But it must also be equally about supporting the growing independence of two to five-year-olds as they learn to feed themselves, blow their noses, use the toilet independently, wash their hands and learn to play and form friendships with other children. School readiness is about all of this, as much, if not more, as being able to sit in a group, joining in with activities.

It is worth remembering that for adults also, our self-esteem and confidence are very closely connected with being able to look after ourselves in a range of situations, familiar and unfamiliar, and with the ability to relate to other people in appropriate ways. This is a huge but exciting challenge for early childhood practitioners and CPD should be prioritised to look at promoting children’s independence in personal care and at supporting children to relate to others, form friendships and be part of a group and learn how to both agree and disagree.

Value the twoness of two

While two-year-olds might look much the same as three-year-olds, their needs are quite different. At home and in mixed-age settings, two-year-olds love to follow and copy adults and older children and they will, of course, learn from this. But, at the same time, it is very important that they don’t miss out on what they need as two-year-olds. At this age, children develop very quickly and are bubbling with excitement about things they cannot always make sense of. More than at any other stage, two-year-olds need skilled, trusted and caring people to relate to. When starting nursery, they will be faced, very often for the first time, with unknown adults who want to become close to them and who they are expected to trust. CPD must focus on providing the very best, most adaptable physical and emotional proximity for two-year-olds and enable practitioners to learn new and more skilful ways of providing responsive, sensitive and protective support and scaffolding. This point is about supporting professionals to build on their strengths, to learn more about the uniqueness of being two. It is not a suggestion that they are not already caring and responsive.

Value the early years profession

“Working as an early childhood professional is no less valuable a role than working with older children and young people”. Discuss.

  • Do all stakeholders really show their belief in the importance of having skilful, knowledgeable, adaptable, confident people supporting children from birth to five?
  • Do schools really value and learn from the work nurseries and preschools do in laying the foundations for later learning?
  • Do policies about two-year-olds’ education really reflect the uniqueness of being two, with a focus on friendship, care and independence as well as educational needs?

Early years as a career choice

There is a wealth of (often unproclaimed) excellence across the full range of types of early years settings – including, but not exclusively, nursery schools where there is excellent care and education for our youngest children. Promoting the opportunities and value of working in early years to both men and women and investing in graduate leadership for the care and education of children in all settings is crucial to sustaining this excellence.

  • Are men discouraged from entering the workforce (yes!) and why? We are keen to hear from men and women who would like to work with us on promoting the early years as a career choice. Please email Maureen if you are interested in working with us.
  • Applications for EYITT, leading to Early Years Teacher Status, for September 2016 are now open. Training is fully funded with an additional £7,000 for settings and schools to cover release for the training, placements, and study. Please visit our Early Years Teacher page for more information.
Go to top