Early Years Teachers

Are they the right professionals for the early years sector?

Ute WardSenior Lecturer & Professional Lead, Early Years, School of Education, University of Hertfordshire

Toy ball

In January 2013 the Government published its report 'More Great Childcare' which announced the new qualification of Early Years Teacher (DfE, 2013).

Last summer the standards and pathways for Early Years Initial Teacher Training were disseminated, and higher education institutions were invited to tender for training places starting in September 2014. The new status of Early Years Teacher (EYT) was keenly awaited but is contested in the early years sector, and our School of Education decided after much discussion not to apply in the first round.

This thought-piece will briefly explore some of the concerns and uncertainties in relation to this new initiative and hopes to stimulate discussion about the merits and disadvantages of this new qualification in particular in relation to its knowledge base, its status and its contribution to the professionalisation of the early years workforce.

Since the late 1990s the interest in early years education and care has increased originally driven by the desire to reduce childhood poverty (Eisenstadt, 2011).  New Labour as well as the Coalition Government have supported this approach while also initiating great changes in public sector professionalism with ever increasing emphases on accountability and performativity.

In the early years sector this development included the introduction of the Early Years Professional Status, a post-graduate award which combined academic with practice knowledge. Although this led to an increase in staff confidence, a greater emphasis on pedagogy and higher recognition of the workforce, many issues remained unresolved, for example, lack of status and low pay (Hadfield et al, 2011).

With the EYT and related measures the Government hopes to achieve greater quality through enhanced professionalism, to establish Ofsted as the sole arbiters of quality in early years settings and to create greater affordability of childcare for parents (DfE, 2013).  The latter provides a direct link between the Government's social policy and its early years policy.

When the Government asks for increased quality this is invariably linked to higher cost effectiveness, better preparation for an economically productive adult life, and increased ability for the country as a whole to compete in global markets (DfE, 2013). Although the EYT may support the Government's aims it can be argued that the EYT does not address the demands and expectations of the early years sector which will now be explored in more detail.

The knowledge base of the EYT

Eraut and others identify a clearly defined knowledge base and some levels of exclusive access to this knowledge as a feature of a profession (Eraut 1994; Winch 2004).

The Teachers' Standards (Early Years) expect candidates to possess a mixture of theoretical and practical knowledge including knowledge of structured reading and maths initiatives (NCTL  2013a). The breadth of knowledge appears limited as there is no mention of pedagogy or pedagogical approaches, or of the concepts of care for the youngest children.

At the same time issues of leadership which were still strong in the Early Years Professional Status have been reduced to some subsections in the standard on professional responsibilities (NCTL 2013a). This is not the broad knowledge base practitioners need in their daily practice.  At the same time the high levels of knowledge required by successful practitioners is not exclusive to the early years sector but is shared with primary school teaching, health visiting, social work and community development.

This leads to the conclusion that the limited range of knowledge as well as the lack of a clearly defined, exclusive knowledge base for the EYT undermine the efforts of the sector to create a new profession.

The status of Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS)

The entry requirements for Early Years Initial Teacher Training (EYITT) are the same as those for Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

While QTS with an early years focus prepares teachers to work with children aged 3-7 years and enables them to teach at any level in primary education, EYTS focuses on children from birth to 5 years with no scope to teach older children (NCTL, 2103b).

Although the Government emphasizes that EYTS is equivalent to QTS, EYTS does not give access to the same terms and conditions neither does it include registration. The early years sector had hoped that EYTS would provide for a professionalisation of the workforce in the sense of enhanced formal status. However, what appears to have been delivered by the Government in their attempts of increase professionalism is a semantic status, a status in words only (Hoyle 2001).

The professionalisation of early years sector

In addition to the difference in the understanding of the term 'status', the terms 'professionalism' and 'professionalisation' also appear to add to the misunderstanding between the early years sector and the Government.

In accordance with Hoyle's definitions, the sector had expected the EYT to add to its professionalisation by bestowing status and increasing autonomy (Hoyle 2001).

Practitioners include in this autonomy the ability to make curriculum and pedagogical decisions, the consultation on relevant policy and the use of discretionary judgment (Brook 2013). However, the Government is working in the context of professionalism which strongly emphasizes accountability and performativity (Hoyle 2001; Lea 2014).

By imposing standards onto the workforce (through Teachers' Standards (Early Years), Ofsted requirements and the Early Years Foundation Stage) autonomy appears to be taken away from the professionals supporting the notion that the new EYT is not the professional the sector had hoped for.


This thought-piece indicates that early years practitioners feel disappointed with the new professional role. However, it should not be forgotten that EYT is only just being introduced, and it may be hoped that practitioners will be able to develop and enact a type of professionalism that varies from the prescribed or demanded one which emerges from the documentation (Evans 2008).

In the meantime aspiring early years teachers and higher education institutions are faced with the question as to whether embarking on an educational pathway leading to a limited level of professional recognition and to restricted scope for practice will be worth the expense and effort. 


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  • Brook, A. (2012)  'Building a model of early years professionalism from practitioners' perspectives'.  Journal of Early Childhood Research. 11(1) pp. 27-44.
  • Department for Education (2013) More great childcare. Available from www.education.gov.uk/publications [Accessed: 13 November 2013].
  • Eisenstadt, N. (2011) Providing a Sure Start: How government discovered early childhood.  Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Eraut, M. (1994) Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence.  London: Falmer Press.
  • Evans, L. (2008) 'Professionalism, professionality and the development of education professionals'.  British Journal of Educational Studies. 56(1) pp. 20-38.
  • Hadfield, M., Jopling, M., Royle, K. & Waller, T. (2011) First National Survey of Practitioners with EYPS.  Leeds: Children's Workforce Development Council.
  • Hoyle, E. (2001) 'Teaching: Prestige, status and esteem'. Education Management and Administration. 29(2) pp.139-152.
  • Lea. S. (2014) 'Early years work, professionalism and the translation of policy into practice'.  In Kingdon, Z. and Gourd, J. (eds.) Early Years Policy: The impact on practice.  Abingdon: Routledge.
  • National College for Teaching & Leadership (NCTL 2013a) Teachers' Standards (Early Years).  Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-years-teachers-standards [Accessed: 1 January 2014].
  • National College for Teaching & Leadership (NCTL 2013b) Early Years Initial Teacher Training programme 2014. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/239923/Early_Years_ITT_-_Sept2014.pdf [Accessed: 24 December 2013].
  • Winch, C. (2004) 'What do teachers need to know about teaching?' British Journal of Educational Studies. 52(2) pp. 180-196

LINK 2014, vol. 1, issue 1 / Copyright 2014 University of Hertfordshire