Early Years Trainig and Early Childhood Education

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To date, little research has been undertaken locally to understand the difficulties experienced by those wishing to become Early Years Educators, Teachers or Leaders when considering their training pathways. Research has long asserted that quality Early Years Educators play an important part in quality outcomes for children’s future. The House of Commons recognised the need for severity in the training of Early Years Teachers and stated that standards should be improved so the Early Years Sector were no longer classed as under skilled. These comments coincide with the research of Sylvia et al indicating provision provided in Early Years Settings is proportionate with quality from adults working in them. Therefore, it is apparent that by having a ‘perfect workforce’ means perfect quality provision in Early Years Education, in the future. Yet there has been little focus on how the training pathways made available for those adults whom want to provide quality provision is working, consequently suggesting there is a need to listen to early years Educators’ Teachers and Leaders voices, to identify strengths and weaknesses and fill in the gaps, concerning training routes in this field.

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In summary, there is a lack of evaluation on the effectiveness of training routes, and the impact it has had on those that have participated in the diverse programmes, to gain training for qualifications in the field of early years education. Whilst there is a profound announcement on the importance of quality, how can quality be justified unless programmes deliver quality. An importance here is to find out from those already trained in this field to highlight any misconceptions of quality in what the diverse training programmes deliver. This study aims to identify gaps in existing knowledge at a micro level and produce results of significance for future macro policy innovation and research.

Although, there has been a broader international context of early childhood professionalism, particularly over the last 20 years, the purpose of this study is to shed light on and consider those whom want to and do work in the field of Early Education. The aim is to identify gaps in existing knowledge through a review of the literature, and the rationale for this study is to identify the strengths, weaknesses and issues raised by Early Years Educators, Teachers and Leaders, as they seek to make sense of the diverse training routes made available through policy implementation and design within the Early Years Sector. A purposive sample is chosen by the researcher to complete questionnaires and to voluntarily participate in semi-structured interviews regarding their perspectives in the field of training programmes they have encountered.

As previously mentioned, Early Years Education is becoming an important aspect that has grown significantly in the past 20 years in most parts of the world and certainly in the UK. Previous research has highlighted an emphasis on a quality Early Years Workforce as a priority factor that leads to quality provision for children in their early stages of life, that will encompass quality for our future economy. Honig  Pascal and Pugh all agree that high quality work in early childhood care and education is based upon the quality of people who choose to enter the profession and subsequently upon their training received. Whereas, others argue that in most counties, the training offered for a child and early childhood teaching is separate, with the resulting jumble of qualifications determining arbitrarily divided care and education roles and responsibilities in work with young children. Nonetheless, either way training programmes reflect what is reality in a work place, so offering an important aspect in the preparation, and support, for those trainees currently in the field of early years education.

Whilst the notion of a quality workforce in the early years is exciting, one wonders does it present a challenge for those, who are early years educators, teachers and leaders, when examining the disparity, of training qualifications in this field. Consequently, leaving a question to be asked, as whether training in this field will develop a quality workforce in the future. Despite its current popularity, the notion Early Years training continues to be something of a mystery and according to Dean continues to be littered with broken promises.

Nonetheless the concept quality training within ‘Early Years’ has become a discussed professional subject more recently. This is because of the proposed changes in, and acknowledgement of an increase of quality workforce in Early Years settings, and the benefits for Early Childhood Education, to help combat childhood poverty and disadvantaged families. One would ask the question, whether an ample quality workforce exists yet in this striving change in the field of early education.

This review is to examine the overall view of scholars and authors and policy documents to help the researcher to understand the focus and importance on the early year’s education, the effectiveness of a quality workforce and a need for such diverse training pathways in early years education, thus highlighting some aspects that either contribute or deter quality in training programmes and furthermore impact on the workforce. Where there have been some attempts to explore the effectiveness of early years education and a quality workforce in early years education, a further review is needed to clarify knowledge already researched and to identify other potential gaps in the literature.

A review of literature starts with a range of references relating to the past and current theories and research on the importance of Early Years Education and Early Years Educators. It draws upon research around ‘Early Years’ training pathways and aims to highlight issues within this field. In doing this, it will reflect on the direction in which early years training is heading and explore why the concept of Early Years Education has had a recent rise to prominence in recent policy. The review will reflect on the issues raised in the review and consider possible priorities for reference and investigation for this study.

There has been a long history concerning Early Childhood Education. Writers have influenced the shaping of Early Education since before the 17th Century. However, despite the formative and fascinating early work of Froebel and Piaget, it is only within the 20th century that the history of early childhood care and education really begins to bloom. Childhood Care and Education appears to ascend from historical, cultural and economic conditions that hold multiple understandings of children. For example, in 1992 Council Recommendations on Childcare is an early example of an EU policy document emphasising the need for coherent policy making across several areas that are affecting families with young children: childcare services, parental leave, labour regulations and gender equality.

Further to this point, World Bank, UNICEF and OECD, International policy documents have also got influence, promoting systematic investments and services for children below school age, outlining and underpinning early childhood policies for quite some years in many countries. More recently though, the EU policy interest in early childhood has increased significantly. EU policy is a policy with the stated aim of improving the economic well-being of regions in the EU (European Union) and to avoid disparities.

In terms of ‘Policy’ and ‘Education’ Ball  defines policy as:

“A course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual”

Fitzgerald also define policy as:

“an attempt by those working alongside an organisation to think in a coherent way about what it is we are trying to achieve in relation to a specific issue, and what it needs to do to achieve it.”

Yet recent policies with Early Years Education have had various factors making policy in this field complex in terms of outcomes for children and their educators. Fitzgerald and Kay highlight, that early years education policy has been impacted by the governments budget deficit since 2010. This therefore suggests policy decisions in Early Years Education have been based mainly on financial need. Perhaps this is the reason for Early Years Education taking a back seat for all these years. Unequal distribution of public resources results in quality more favourable for some than for others. From this perspective, this approach of early childhood education will always be a public affair and political issue, unless distribution of resources is more equal. Nonetheless, policy decisions and challenges encountered over the past 20 years need to be addressed and unrepeated if quality in Early Years Education is to be improved. Therefore, the government need to set priority in investing in Early Years Education and deal with the challenges and issues raised more recently regarding high quality staff to support children. The emphasis here are on auditing and financing rather than pedagogy.

In relation to Early Childhood Education, warmth and care are vital to vulnerability of young children. Theory indicates the role of an adult in the development of a child plays an important part in recognising their curious approach to learning. The common ground here seems to be that the role of the adult as being at the heart of these approaches. However, there are significant perceptions, on the role considered as being appropriate in Early Years Education. According to James et al cited in Miller and Pound. The British Library historical views of childhood include ideas of innocence and evil; natural development or the empty vessel; or the child without a consciousness. They go on to suggest more recent views have situated childhood within the cultural context, recognising the impact social influences have on shaping childhood, as well as the role both nature and nurture play in the process.

It seems logic to highlight that, given its importance of quality education in the early years, suggests education should require well-trained and qualified educators. Yet government policies in the United Kingdom (UK) still lack a clear route of training, ranging from short non-graduate certificates to degrees completed over four years. This affirms the UK government persists with the notion that working with children in the Early Years requires less skill therefore, less training in this field is needed. Pyke agrees with this stating ‘the government may have abandoned plans for this ‘Mums Army’, but current policies on training continue to make little allowance for the nature of early years education’. It seems here there is an unimportance for early years training, as highlighted by Beruetta-clement et al  cited in Blenkin et al ‘the government is failing to acknowledge the evidence that suggests the early years education is of fundamental importance to children’s lives’. What is clear in the literature is that policy towards Early Years Education is not secure. Kelly  states ‘‘policy making is typified by the ‘Polyfilla’ principles of government, by which you build, or rather jelly build, a framework of social policy and then fill in the gaps and stop up the loop-holes as they emerge’’.

To understand theories of Early Years Education and the influence of Early Years Educators Cuban refines the definition to specify that there is a clear distinction between Early Years Education and Early Years Educator. UNESCO agrees by stating:

‘In early childhood you may lay the foundation of poverty or riches, industry of idleness, good or evil, by the habits to which you train your children. Teach them right habits then, and their future life is safe.” 

Also, cited in David Jowett and Sylvia  Whitebrook et al.  state that young children, like older learners, benefit from interaction with skilled and well-educated educators . Therefore, this suggests a clear link and importance of Early Years Educators in ensuring quality Early Years Education. However, to ensure quality early years educators, suggests a need for quality training is priority, and those training in this field need to feel the training programmes being delivered provide them with the competences to deliver quality provision. However, the literature reveals that early years has been ignored for some time by the UK government over the past decades regarding training and a clarity of roles. In 1967, John Tomlinson, in a speech to the North of England Conference, suggested that ‘the English have flirted with pre-school education but have never gone to the altar’. GRIST arangements also did not make early years a priority for funding leaving those working with under-fives unsourced, with no additional staffing and insufficient professional training, being excluded from grant regulations. The implications here meant children of four years were being taught in a group of 30 or more with only one untrained teacher. The House of Commons Education (HCE) were also not backed up by finances from the government, even though recommendations for appropriate provision were offered by committees of enquiry.

However, since the New Labour, emerging more recently is that there seems to be a growing trend and importance early years education, early years educators and an importance of quality training, due to its heightened important role in helping to combat disadvantaged families around the world. A policy Initiative Childcare Bill 2015 now has new requirements on Early Years settings. They are now encouraged to offer funded places for three and four-year-olds and to stay open for longer period. Although this is ideal for those working parents, there are some questions whether there are enough quality staff that meet the challenges the Childcare Bill requires.

This in mind, and considering the theoretical background, a review begins by viewing the map of early years education. This study considers policies that have been employed to embed the early years professional workforce in England since 1997 when the labour government took office. The early years education workforce is made up of nursery nurses, teaching assistants, teachers, leaders and managers. Whilst many efforts have gone into the process of developing a quality workforce, there is still much to do by the British Government to ensure training programmes to develop CPD (Continued Professional Development) in this area are clear and concise, to strengthen and resolve existing issues. Therefore, it seeks to identify what training programmes have been made available in the past 20 years, what were the outcomes from these? Were there any strengths or weaknesses? Who did they benefit? and finally where are heading now? 

This will take the form of examining the overall view of policy documents, past and current research journals of scholars and authors, will develop an understanding of early years education, and the varied training programmes, qualification pathways within early years education, thus highlighting other important aspects and issues raised within this context in the early years field. This review will also note factors that deter early years educators in their role.

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