The time is right for a Royal College for Early Childhood

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Eunice Lumsden, head of Early Years at University of Northampton, argues that professionalising the workforce means adopting standards akin to those in professions such as social work

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Eunice Lumsden

It is nearly twenty years since the birth of a more integrated approach to Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in England.

The rapid pace of change since this time has seen ECEC become wed to politics.  With this has come substantial and continued investment of public money in developing the quality of early years provision, the early years workforce and the health visiting profession. 

Alongside this there have been a number of projects aimed at reducing disadvantage. Furthermore, early childhood has become an academic field in its own right and there is substantial and evolving research about the impact of the earliest years across the life course.

However, an integrated approach to ECEC has been impacted upon by the historical legacy of segregated professions working with children and families.  Furthermore, the changing political landscape and the multiple lenses of the different stakeholders that work within ECEC contribute to make this such a complex terrain. It is not surprising that current debates about GCSEs and Early Years Teacher Status vs QTS are so challenging for all.

The importance of a highly qualified early years workforce cannot be disputed.  In fact the Nutbrown Review (2012) was applauded by the sector for tackling the challenge of ‘hair or care’ for those who struggled academically at school.  Cathy Nutbrown took on the unenviable task of reviewing the complex tapestry of early years qualifications. Reading her report again, I just wonder what a different landscape ECEC would be if a long term approach had been taken to implement her recommendations.

I also wonder what the current review by the Department for Education can learn if it just pauses and reviews why the early years workforce is facing some of its toughest challenges.  How can we ensure that our youngest children have the professionalised workforce they deserve to support them become active and contributing citizens of the future?

In the review, Cathy Nutbrown addressed the call for a ‘college’ and while she did not take a stance on this, others have championed the idea. Sue Egersdorff, Chair of International Early Years, is one.

Now the news about the extent of problems with EYT courses – training our future graduate leaders – brings the issue to the fore once again. It is clear that early years practitioners need to be professionally recognised. Other professionals - doctors, social workers, have codes of ethics, associated expectations and clear professional pay scales and career progression.  

Wouldn’t a professional organisation, which could lead on a holistic approach to early childhood, go some way to addressing these problems?

At the moment no one government department, minister or organisation have a full picture of the complexities of early childhood provision and services. Who is ensuring that the disconnect between what is happening in Westminster and what is actually happening in practice is addressed?  Additionally, there have never been so many All Party Parliamentary Groups addressing issues concerning children and families, yet are their reports and recommendations being heeded by policy makers? 

If we could harness their collective energy, the power generated could lead to a new future, a future supported by an independent Royal College of Early Childhood that holds the professions that work in ECEC and policy makers to account; a college that sets out key professional standards which champion the rights of young children.  A college like this could ensure early childhood is seen and treated as part of the infrastructure investment of the country.

And how could this be paid for?  I cannot think of a better use for some of the ‘sugar tax’:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

 Buckminster Fuller

See our investigation 'Providers cut EYT courses due to low demand' here

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