Small beginnings: 40 years of TACTYC

Dr Janet Moyles
Monday, September 3, 2018

Janet Moyles reflects on 40 years of the association for professional development in early years, TACTYC, and the changing early years landscape

Little did she know it at the time but, in 1978, an early years academic, Mary Cox from Derby Lonsdale College, set in motion a move towards what has now become an acknowledged association for all those concerned with professional development in the early years. 

Mary had both the foresight and the knowledge to understand that, in early years, we have a stronger voice together. She and colleagues from other institutions whom she contacted were tutors of advanced level courses in early childhood with an age range of three to nine years: how some of us still long for the view that ‘early years’ covers at least that age group (if not the birth to threes as well) for the sake of all young children and their childhood! 

Having received 20 positive responses from a wide range of institutions, with the support of Willem van der Eyken of the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, Mary arranged a meeting at Derby. TACTYC came into being. Forty years on, TACTYC remains the only UK professional association concerned primarily with initial teacher training, education and continued professional development in the early years.

The issues of concern 40 years ago are, perhaps surprisingly and alarmingly, little different from our concerns today: the range of courses and their relative merit and status; the cultures of childhood and how young children are perceived in society; the value of child development theories; different emphases on work and play; practical teaching placements; the ‘pre-school’ curriculum; the evolving nature of family structures; the changing roles of women within society; the structure of B.Ed. courses and, particularly relevant to TACTYC now, the role of the professional; multi-professional working and the relevant professional knowledge and experience of ‘tutors’. 

According to Mary’s analysis of a questionnaire to tutors at the time, contemporary courses appeared to be either ‘discipline’ or ‘topic’ based – this was a time when decisions about curriculum content were left mainly to the practitioners, and the EYFS and the Profile were well into the future.

Pressure group

In 1979 the idea of a ‘pressure group’ was mooted and the group carried out its own questionnaire study, analysing the content and context of early childhood courses in England and Wales (mainly then at Diploma level) to begin this process. 

They shared their findings with Rosemary Peacocke, HMI. Many well-known people associated with early childhood at the time were involved: Lesley Abbott, Jenny Andreae, Roy Beardsworth, Geva Blenkin, Molly Brearley, Audrey Curtis, Charles Desforges, Philip Gammage, Jenefer Joseph, Brenda Staniland, Joan Tamburrini, and Lesley Webb, to mention just a few. 

Interestingly, in her final report on the Independent Review of Childcare and Early Years Qualifications published in 2012, Cathy Nutbrown commented on the confusing array of courses that now exist under the broad banner of early years education and training.

By 1980 this prestigious group had also decided to call themselves TACTYC: Tutors of Advanced Courses for Teachers of Young Children. Mary describes the need for such a group at the time because it was ‘a difficult time’ with courses closing ‘as retiring tutors are not replaced and secondment is difficult for teachers’ (archived letter, 12th March, 1981).

1980 was also the year of the first TACTYC Early Years Journal written, presented and reproduced entirely by the late Jenefer Joseph, and sold to individuals for the princely sum of £3. According to Jenefer’s Editorial, the main aim of the Journal (then as, indeed, now) was to:

‘… keep abreast of relevant research … and take part in public debates on matters of policy and on current issues in the care of young children, by alerting readers to them, commenting on them and … publishing articles’ (Early Years, 1(1):3)

From small beginnings, the Journal has developed from a stapled booklet to an impressive publication with a highly respected international reputation.


Changing activities

In 1983, TACTYC convened its first conference and has held an annual conference (together with the AGM) ever since. This year’s anniversary conference will return to Derby on 2and 3 November 2018. 

Over the past 40 years, however, there have been many changes: we now have our own website, are involved in commissioning research, produce Reflections articles, Occasional Papers and responses to consultations.  We have involvement in several campaigns, a book series and much more

TACTYC has broadened its base to welcome people from a wide range of early years backgrounds: researchers, education consultants and professionals working with children and families in day-care, education, health, play work and social service contexts, and also welcomes students from across these areas.  Compare our aims then and now:



  • Mutual support;
  • dissemination of information;
  • improve opportunities for teachers and children (archived Minutes, 8th May, 1981).


  • Supporting practitioners with evidence-based, reflective practice and research opportunities;
  • Informing and disseminating research;
  • Advocacy and lobbying, providing a voice for all those involved in early years professional development.


We are hoping, at our Anniversary Conference, to meet up with some of the originators of TACTYC and get informed impressions of how things have changed or, indeed, remained the same.


Moving on

Since its inception the Association has had many different Chairs and other Executive Committee members (all of whom are volunteers) who have contributed in different ways.  Mary Cox continued to be a leading force in TACTYC for many years but, sadly, our archived records only take us as far as 1985/6. However, comments from just some of the people following in her footsteps indicate the changing face of TACTYC over the years since its inception.

Professor Philip Gammage took up the reins as Chair early in the 1990s, gathering together an Executive Committee who were still largely academics, concerned with sustaining the work started earlier by the originators. Philip’s deep interest in young children’s development and learning meant this focus was enhanced and sustained on ECEC courses during this period.

Professor Emerita Janet Moyles (1996-2003) chaired a period of consolidation and growth for TACTYC with a drive to widen and increase membership and build funds, as well as to secure the Journal with our current publishers (Taylor and Francis/Routledge) giving us a wider international voice and dissemination.

This was the era of the ‘educarer’ with much debate and discussion around education and care and the roles of a wide range of professionals, together with the development of a broader range of training courses and in-service opportunities. TACTYC’s first website was introduced at this time and greater internationalisation sought. Conferences were moved annually to different locations and we gradually built up funds so that we could increase our opportunities to promote professional development in the early years for all practitioners.  We made many responses during this period to government consultations and lobbied vigorously when we disagreed, on behalf of our members, about inappropriate early childhood policies and practices, something which has continued to this day.

Dr Pat Broadhead (2003-2009) writes: ‘In my period as Chair, the Executive Committee decided to place an emphasis on research in the early years. Two events were held. Our national two-day conference focused on practitioner research across the early years. It was very well attended and revealed the wealth of on-going research through Masters work, Ph.Ds and funded and unfunded projects.  We then held a research colloquium in Leeds.  While Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage had re-emphasised ‘play,’ we still felt it could be subject to the whims of policy makers: we wanted to secure its position as a key element of learning in the early years. The colloquium was attended by national and international play scholars, presenting their findings on play. It was funded by The Vicky Hurst Trust. TACTYC President Wendy Scott, working with Annette Brooke, a Lib Dem MP, secured a presentation opportunity at The House of Commons. We took a two-page digest of the collective findings, made a presentation and spoke with attendees to re-iterate research evidence on the importance of play. A publication, edited by Broadhead, also followed: Howard and Wood (2010) Play and Learning in the Early Years.

During Professor Trisha Maynard’s period of office (2009-2012) the Executive Committee along with some members undertook our own observational research into reception class practices, visiting a number of classes around the country and comparing our findings to those of a previous ATL study (Adams,, 2004), resulting in our first Occasional Paper. During this period, TACTYC also commissioned an influential review of research by Dr David Whitebread and Dr Sue Bingham, which was launched at an event at the Houses of Parliament. Responding to the policy emphasis on ‘school readiness’, the report challenged narrow conceptualisations of this term and later became the extended focus of a monograph by Dr Rory McDowall-Clark (2016) within the TACTYC book series.

Taking over from Trisha Maynard as Chair, Professor Jane Payler (2012-2015) writes: ‘We introduced a number of new initiatives to help strengthen our role in supporting research, research-based practice and research-based lobbying. In 2013, with the new focus on education and care of the youngest children, we commissioned research into provision for two-year-olds and its implications for professional development, Two-Year-Olds in England (Plymouth University). We were invited to the Cabinet Office to discuss our concerns with the Deputy Prime Minister’s advisor and persisted our lobbying through numerous consultation responses.

We began work on the Routledge TACTYC book series in 2013-14, which is now approaching publication of its fifth book. In 2014, working with the BERA Early Childhood special interest group, we published the BERA-TACTYC Policy Advice and Future Research Agendas in a bid to advise politicians prior to the General Election. Later, we continued the collaboration to produce the extensive BERA-TACTYC Review of Early Childhood Research 2003-2017.’


TACTYC today

Our current Chair, Professor Sacha Powell (2015-2018) recently wrote: ‘TACTYC retains a principled voice and a fidelity to its original aims and purpose. It does so with pride, rejecting the often encountered public perceptions that early years education is somehow less important, less valuable or less credible than other educational phases’ (Foreword, Early Years Journal 38(2):119-121).

TACTYC now has to work hard through its volunteer Executive to retain and enhance its on-going intentions. Over the last three years the Executive Committee has devoted its attention to a wide range of activities. Some have sustained the tradition of support for professional development while other activities have maintained the organisation’s advocacy and lobbying role by drawing attention to contemporary issues; for example, challenging Baseline Assessment and KS1 SATS or Ofsted's Bold Beginnings report.

Meanwhile, the organisation has been self-evaluative with a stringent review of governance and an analysis of membership characteristics and expectations. In this 40th year, TACTYC is now applying for a new status as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation.

More formal approach

Although policymakers appear to realise the importance of the early years, how best to support young children is an increasingly contested space with ever-mounting pressures toward a more formal approach as the preferred method of teaching and assessing young children. 

Imposition of baseline assessment and the phonics check provide data the government requires, but rather than relying on assessment through professional knowledge of children, these unreliable and inappropriate tests have a knock-on effect on the curriculum and practice.  

Play – long a foundation of early years practice – is today increasingly squeezed in, subsumed in the drive to formalise and press for high attainment in narrow curricular areas.  We’re sure that Mary Cox and her colleagues would be saddened to note this downward pressure on young children and the early years professionals who work with them. 

Knowledge is power, and TACTYC maintains its role in challenging policy development to meet the needs of young children by calling for informed decision making.  We respond to government consultations with rigorously referenced argument, and contribute to public debate and the evidence base through our commissioned research and by publishing Occasional Papers.  Through our Journal, website and public campaigns, we aim to support professional growth by providing practitioners with the most current information on which to build their own reflections and practices.

The early years sector today includes a very varied workforce operating in a huge range of settings, from private to public, large to small and with a confusing range of diverse qualifications and little, clear information about career progression. TACTYC’s role is to bring professionals together so that we have a shared vision for young children, and shared understanding of the importance of high quality professional training and on-going development. We see our responsibility as working on behalf of all within the early years, retaining our strength of conviction and assertiveness of voice. This sense of purpose is derived from our earliest collaborations and from continuing passionate belief in the significance of the work we do on behalf of practitioners, children and families.

  • Our 40th Anniversary Conference on the 2nd and 3rd November will support all practitioners in challenging inappropriate practices and affirming the basic right of young children to care and education of the highest quality.

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