I’m not normally one for soppy nostalgia. I love a challenge and I like change as much as the next person but “although there is no progress without change, not all change is progress” (Wooden and Jamison, 1997). There’s no shame in admitting we’re wrong so long as we make every effort to put it right. And here’s the bit we’re not getting right.
Over the years, I’ve seen my graduates use their early years and early childhood degrees as stepping stones to go on into teaching, nursing, midwifery, speech and language and social work. Only a handful have remained in the PVI early years sector – it’s almost as if we expect them to leave, to take their skills to pastures new where they will get the recognition and remuneration they deserve. Naturally, some also moved sideways across the sector, leaving schools for childminding, leaving day care for 2 year old units, leaving crèches for family support services. So far so good it seems…up to now. Yes, we have the well-trained, qualified, upskilled workforce (yaaay) but it’s usually only temporary (boooo) because for some reason our ‘leaders’ just haven’t mastered how to support and motivate them to stay and progress their careers. We haven’t shown them the different career paths and specialisms they can enjoy and achieve within early years. It’s almost as if they just know they’re never going to achieve their full potential unless they move on. Being formidable, driven and passionate by nature they just keep striving to become even better. (They’ll worry about the student loans later because the chances of them ever earning enough to have to start paying them back is remote. Well, if they plan to remain in the PVI sector it is). Sadly, they have a mission but haven’t the means.
Simultaneously, and perhaps more tragically, we have also managed to demotivate our beloved Childminding workforce. According to official figures, in 2012 there were just over 57,000 Childminders; by 2015 the figure had fallen to a little under 48,000. Among the issues contributing to the dwindling numbers is the decline in the support and training that Childminders receive from local authorities with the onus now on childminders to identify and fund training for themselves. But it gets even more grim (and not just here oop t’north either): PACEY’s Building Blocks survey, carried out last year among 2,400 childcare professionals- including 2,000 Childminders – found that one in five childminders were not sure they would still be in the business this year.
And this is the kind of stuff that demotivated them. Early years specialists across the globe insisting that the key to providing high quality childcare and early education is well-trained and qualified professionals and that the key to high quality is upskilling the workforce. That it’s become generally accepted that early childhood services must be of high quality to be effective (Eurydice, 2009) and that the quality of those services depends upon well-educated, experienced and ‘competent’ staff (Urban, Vandenbroeck, Van Laere, Lazzari and Peeters, 2012). Unqualified staff being told that they actually have a negative effect on quality (Erichsen, 2014). Oh dear. Interestingly though, for Cronon (1998), being an educated person means being able to see connections so as to be able to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways… listening, reading, writing, talking, puzzle‐solving, seeing the world through others’ eyes, empowering others, leading.
Now, according to Cowley (2011) world-class organizations train employees for 5 – 10% of total hours spent at work. For a typical 39 hour week then, that’s roughly between 2 and 4 hours per week spent on continuing development. Multiplied by 47 working weeks per year that’s up to a staggering 188 hours per year. Imagine how wonderful we could all be with that level of personal and professional support – qualified or not? What our leaders need to remember is that we were all initially motivated to become early years Practitioners when we joined the profession and what we really need is to be looked after to ensure we want to stay. Time to stop gathering meaningless certificates of attendance to appease inspectors. Time to stop asking “if I do this course will I get a certificate or not?” because … seriously? Time to start doing meaningful training that develops us personally as well as professionally.
Without a doubt, the root causes of motivational problems include: lack of training, lack of recognition & praise and limited opportunity for advancement (Cowley, 2011). We are only human afterall and it’s hardly rocket science is it? For Rinaldi (2006, p 20):
“ good staff development is not something that is undertaken every now and then… it is a vital and daily aspect of our work, of our personal and professional identities.”
So let’s look at an alternative approach to continuing development. The Reggio Approach to CPD is significantly supported by case studies presented in a 2009 technical report: ‘Continuing professional development of early years managers and practitioners working with children under 3 years of age’ where, like those in Reggio settings, Practitioners value opportunities to visit other settings, work alongside more experienced staff, participate in workshops (particularly in-house), doing personal reading and having time to reflect upon their experiences. Overall, they found that Practitioners valued opportunities to learn from others more so than from ‘external experts’ (Condie & Seagraves and Fee & Henry, 2009).
But although CPPD doesn’t have to be about studying at university or college this doesn’t detract from the need for some more formal, basic qualifications. Trust me, when you’ve seen a hand-crafted alphabet frieze showing ‘n’ for banana (na-na, I kid you not) then you know for sure that the requirement for GCSE in English and Maths or Functional Skills does make absolute sense – I can’t argue with that, but these qualifications should be free (currently around £295 each) to all so as not to discourage the talent we so desperately need. And there’s no reason why they can’t be exit requirements rather than entry requirements. So where does this leave those Practitioners who have not yet achieved a relevant level 3 qualification or GCSEs in English and Maths but who are exceptional and experienced Practitioners nonetheless?
Well, keep on doing what you’re doing, because what you’re doing is crucial, and it is valuable, and it is appreciated. Appreciated by the children and appreciated by their parents and carers and appreciated [I’m sure] by every other professional working around them. But if there’s a couple of nuggets of advice I can give to you then it’s: keep enjoying doing what you’re doing because when that sparkle goes it is very difficult to reignite. And whatever training you do engage in take the time to reflect upon it: questioning what you are doing in day-to-day practice and why you are doing it; keep your knowledge up to date and do this in an enjoyable way, such as through blogs (some are even designed to be CPPD), tweet chats and discussion forums; subscribing to regular newsletters and online magazines to stay up to date with relevant research and news; attend online, virtual or other conference events; join a range of social networking groups with some sharing links to free online CPPD courses and journals and others specialising in safeguarding and child protection. Remember to keep a log somewhere of training you’ve done, write a few notes on the impact of the training – for yourself and the children – and plan for your own future training, noting what it is you hope to achieve through the training. And then if [unlike me] you have a burning passion for collecting bits of paper and writing on bits of paper then by all means pop it all together in a folder (afterall, you might want to show Mr or Mrs O one day) but what is absolutely essential is that you keep updating it regularly and keep reflecting.