Greater Respect for Early Years Teachers Could Help Boost the Profession

I recently spoke to a friend who works as an Early Years teacher, and during our discussion she said that she loved her job and the fantastic children that she taught. However, she also mentioned that the dismissive attitude towards the early years profession from colleagues and senior educators in her school could be discouraging and sometimes even offensive.

Whilst there are those who respect early years teachers, my friend’s complaint is unfortunately quite commonly voiced by other professionals in her situation. These complaints are especially worrying when we are seeing a potential shortage of early years specialists ahead of new government plans to combine nurseries with schools. This new plan put forward in 2014 by MP Sam Gyimah hopes to encompass all early years childcare into schools, stating it would increase standards and be more beneficial for both the children and their parents.

However, this new plan has come with a warning from experts who say that the early years profession is becoming an increasingly unpopular career choice in education, which is reflected by the shortage of applicants on university courses. In fact, both the University of Winchester and Leeds Beckett University recently dropped their programmes offering Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) as they struggled to fill places on their courses.

There are a few reasons for the decreasing popularity of EYTS, but the most glaring issue is the lack of benefits when compared with the Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) which allows you to work in a larger variety of roles, even though the entry requirements for both courses are the same. Graduates with QTS can often find work with a set pay scale and an annual salary, whereas those with EYTS do not have the same guarantees.

Alongside this, as I have previously mentioned, there is an increasing dissatisfaction with the way the early years profession is sometimes belittled and looked down upon within schools. A recent anonymous article written by an early years teacher expressed anger at the way their colleagues and senior figures within their school treated the early years profession. Their expertise and importance would be boiled down to a glorified babysitting figure, dismissing any significance that early years teaching actually has upon the development of children and the impact it has on their future education.

There is no doubt that the author’s anger expressed in the article is fully justified. When someone dedicates their career and training to such an important role as bringing on the future generation it is incredibly frustrating to see their efforts depreciated. There is plenty of evidence that suggests early years teaching is absolutely crucial to a child’s development and in preparing them for their future education in a classroom environment. The early years teachers also have a vital role in spotting the early signs of learning difficulties or children who may need extra support. When I was four years old my teacher spotted that I had difficulties with certain words and pronunciation and recommended speech therapy. Had I not had that treatment so young it might well have hindered by education at a later stage and affected my self-confidence.

Fortunately, there is some recognition of early years professionals which has been brought to light recently by a study from Save the Children called Lighting up Young Brains. Amongst other revelations, the research highlights the importance of the role of early years specialists and suggests that every nursery in the UK should also have an EYTS professional working with the children to help with toddler language and development. With this in mind, the government’s idea of incorporating nurseries into schools could be beneficial as early years professionals could share their expertise more easily.

However, this arrangement will only work with better appreciation and increased staffing of early years teaching. In Bristol, a new organisation called the Bristol Men in Early Years Network has been formed to promote and encourage men to work in the early years sector, which is currently made up of 98% women. The organisation hopes to dispel myths and encourage the profession as a career choice for males with the additional goal of organising projects in secondary schools around Bristol to help promote early years as a career option. Their work is important in building up the profession and making it more accessible to all levels of society, and more action like this could help with the dwindling numbers of university placements.

This sort of promotion is encouraging, but real change to the current status of early years must come from the government. Increased funding in early years is crucial to encourage more people to enrol in the EYTS courses. If the benefits of EYTS matched those of QTS then it would become a far more attractive option, and government regulation of salaries and pay scale would certainly help. Maybe with these changes and the promotion of research into the crucial benefits of early years teaching, the profession would recognised by fellow teachers and educators and early years professionals would start getting the respect they have always deserved.