This research has been put together by professionals with considerable experience of both teaching in the Early Years sector and training Early Years professionals at FdA, BA and Postgraduate level. Combined, we also have considerable experience as academics of researching with our colleagues in practice and the sensitivity and care needed for this. We are all passionate about the skills and experience that our Early Years colleagues bring to the sector and all feel strongly that their voices should be heard and their expertise should be celebrated.
Until very recently the role of Early Years (EY) professionals (broadly constructed as individuals with necessary and appropriate knowledge, aptitudes and training) was seen as central to the delivery of ‘quality’ in all types of Early Years educational setting. This was acknowledged as particularly important in areas of high disadvantage (Children’s Workforce Development Council, 2012; Mathers & Smees, 2014; Osgood, 2009). The historical context of maintained nursery schools in the orchestration of professionalism and delivery of quality is also recognised in literature (Nutbrown, 2012; Early Education, 2012). Across maintained nurseries and PVIs, The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project conducted by Sylva et al (2004) has been highly influential in positioning the role of the professional for over a decade or more, as underpinning quality EY provision. This relationship has been replicated in subsequent studies and captured in the more recent Early Years Workforce Strategy (DfE, 2017: 9) which emphasised that a “high quality workforce has a significant impact on the quality of provision and outcomes for children.” Currently, there appears to be a two-fold challenge to the professional/quality correlation thus far conceived which this research will interrogate. The first suggests a move away from an ambition of a similarly professionalised workforce across all EY settings. In an open letter from the Education minister, Nadhim Zahawi, to the chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon (18th July 2018), it was revealed that the Department for Education would scrap plans to proceed with a graduate feasibility survey and instead would invest in professional development activity focused on disadvantaged areas. The second concerns the current and future role of the state maintained nursery school as hub of professional expertise improving quality through sector improvements (Early Education, 2017). Hitherto, state and private settings have been positioned as providing quality through ‘choice’ to stake-holders, despite this model being questioned as capable of addressing the needs of the most vulnerable of pre-school children, especially in areas of deprivation (SEED project, 2018). This research will therefore scrutinise the current situation with regard to maintained nursery schools in driving forward EY sector improvements.