A big step for early years as it moves up the professional ladder

Date 30.09.2020

The status of early years practitioners has moved several steps up the professional ladder, thanks to a network of experts that includes a University of Northampton (UON) lecturer.

Early education and childcare practitioners are now classified in the latest UK Standard Occupational Classification* as associate professionals.

This moves the profession up three major occupational groups from its previous category of teaching and childcare support occupations, amongst other ‘non-professional’ occupations.

Being Associate Professionals recognises the contribution of early childhood studies graduates with relevant early childhood practice to the workforce.

It not only enhances degree programmes – such as those at UON – but also graduates’ chances of having appropriate graduate/professional employment in the early childhood field.

The status switch follows another 2020 success for early years. Earlier this year; a new framework of competencies for early childhood practitioners was accepted as a national standard.

Both measures will help toward helping early years – which has traditionally suffered from less appreciation and recognition of the skills, knowledge and competencies of its practitioners – achieve parity with other education professions.

Senior Lecturer in Education (Early Years) at UON Dr Tanya Richardson (pictured above) also works as the vice chair of the strategy group in charge of workforce development at the Early Childhood Degrees Network’s (ECSDN). They have led on the recent changes.

The ECSDN is a group of experts who develop graduate and postgraduate level education, training and research in the field of early childhood studies.

Dr Richardson explains the relevance of the changes: “To have moved up three official, major occupational groups is truly historic.

“As an early years’ professional who has run her own nursery and works as an educator, I see the hard work, commitment and dedication people in the profession give. To see this reflected in such a big jump up the official, professional scale will be a real boost for my peers who give their all and that bit extra on a daily basis.

“As is often the case with efforts to increase professional recognition, there is still some way to go before we achieve all of our aims, something not helped by the ongoing travails of the pandemic. Covid has put early years on the edge of a sword – they have greater professional status which should result in better pay and working conditions, but the pandemic puts many early years providers in a precarious financial position.

“But in the fullness of time and with further work from the network, it is hoped we will find ourselves on a more equal footing with other education professionals.”

Find out more about Early Years courses at UON on our website.

*This can be found on the Office of National Statistics website here.