Opinion: Professionalisation vs Professionals in early years

The Liberal Democrat Education Association Conference 2014 was a thoroughly enjoyable event with friendly people and some fantastic debate. One such debate was the emphasis placed on professionals teaching in early years education.

It is important to note, governance relationships within the modern welfare-state has evolved from its top-down centralised roots to a system of partnerships, networks and stakeholders. Equally, the philosophy of state-interventionism has moved away from the notion that education professionals exist in isolation from other stakeholders such as parents as well as other areas of welfare such as health. Therefore to direct ones faith in “the professional” is to limit ones early years outlook.

To give an example, there was an insightful episode of Channel 4’s Super Nanny where a Child Psychologist PHD specialising in early years needed Super Nanny to help her with getting her own children under control. Which professional would you want to help with your children? Clearly the PHD mum had the qualifications but Super Nanny had a functional understanding of the children, the environment and the interventions required. This demonstrates when we are talking about the “early years professional” we must be cautious not to delimit this concept in a way that precludes positive outcomes.

In my view there is a difference between “getting in a professional” and “professionalising” early years education. While professionals have their place in steering early years education, I’m deeply concerned about the outcomes we expect them to achieve. “Professionalisation” of early years should be about improving the functionality of the local early years network from professional to parent. This is partially being achieved by one to one support for families in many local authorities, but in addition we need to further the ambition. We need to start growing nurture groups that can sustain themselves as well as achieve ambitious wellbeing outcomes without constant state facilitation.

The nurture groups that do exist do not form part of the professional network in early years reinforcing the top-down paradigm within the sector. As instinctive advocates of localism Lib Dems naturally favour bottom-up approaches to all kinds of welfare interventions including early years. However, this instinct for “professional knows best” creates the perverse outcome of a “bottom-up” paradigm that doesn’t include the bottom i.e. service users. This in turn reinforces the overly abstract top-down decision-making localism aims to address.

In addition political enthusiasts from all parties have a tendency to glaze over the extent to which “getting in professionals” absorbs resource. It is important to remember that from a functional perspective professionals are a tool that exist not in isolation but along with the other tools of early years development like most importantly mum and dad.

Before I joined the Lib Dem ranks one of the things that put me off the Party was the absolute notion of the professional knows best, so it will be of little surprise to readers I think it is important to advocate professionalisation of early years over sending in the professionals.

* Patrick McAuley is a councillor in Stockport

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • My Daughter is a teacher assistant in greater Manchester she provide invaluable service in class and outside she is not a qualified teacher but be sure she is professional and dedicated in her service

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