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Graduate opportunities in early years

The Early Years and Foundation Stage is perhaps one sector of education which has not traditionally attracted graduates. Yet, according to a new report, these education professionals are something which early years provision needs.

An independent report for the government published by MP Graham Allen suggested one way in which to increase the capability of the staff working with children between the ages of nought and five would be to "increase graduate-led, or even postgraduate, pre-school leadership".

The report advised ensuring there is at least one person who has achieved Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) working on sites where young children are learning and the establishment of a workforce development strategy, which will ensure there are enough professionals trained to graduate level to work in the sector.

"In the interim, I recommend that all key professionals are made aware of the importance of building on the social and emotional capabilities of babies and children ... through refocused training initially and then as an integral part of continuing professional development," Mr Allen added.

The Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC) recently carried out the first survey into the impact of graduate leaders within early years situations.

Nearly one-third of those who have achieved the EYPS participated in the survey, which is part of a three-year study. So far 6,000 people have achieved the EYPS qualification, while a further 4,200 are in training.

The survey showed an overwhelmingly positive response to the qualification. Some 76 per cent claimed it had improved their professional status and 80 per cent said it had increased their confidence, while 62 per cent said they felt like they had increased credibility among their colleagues.

"Practitioners felt more positive about the impact of EYPS on their overall employment prospects in the early years sector as a whole and the likelihood of them taking on a leadership role," the report stated.

It also found those who achieved EYPS status were most likely to be working within the private or voluntary sector (62 per cent), with the majority also working in centres identified as outstanding by Ofsted.

Thom Crabbe, National Programme Manager for Early Years at CWDC, said: "The survey is significant in that it really underlines the value of a graduate level programme in the sector.

"Increased confidence, skill and professionalism, together with the ability to lead practice, is clearly benefitting practitioners, their colleagues and their settings. This can only have a positive effect on the young children who develop and learn in their care."

While this survey shows the benefits a graduate level qualification has on early years provision, it does not have anything to encourage highly trained graduates to consider a career in the sector in the first place.

For this information it is the opinions of those already teaching early years which are perhaps most highly sought.

Speaking to the Guardian, a number of practitioners suggested working with really young pupils offers opportunities for professionals to develop a better understanding of the way in which children learn and how creativity and other factors can help within an educational setting.

It was also suggested teachers can have a much greater impact on the future of a child if they educate them while they are still very young.

Iram Siraj-Blatchford, Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of London's Institute of Education, told the news provider: "It's the most compelling job in the world. Within 15 or 20 minutes you are challenged in every way possible, by the children, the circumstances and the families - in the most delightful way."
She added: "It takes all your intellectual resources to bring a shy child out of themselves."

On the other hand there are those who question the suitability of top graduates to work in early years teaching, saying they may not have the skills required to engage with children on their level.

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, argued "working in early years is not the same as teaching", adding "it's more about facilitating children's development". She said when it comes to improving early years teaching an intellectual solution may not be the answer.

The National Union of Teachers was also keen to highlight the differences between graduates and those who have received specialist early years training, although welcomed the suggestion over all.

Mr Allen suggested in his report that he would like to see a refocus in early years teacher training being in the year 2011/12 and being rolled out further in 2012/13.

And with graduates facing a job market that is both restrictive and competitive, more could turn to early years teaching as an attractive career.