Prior to 1997, an integrated legislative and policy approach to meeting the educational and care needs of children and young people, in the English context, had been absent. Separatist rather than integrated models of service delivery prevailed. In the early years specifically, research findings have supported the growing recognition internationally about the importance of good quality Early Childhood Education and Care, both economically and for later life achievements. In England, the former Labour Government (1997-2010) began to address the issues through a raft of policy initiatives, including the Childcare Act 2006 which removed the distinction between education and care in the early years. This Act introduced the Early Years Foundation Stage and the Early Years Professional, a new inter-disciplinary professional status and role imposed at graduate level, rather than grown organically. This unprecedented step also took government involvement in the professions to a new dimension as it involved itself explicitly in orchestrating a new graduate level profession. The range of training routes to achieve Early Years Professional Status and the backgrounds of those being researched are complex and evolving. Therefore, the overarching aim of this research was to explore the development of professional identity through a critique of the concept, implementation and impact of Early Years Professional Status as a new professional role and status. Mixed methods were used to support a pragmatic, flexible approach to gathering the collective and individual perceptions of those who undertook the pilot in 2006 and those who commenced one of the four pathways to Early Years Professional Status in 2007. Questionnaires, interviews and a focus group were undertaken to gather insights at the start of the process, after the award of the status and a year later. The same methods were employed in two phases with stakeholders to add a further dimension to the research. The mixed methods research design was underpinned by Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Theory of Human Development, the model being envisaged with the Early Years Professional in the centre, rather than a child. This framework provided positive model for exploring a complex process. The development on Early Years Professional Status has not been linear and there have been several challenges. These include the starting point of a mixed economy of early years provision marked by variation in quality, poor qualification levels, low pay and low status, the initial confusing statement of broad based equivalency to teaching, political change and world recession. These last factors have supported greater understanding of the under theorised Chaotic System that Bronfenbrenner discussed in his final work. The research findings suggest that the development has been overwhelmingly welcomed, despite the lack of a clearly defined professional remit or being afforded the privileges ascribed to other professions. A new flexible professional space in the early years sector and children’s services is emerging at the intersection of health, social care and education. It is occupied by those who are developing a new holistic professional identity and others, who already had an established professional identity as a teacher, for whom completing Early Years Professional Status has been additional training, moving them towards being experts in their field. The training process and standards were affirmed and a community of practice is emerging, who would like to see a Continual Professional Development framework, a code of practice and an induction year for newly qualified Early Years Professionals. The roles of the Early Years Professional and the Early Years Teacher emerged as being complementary but essentially different. Evidenced also suggests that the Early Years Professional is a reflective professional, an advocate for all children and is leading and supporting quality outcomes. They are becoming a catalyst for change. However, the government has failed to recognise let alone celebrate the positive developments resulting from the workforce reform agenda and parents/carers and other professionals lack knowledge about the role, though those with Early Years Professional Status have not recognised their own role as wider change agents. The title Early Years Professional has not been widely welcomed, it is not being actively used and when it is, the acronym EYP prevails. Given this situation it could be opportune to rename the Early Years Professionals as Early Years Pedagogues, to reflect and celebrate a new flexible professional space at the intersection of health, education and social care that is occupied by an holistic leadership professional and an advocate for young children.
Early Years Professional status, Early years, Professionalisation, Professional identity, Interdisciplinary, Transdisciplinary, Professionalism, Mulit-professional working, Early years policy