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Early Years Diary 9: Addressing Early Years Stigmas

In her latest Early Years Diary, Anna McCallum tackles the stigmatisation of early years work, the lack of appreciation of the sector, and considers the potential impact of raising the barrier of entry for the sector.

The title of ‘nursery worker’ has never been seen as a glamorous one, and rightly so; as we all know, it is anything but!

However, and I don’t know about you, but I often feel that people don’t perceive my work as an Early Years Professional as particularly important.

I guarantee most people reading this would have had the following interaction:

“What do you do?”

“Oh I work in a nursery”

“Aww that must be nice getting to play all day?!”

This is usually followed by an ignorance-induced rage where you then start to rant about the amount of paperwork, planning, and skills that are required for the role, only for it all to fall on deaf ears.

From working in nurseries for several years I have seen just how important early years care is for so many children, and I do not understand how some people still seem to have such an unappreciative view of nurseries and their dedicated teams.

scrabble tiles and smartphone
Planning and Paperwork | Photographer: William Iven | Source: Unsplash

Ultimately, I feel it comes down to a few core reasons.

One is that nursery education is not mandatory, while another is that no qualifications are formally required to work in a nursery. Most all all, however, I would say that the wider public do not actually know the ins and outs of a nursery practitioners’ role and the huge impact that we have on early life development.

As it is not compulsory for children to attend an early years setting, nurseries are rarely seen in the same light as schools. I understand the reasons behind this, but I do not agree with them. If something is mandatory it is instantly given more weight, deemed as more important, and has significant implications if it is not adhered to.

The most crucial years of a child’s life in terms of their development is from 0-5 years and it astounds me that children are not encouraged more to attend nurseries where their development can be monitored, stimulated and early interventions can be made. By making an early years education mandatory we could change the world view on nurseries, help more children to reach their full potential, and perhaps the work practitioners do would gain a bit more respect.

While I appreciate that you do need to be qualified for some aspects of nursery work, you do not need a qualification simply to work in a nursery. Personally, I am in two minds about this. On the one hand it is vital a foot in the door for people who want to get into childcare with little to no prior experience (I myself was once in this position). On the other hand, and to put it bluntly, it can invite some lazy or unsuited individuals into the sector, which does not ultimately serve the best interests of the children and in turn gives nursery workers a bad name, feeding into existing stigmas.

There is an extremely high turnover of staff in the nursery world and I believe this is partly due to inexperienced people looking for an easy ride in a job that requires nothing but ‘play’. Once they start working in a nursery they find it is not quite as easy as they thought it was going to be and so they leave.

By having certain criteria for nursery staff we can set a standard for the industry and ensure that the most passionate, hardworking, and equipped people are hired. You need a teaching qualification to work in a school, so why not in a nursery, where children are at such a vulnerable and critical age.

Qualifications aren’t everything, but experience and learning are important || Photographer: Element5 Digital | Source: Unsplash

Qualifications can be earned along the way, which is of course great, but before hiring any Tom, Dick or Harry we should at least review their background, find out the extent of their prior understanding of the sector and what practice means, and explore their genuine reasons for wanting to join. The welfare and development of the children must be front and centre of this thinking.

I know that not every parent is an early years expert and they are certainly not expected to be, but what I would expect by now is a little more understanding of where they are sending their children every week. Let me be clear, this is through no fault of parents, it is simply due to not having sufficient accessible information about nurseries.

I feel the following should be made common knowledge to all, not just parents, to help create a more solid understanding of what we do: that children develop the most in their first 5 years and that improper interactions in this timeframe can have a detrimental effect.

We support whole families, not just the individual children. We get to know each child personally and create weekly planned activities around their own distinct interests. Their development is regularly assessed and monitored and interventions are put in place when appropriate. Staff undergo regular training to ensure safeguarding, first aid and welfare policies are being followed. We do not judge any parent, child or family that comes into our setting; we share your drive and want what is best for your child.

The role of nursery worker has always been somewhat of a thankless job. Early Years Professionals frequently feel unappreciated, most definitely under paid, and other members of society assume that your job is playing all day. If only that were true!

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We often spend more time with the children than their own parents do, and it should be recognised how much of an impact practitioners have on a child’s life. It is a formidable responsibility and for the welfare of our children and of professionals this should be recognised.

Hopefully in the not-too-distant future every child can access an early years education provided by suitably qualified staff, and their parents will know exactly what it is we are doing to help their children.

Have you ever felt unappreciated or taken for granted as part of your early years work? Join the conversation @thatnurserylife and share your stories using the hashtag #mynurserylife

The opinions expressed in our guest columns do not necessarily represent those of That Nursery Life.