14 May, 2021 | Posted by Kellie Duggan

BLOG: Examining the Race to Professionalisation in the Early Years Sector

Early Years Graduation

Professionalisation of the Early Years Sector as a Critical Issue – An Early Years Professional Crisis in an Urgent Quest for Professionalisation?

As an early years manager/owner of several rural ECE settings in Ireland, I felt quite strongly that the answer to the above issue was very straightforward - “The sector needs to be acknowledged for the work we do, standardise the early years system through professionalisation; thus the sector acquiring a professional status, subsequent decent pay and employment conditions similar to our primary and secondary colleagues”.

However, after some further research, I have come to realise it just isn’t that straightforward.

Multifaceted Layers of Truth

I became quickly aware of the multifaceted layers of truths within this contemporary issue. The quest itself identifies strong influences within social and cultural policy, government funding, historical factors such as child-rearing practices, gender, and personal perceptions.

Applying a post-structural perspective assumes the concept of free knowledge associated with politics and capitalism, encouraging critical reflection, and the application of an advocate quest to the professionalisation solution. However, with this, we must contemplate whether the early years advocate quest will regress contextual elements of early childhood to a linear state instead of a holistic state. To elaborate, will the practitioners overreaching focus be on the child as "becoming,"; becoming in terms of standardisation implemented through government professionalisation. Thus, diminishing the current early years advocates passion, a strong undercurrent to the above quest.

Instead of a shift towards productive professionals yielding productive outcomes, perhaps this quest will only serve as a race of accountability and performance setting, thus contributing to an unstable and questionable society, solving a human capital paradox but in turn creating a human capital controversy.

Socialising the Discourse

Personally, I believe solutions to the quest orientate around a competent system, a unified approach of education and care from zero to six years, quality provision, and a standardised approach across the sector, with an advocate and or resistance-based practitioner central to its construction. Critical reflection exposes an underlining solution in terms of professional self-actualization on the individual level, practitioners need to lift the blanket of the regulatory gaze (Osgood, 2006), and rediscover who they are and where they would like to be if deemed an early years professional.

The workforce itself needs to create spaces within discourse, so self-reflection can challenge prepositioned professional possibilities (Anderson, 2014). Hence by embracing self-actualization, opportunities become possible; thus questioning universal truths, influencing communities, government, and their powers and disciplines of knowledge that are of natural inheritance through the process of professionalisation. Therefore, it is “continued examination and critical reflection which is vital to establishing a reconceptualised understanding of what it means to be professional in ECEC” (Osgood, 2006, p12).

The quest is certainly warranted, the quest has a purpose, the quest identifies truths, contradictions, and dilemmas when considering the human capital and post-structural lenses. However it should be noted that the quest needs to proceed with caution; while practitioners need to be critical advocates, a voice for early childhood contexts, the child, the families, and the communities. One shoe does not fit all.

Professionalising the early year's workforce should not diminish workforce passion nor focus on the child as a commodity of yielding future values within outcome-based and or standardised pedagogy.

A balance is needed, the reflective and professional early childhood advocate should be central to the professionalisation quest at a local, national and international level, bridging the gap of unsettledness between government and workforce, adjoining human capital investment, powers of knowledge, resistance, and advocacy. Ultimately empowering the workforce and indeed childhood as an active state of agency. Quality provision, identifying what the child needs, listening to the voice of the parent, the child, and the community, all fall under the category of professionalising the sector.

To conclude, this professional quest must attempt to socialise the discourse of early childhood professionalism, organize a competent system; bridging the gap between government and workforce powers and knowledge, to establish a professional early childhood social status, improving quality practice and a human capital return for both the child, practitioner, and society; with truths, dilemmas, and contradiction pertinent.

Moreover, this isn’t just the responsibility of the government as I initially thought, it is ultimately the responsibility of us all – the early years educator ensuring a voice for the child in question, as well as critical reflection and excellence in all we do. Professionalising the sector means being all that you can be, knowing all that you can know, and ultimately becoming a sector of graduate and post-graduate workers, the changes need to come from within.


Anderson, Elizabeth M. “Transforming Early Childhood Education through Critical
Reflection.” Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, vol. 15, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 81–82,
10.2304/ciec.2014.15.1.81. [Accessed 1 Sept 2020].

Gail McNicol Jardine. Foucault and Education. New York Lang, 2005.
Osgood, Jayne. “Deconstructing Professionalism in Early Childhood Education: Resisting the
Regulatory Gaze.” Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, vol. 7, no. 1, Mar. 2006, pp. 5
14, 10.2304/ciec.2006.7.1.5. [Accessed 26 Sept. 2020].

Blog post by Kellie Duggan, MA Early Childhood Studies student at Portobello Institute. Written as part of the Contemporary Issues module focusing on Professionalising the Sector.

Portobello Insitute offers a range of Early Childhood courses.

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