Helen Perkins introduces the new Pearson Early Years Educator qualifications

So, my name’s Helen Perkins and I’m here
to launch Pearson’s new suite of Early Years Educator Qualifications. I began my own career
in Early Years as a volunteer in a playgroup, and when my children moved onto nursery, I
became a parent helper. I loved it so much I enrolled on a BTEC Diploma. Once qualified,
I worked in the Foundation Stage and in Key Stage 1. Before qualifying as a Nursery Nurse,
and then subsequently as a teacher, I thought this is a job I can do, why do I need a qualification?
But I realised what I considered good practice was more luck than judgement. Through studying
for my degree and my masters, I realised that actually I’d barely scratched the surface
of what there was to know about children’s care education. Particularly in terms of theory,
and understanding how children grow, learn and develop. After many years working with
children I now work at Solihull College and I take great pride in developing the next
generation of Early Years Educators. Being qualified makes a difference. The quality
of the children’s workforce has been the focus of government policy for some time.
Dame Clare Tickell’s review of the Early Years Foundation Stage highlighted the importance
of having qualifications that are of a high standard, and meet the needs of learners.
A recommendation has resulted in a review of qualifications led by Professor Cathy Nutbrown.
Her review considered how best to strengthen qualifications in career pathways, the young
people new to the Early Years sector and for those already employed there. The new Early
Years Educator BTEC and Work Based Learning Qualifications from Pearson are a step towards
realising this ambition; creating a professional workforce and a professional identify for
those who work with our most vulnerable children. I was invited by Professor Nutbrown to join
her panel of experts and review the quality of Early Years education. Each panel member
had their own area of expertise, their own interests, and brought a different perspective
to the discussions. As you can imagine there was much discussion and debate and sometimes
disagreement, but the one thing we all agreed on was that any recommendations we made, would
be for the benefit of children. Foundations for Quality: The Independent Review of Early
Years Childcare Qualifications was published in 2012. The consultation highlights an overwhelming
desire for any new Early Years Qualification to reflect the quality and content of the
old NNEB. This was synonymous with professional, high quality education and care. Many of the
respondents to the review commented that the rigouring entry requirements of that qualification,
the course assessment regime, meant that achieving an NNEB represented a high standard of achievement,
of discipline and professional conduct. Holders of that qualification had a universal understanding
of what could be expected in terms of job role and level of knowledge and understanding.
The Pearson Early Years Educator Qualification suite reflects this. Employers said that they
could be assured that candidates holding that award had a good grounding in early education
and care, which they could apply to their practice. It is this attention to rigour and
quality that the new Pearson Early Years Educator Qualifications reflect. The Nutbrown review
recommendations called for qualifications to foreground child development, play, pedagogy,
observation and assessment, and planning, with a robust assessment regime. Practitioners
must understand the research and theory that underpins their practice, their day to day
decisions, for without that theoretical knowledge, what they do can lack rigour and rationale.
It’s like a building without foundations, or to draw on the hair or care analogy that
we’re very familiar with, it’s like a hairdresser with brunt scissors. The new Pearson
Qualifications are congruent with Nutbrown’s recommendations. They meet the full and relevant
criteria that were published by the National College in response to Professor Nutbrown’s
ideas. I’m really pleased to find that there are incremental steps in the Early Years Educator
Qualification within the BTEC suite. The BTEC Children’s Play, Learning and Development
Qualification allows learners to take incremental steps towards achieving their goal. A key
concern is the requirement for Maths GCSE grade C or above for students progressing
from Level 1 and Level 2 Qualifications, they’re good practitioners and we don’t want to
lose them. The new BTEC CPLD allows this incremental progression towards their Early Years Educator
Qualification. We have heard much about it from employers, in fact in every employment
sector about the poor quality of literacy and numeracy skills, Professor Nutbrown highlighted
this in her review noting that lack of basic literacy and numeracy requirements and entry
to courses was a potential weakness. Given the importance of these skills in communicating
with parents, and supporting the learning and development of babies and young children,
it is key that we get this right. Almost half of the respondents from the review mentioned
the importance of communication skills being a key part of the Early Years Educator Qualification,
with many specifically mentioning how inappropriate it would be having practitioners without good
literacy and numeracy skills to be educating young children. So while the challenge is
very clear, the criteria will make a real difference in the quality and in line with
the review’s recommendations. A further area of concern highlighted in the review
was the difference in the content and assessment between the Work Based Learning Qualifications
and the full National Diploma Qualifications. I’m here, pleased to see that there is an
increased robustness in the Work Based Qualification. This Work Based Learning route incorporates
many of the recommendations and I see the findings here reflected in terms of the content
in depth of study, the focus on child development and theory, which is to be taught and assessment
as well as evidence through practice in the workplace. The review was very clear on the
importance of academic skills for practitioners to enable progression to higher education.
Employers discussed their dissatisfaction with some practitioners’ lack of knowledge
of child development, and their ability to apply theory and planning, and assessing young
children’s individual needs. By adopting Professor Nutbrown’s recommendation of a
2 year course with the opportunity to accredit prior learning for practitioners with experience,
it gives practitioners time to develop this theoretical knowledge overtime, strengthening
the Work Based route. And aligning the qualifications content and knowledge, as well as skills,
to ensure that employers know what to expect from Early Years Educators whatever pathway
they have taken. Employers noted that the many basic practical skills were not being
sufficiently development too. For example; care routines, nursery rhymes, the importance
of play in children’s learning. These are very well established in the Pearson suite
of qualifications, all Early Years Educators being required to demonstrate practice, as
well as to understand why they are so important. Employers were also keen to have a badge qualification
that meant they could understand exactly what they were going to get. The Pearson Early
Years Educator Qualification’s address employers concerns very, very well. So what does it
mean to be qualified to work with the early years? These are the basics: a thorough understanding
of child development, play and providing a grounded in social, emotional, physical, cognitive
development of children from birth to 7; a real understanding of why children do what
they do and how they might develop at different times, different skills and abilities, and
how best to meet their developmental needs; how to encourage children’s play at different
stages of their development; being able to respond to atypical development and whether
there’s a cause for concern and what course of action to take; and keeping children safe
and well. In essence what a practitioner can and should do to support all children as they
grow and learn. This agreement in the sector that effect professionalization is they way
forward if they workforce is to achieve parity in terms of esteem and status with the rest
of the education system, if it is to meet the high aspirations of the government policy.
I always return to this quote from Professor Trisha David to express my hopes for the Early
Years workforce of the future “If we regard children as capable, strong and clever, then
the people who work with them must be brilliant, capable strong and clever”. In her interim
report Professor Brown said good qualifications taught well, ensure those training to enter
the workforce and those already working with babies and young children, can be supportive.
If the right blend of theoretical knowledge and practical skills can be combined with
the commitment and passion in the Early Years workforce, we will have a workforce to be
proud of and will see better outcomes for children in their early years as well as their
later phases in life. The new Pearson Early Years Educator Suite of Qualifications meet
these requirements and are the first steps towards improving quality outcomes for children
and families, and should be welcomed in the Early Years sector.

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