"Oh …so you only play" is a phrase I have come to know and loathe in the world of Early Years and my own personal vocational and academic journey.

Back in 1983, my careers advisor advised me to take a vocational route as opposed to A levels and University as my socio- economic background dictated that I would not be able to even dream of Higher Education.

Her words resonate with me to this day, ‘you can try being a Nursery Nurse, it’s a great little helper for every teacher and you will get to play’, and so my vocational journey began.

It could be argued that vocational qualifications have been over shadowed and coupled with a possible lack of understanding of the content of a vocational qualification, often seen as the poor relative.

However, last month, 300,000 students have qualified with a vocational qualification and will soon feed the complex and dynamic labour market of today.

Vocational qualifications offer a diverse route into employment and allows students to reflect and embed vocational practice to academic theory, so the ‘oh you only play’, is where as an Early Years vocational student, I would plan an activity which met the children’s age and stage of development, observed their interactions, nurtured their involvement, recorded their milestones, knowing I was playing a major part in the young child’s synaptic development.

It would then be a return to my FE college to cement this vocational practice with learning theories such as Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner, to name a few and produce my module essays.

My NNEB qualification has long since been replaced with other Early Years Vocational Qualifications, which I now have to honour to plan, deliver and assess as a teacher (yes, a teacher!). The groups of Early Years students I teach study 13 modules with an additional competency unit over the two years and have to complete 750 hours mandatory placement hours in a range of Early Years settings with children aged 0 – 8 years of age.

There are a wide range of modules including Safeguarding, Supporting Children with Special Education Needs and of course Play and Learning, and through a range of assessments and observations students qualify with a license to practice in the world of Early Years Education.

And so, at the end of this academic year 2019-2020, both my students and many other students across the country celebrated their vocational achievements and this was acknowledged for the second year running by the BBC and Steph McGovern.

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Such coverage is an encouraging step towards the recognition for vocational qualifications, and in particular for the Early Years sector, in eradicating the ‘oh…you only play’ phrase to one that celebrates the hard work that each and every student approaches their studies with and leaves to enter a workforce that nurtures and educates our children, our future generation.

In addition, with recent Government restructure, the education secretary Gavin Williamson, has pledged that he is, “going to make sure that those people who opt to take a technical or vocational qualification are given the proper recognition for their hard work’.

This is particularly poignant as FE institutions we begin to pilot the new Education and Childcare T level, with some colleges preparing to deliver the new revolution in education from September 2020.

It could be said there is still a lot of work ahead for vocational qualifications to be fully understood, celebrated and recognised as an alternative to the traditional route, both of which are stretching in academic equivalence and unique to best suit the individual.

Annie Pendrey, Professional Development Manager, Halesowen College

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