From education to employment

Professional Love in the Early Years

Annie Pendrey on exclusive FE News background

Professional Love is a term coined by Dr Jools Page and is best defined as the loving relationship that is developed in an Early Years setting between children and their practitioners.

However, in recent weeks across social media, it has saddened me to read yet more research and reports of how undervalued the early years sector remains.

In turn, this has made me reflect further about the term professional love and the natural nurturing early years practitioners just seem to have genetically and why they remain in a workforce that for years has struggled for recognition and status.

I joined the Early Years sector in the 1980’s as an NNEB and in those days as Nursery Nurses we rarely worked beyond Nursery and Reception. My achievements of studying child development in depth from 0- 8 years, my observational skills, my appreciation of learning theory and philosophies of play were not utilised as most days I would be found washing paint pots, picking PVA glue off tubs or using a guillotine to cut paper. For those of you who wonder what a guillotine is, please have a google but all you need to know there were no health and safety regulations adhered to in the paper cutting exercise! In addition, I was the one and only chief first aider and comforter of all things armed with a supply of paper towels used to wipe bogey’s, fix gravel filled knees and wipe tears. I honestly do not recall anyone ever asking me about my studies or my course content either inside or outside of the education sector. However, I do recall individuals asking me what I did for a living and when I replied I was a Nursery Nurse, it was either a puzzled look I was met with, or I had to offer a further explanation. It was usually at this point I was met with, ‘oh so, you only play’!

As a Nursery Nurse, I worked in several settings, some where I was not allowed in the staff room or invited to professional development sessions and yet still, I remained in the sector. Why is this? I believe it is Professional Love, but maybe not as Page (2017) advocates but the professional love I have for a sector that is undervalued for its professionalism and status.

Early Years is a sector that encompasses local authority provision but not forgetting the private, voluntary, and independent sector, some of which open almost every day of the year to support our families, their young children, and the wider community.

During Covid, the Early Years sector were heralded key workers and I recall proudly thinking at last, is this a turning point for our recognition and status? Are we going to be valued for the care we provide for our young children, the professional love we provide? Will the world begin to appreciate we don’t just play? Will the world begin to understand that a cardboard box in an Early Year’s practitioners’ eyes is never ‘just a cardboard box’ it is a magical object that encourages curiosity, imagination, communication and language, fine and gross motor skills and so much more! Will the world ever appreciate how much we love our children and families that even a trip to a famous store beginning with I (if you know you know) results in scissors, wooden objects, paper bags and objects being placed in the oversized shopping bag, that only an Early Years practitioner tells their partner that they really, really NEED all these things!

A recent report Essential but undervalued early years care and education during Covid 19, highlights how the recent pandemic pushed an already delicate sector into an even more fragile state. One summary from the research is the recognition of the current low morale amongst the sector which has led to a loss of early years workers and recommends, ‘a creation of a sustainable and progressive career paths in early years, with pay progression reflecting skills and experiences, backed by government sector-wide pay framework’ (Hardy et al. 2022, p.6)

So, I believe it really is time to reflect, to rethink and to reenergise our early years practitioners who nurture, love and care for our small humans with unconditional professional love every day. To recognise a work force who don’t ‘just play’ but who nurture, encourage, cultivate, embrace, and ignite sparks of joy, fun and learning in every child that walks through their settings doors.  

Annie Pendrey, is the author of The Little Book of Reflective Practice, a creative trainer and researcher. An NNEB on her way to being Dr P.

Hardy, K., Tomlinson, J., Norman., H., Cruz, K., Whittaker, X. and Archer, N (2022) Essential but undervalued early years care and education during Covid 19

Jools, P. (2017) ‘Reframing infant-toddler pedagogy through a lens of professional love: Exploring narratives of professional practice in early childhood settings in EnglandContemporary issues in early childhood,18 (4), pp. 387 – 399. doi.10.1177/1463949117742780.

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