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It’s Time We Found A Job Title That Sums Up What Every Early Years Practitioner Does – Teach!

What’s in a name? Why does our qualification dictate our title over the skills and attributes required of the role?

  • It’s Time We Found A Job Title That Sums Up What Every Early Years Practitioner Does – Teach!

I was recently reviewing a job description for a standard head office role. It was outdated and no longer fitted what I expected of the post holder. What fascinated me as I trawled through HR websites and read articles and research was that job titles are still important. People like them as a way of describing what you do.

In July last year, NFER, the National Governors’ Association and the Future Leaders Trust published a report following an investigation into the term ‘executive headteacher’.

It had been commissioned to illuminate the role given the growing number of executive heads across the UK. The report suggested that the title was much more complex and covered a far wider range of activities than first anticipated.

I wonder what the report would say about the confusion of titles to be found across the early years sector.

It’s the only place I’ve ever been where a staff member might be introduced, “Hello, meet Rhia – she’s Level 3.” I remember Cathy Nutbrown commenting in amazement at this when we first met at the Nutbrown Review. I think it was one of the reasons she tried to introduce one title for one role: the Early Years Teacher. Isn’t this right? Shouldn’t our title describe what we do? Teach!

We’re all teachers
I think we should reclaim the title Nursery Teacher and separate it from the qualification debate. It’s what parents and children call us (except when they’re cross, when we find ourselves called many interesting things!). Why does our qualification dictate our title? When I meet a group of CEOs we all share the same job description that identifies the skills, traits, attributes and knowledge we need for the job. It’s true that some CEOs will be more qualified than others, but ultimately, what is expected by the public is that a CEO does what a CEO does.

Now, I can feel the twitching across the sector. Competitive grumblings about the ranking of qualifications from Level 2 upwards, references to the need for qualifications to support good-quality teaching. I have no problem with us building a team of people with a range of qualifications. They are the platforms from which we take what we’ve learned and put it into practice, coached and supported by our managers and colleagues. So yes, it’s important we have qualified staff, but that should not determine the job title. Let’s take our job title out of the qualification box.

Let’s focus instead on what we need to be able to teach. This is a much better focus than qualifications. No one can rely on a qualification to ensure high-quality teaching, especially today when academies can choose to hire staff without teaching qualifications and instead focus on the skills and attributes they require.

Qualifications do not drive fair and consistent terms and conditions. In fact, by not leading a debate about what we do, we have suffered from ill-considered government policy.

It was easier to divide and rule and weaken the debate. It resulted in a lack of a strong core argument as every different group of qualified staff had a slightly different take on the argument, when actually the issue is the same. The result is that teaching small children remains low status, subject to inadequate funding and at the back of the education queue.

Furthermore, the confusion about what we’re called does little to help parents. They are ill-informed about what teaching looks like for small children, and the push to school has caused many parents alarm and distress. Our job is to help parents understand what good teaching looks like irrespective of the setting (I am of course making an assumption that the setting is high quality).

What do you think? Should our title describe what we do rather than describe our qualification?

June O’Sullivan MBE is the CEO of the London Early Years Foundation. Visit June’s blog at juneosullivan.wordpress.com or connect on Twitter @JuneOSullivan

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