Let’s Hear it for the Early Years Teacher!

June 28th 2022

I am always happy to support Early Years Alliance and NDNA campaigns but, right now, I think they are both missing a trick.

They want to raise the profile of staff and build their status with parents and the public. I agree, I have been writing about this for many years and have made many changes here at LEYF to turn those words into actions. My most profound change was in 2017 when I announced at the LEYF annual conference that from there on out, we would be known as Nursery Teachers.


It went down really well with staff who finally felt that their work as Early Years teachers (underpinned by the researched defined art, craft and science of Early Years teaching) was finally recognised. That was in 2017 and while many other nurseries have joined me in this, a whole sector transformation is long-overdue.

Being known as LEYF Early Years teachers had a direct impact on quality because it’s aligned with our strong pedagogy. The combination improved our teaching by giving people confidence and a sense of empowerment and self-belief.

There is nothing new about using the term ‘teacher’ to describe our work. Montessori called her staff teachers and pioneers such as Margaret McMillan and Susan Issacs referred to the role of nursery teachers. What has happened since then has allowed qualifications to define our roles. I remember when I was a member of the Nutbrown Review, Cathy Nutbrown reflected with dismay about how staff were defined by their qualifications not their role. I agreed! It was a bit like a dating app.

My name is Stig, I live in Ballymorey, I am 26  with a GSOH and I have a Level 2”

The role is that of a nursery teacher and the qualifications do not define the role. They help you get better and become more knowledgeable and deliver stronger teaching – which of course includes care (both are interlinked!). We want that to happen. I have built a whole network of qualifications from Level 1 to Level 6 but, when we are all pulling together in the day, we are all teaching the children. Of course some have more experience, more skills and knowledge, more understanding etc – but ultimately the aim is to teach.

So, what does teaching mean? The synonyms for the word “teach” are: educate, instruct, lecture, tutor and school. My view is that teaching is one element of the pedagogy which is the overall means of leading children to learn. Teaching is how we respond, care and partner with the children to build their knowledge, understanding, capabilities and confidence in a way that meets their individual needs and idiosyncrasies. In doing so, this extends their learning and strengthens their cultural capital to ensure they achieve their potential. So, why not just use the word we all understand – and that’s ‘teacher’?

When I was preparing for making the change to teacher, I asked parents and children what they call staff and how do they refer to them when discussing nursery with their children? “Teacher” was the common word no matter what part of the world the person hailed from. No one ever said educator or practitioner.

The truth of the matter is what we call ourselves and how we describe ourselves is key to defining our status. We all agree that staff are leaving the sector because they feel under-valued and misunderstood. Sadly, they do not have the status their role deserves and parents, whilst super supportive during their child’s time at nursery, forget us quickly and don’t become lifelong ambassadors for the sector once their child leaves to go to school. But fifty years after leaving school they still know the word ‘teacher’.

So, I ask both EYA and NDNA to bravely step into this discussion. Stop hiding behind meaningless weasel terms decided by policy makers like educator. Stand with me and many others and raise the status of the Early Years by reclaiming the term “Teacher”. By doing that we can destroy the iniquitous disparity driven by our fixation with qualifications which continues to divide the sector, lower our status and confuse the public.  Let’s be bold and brave and march together for the Early Years Teacher.