Introduction to Training in the Early Years

I want to begin by setting the scene as to how we got to the present point in training for the early years. I will give a potted history of the childcare field.

Early Years

If you read Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy’s book The Rise and Fall of the British Nanny, you will find that there were distinctions between the wealthy families who employed nannies and the poor families where relatives or older siblings looked after the children. The nannies in wealthy families were responsible for training each other.

Formal training for nannies came with the establishment of the private colleges such as Norland (founded in 1892). By 1920 other private colleges began to spring up offering their own bespoke qualifications. Around the same period theorists began to put forward their ideas on the importance of play for children’s development – people such as Froebel, Spencer, Winnicott, Vygotsky and Montessori. There were also people such as Steiner, the McMillans and Susan Isaacs who were setting up nursery schools with an emphasis on children’s learning and development rather than just offering day care whilst parents worked.

WWII and After

In 1945 the national nursery examination board (NNEB) was set up to offer a national qualification for all those wanting to work with young children in day care and residential settings.

There was also a massive increase in government provided day care facilities for children from birth to 5 years. The rationale behind this development was to get women back into the work force following the Second World War. In order to do this there had to be facilities for the care of their children which in turn required a trained work force to staff the nurseries.

In the same period there were also nursery schools which had trained early years teachers but these only operated during school hours and term times. The split between the two types of training still remains today but now we have multi-disciplinary teams in nurseries and children’s centres.

This situation continued for a number of years but during that period a large number of nurseries closed down and women were encouraged to stay at home with their children, at least for the first 5 years.

1990s to Now

Over time emphasis was also being placed upon the role of day care facilities and the training of the staff. Around 1990 a significant meeting took place at which Gillian Pugh and Lesley Abbott introduced the then Minister Margaret Hodge to the idea of a climbing frame of qualifications for those working with children in the early years.

The benefits for the children of having well qualified staff was later shown by the findings of the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education Project (EPPE) which linked high quality pre-school education with better intellectual and social/behavioural development. This piece of important research has underpinned much of the thinking which has gone into the early years curriculum and staff training.

In 1990 the Working with the Under Sevens Project – led by Dr. Denise Hevey – produced the draft standards which became the basis for the national vocational qualifications in child care and education. These were overseen by the Care Sector Consortium – which was seen by those in the field as not being the appropriate forum for child care qualifications. As time went on the Children’s Workforce Development Council was set up to oversee all child care and education qualifications levels 1-4 for those wishing to work with children. All degree level courses, including the foundation degrees were overseen by the universities.

The latest version of the National Vocational Qualifications have common core units which cover the age range birth to 16 years, with added units which are directed to particular age groups. This system enables people to gain qualifications across a number of age groups and settings enabling them to broaden their work options. For example, classroom assistants may also take modules which enable them to work in breakfast clubs and after school clubs. With the addition of playwork units they could also work on holiday play schemes.

Finally, there have been huge changes in the early years curriculum in order to ensure that early childhood education satisfies children’s all round developmental needs. In 2003 Every Child Matters introduced five key areas that underpinned the Children Act 2004 and were key to the individual’s well-being in childhood and later life.

In 2008 the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) was introduced and this merged three previous documents:

– Birth to Three Matters

– The Early Years Framework

– National Standards in Childcare.

In 2006 the Government introduced a new qualification, the Early Years Professional Status (EYPS), which was for those people who would be responsible for leading the curriculum and the EYFS in day care provision. From September 2008 it has been required that all provision for children from birth to 8 years of age must implement the EYFS.

1 thought on “Introduction to Training in the Early Years”

  1. I complement Maureen O’Hagan’s contribution to Children Webmag on training in the early years by highlighting Nottingham’s well-deserved place in the history of nursery nursing. The NNEB (National Nursery Examination Board) qualification was pioneered here by Bessie Wright. Miss Wright opened the Nottingham Nursery Nurses Training Centre in 1947. Confidence, personality, maturity and good health were essential criteria for acceptance onto the course, as these were the skills and attributes Miss Wright observed her childcare students would need in their exhausting roles. Then, as now, the well-being of early years practitioners was a cause for concern as nursery nurses were over worked, undervalued and underpaid. New College Nottingham’s (NCN) Basford Hall College has its roots of origin deep in Miss Bessy Wright’s great accomplishments.


    Smart, A. (2007) The Waverley girls — nursery nurses who trained at the old Waverley College in
    Nottingham — are holding a reunion later this month to mark its 60th anniversary. Nottingham Evening Post 9th. March.
    Simms. M. C. (2010) Retention of Early Years Practitioners in Day Nurseries. Ph.D. Nottingham Trent University.


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