Reforming and re-forming the Early Years workforce in England: a rhetorical analysis of Early Years Teacher Status, leadership and professionalism

Year: 2018

Author: Wood, Elizabeth, Kay, Louise

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The qualification of Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) was created in 2013, based on a policy commitment to ensure a graduate leader in government-funded (maintained) and private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sectors for children from birth to five. The EYTS was part of a wider reform process intended to solve the ‘problems’ of low quality in early childhood provision by enhancing professionalism and leadership, thereby raising overall standards and improving children’s subsequent life chances and outcomes. The drivers for this policy were educational and economic, informed by research on pre-school effectiveness that linked overall quality with pedagogical leadership and graduate qualifications (Sylva et al, 2010), as evidenced by children’s educational outcomes. This paper uses rhetorical analysis to understand this arena of public policy-making, its actors, decision-making, outcomes and consequences (Gottweis, 2006). As Gottweis (2006) argues, the interplay among logos, ethos and pathos brings into focus the performative nature of the policy process, in which argumentation is used to describe and produce what it refers to. The concepts of logos, ethos and pathos are used here to identify the drivers underlying the reform process, the re-forming of the Early Years Teacher in policy texts, the persuasive techniques and discourses used within those texts, and how EYTs are positioned as moral agents to solve the problems and crises.  Analysis of key policy texts reveals a regulatory framework that sits within a circular discourse in which government-defined standards for EYTs are linked to outcomes for children, and inspection criteria, with the Office for Standards in Education acting as the sole arbiter of ‘quality’. The evidence-base for the re-forming of the EYT is central to this circular discourse because the logos relies on policy-led evidence from ‘approved’ sources such as government-funded research and commissioned reports, and OFSTED inspection reports. We argue that the traditional moral and emotional commitments of the (predominantly female) early years workforce become subservient to the dominant policy logos. We conclude by problematizing the performative nature of the policy reform and re-forming process, specifically the risks of narrowing rather than expanding constructs of leadership and professionalism.