The Early Childhood Education and Care sectors perspective on the Early Childhood Studies graduate and the Graduate Practitioner Competencies

Project Details


This research project was funded by the Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network into the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector’s perception of students on placement, graduates in the workforce and the Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies (ECGPCs). Previous research has already highlighted the benefits of a graduate workforce and its impact on the provision of high-quality education and care which achieves the best outcomes for young children. However, there has been limited appetite for policy makers to reflect the wider need for graduates in non-compulsory provision. Policy mandates that a level 3 vocational accreditation is sufficient to work with young children, which contrasts with other age phases of education where a graduate level qualification is required. Our research aims were: to explore the ECEC sector’s perspectives of which kind of skills ECS graduates need to have; and to ascertain how to embed these skills in the ECS degrees. We focused on the following outcomes: to consider what a graduate ‘looks like’ and, what ECS degrees offer to the sector; to identify implications for the teaching of ECS degrees and the inclusion of Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies within ECS degree programmes; to inform HEIs delivering ECS degrees to refine/tailor their offer to current and prospective students, in order to provide degree programmes which have better routes into employment; and, to open up an ongoing dialogue between the ECEC sector and HEI’s offering this vocational component of ECS degrees. We took a mixed methodological approach and conducted a survey that included quantitative and qualitative questions (number of participants 105) and qualitative semi-structured interviews (number of participants 16).

Key findings

They key findings and recommendations are:
Students on placement
● There were a number of key areas that the sector felt that HEI’s should include in their ECS degrees. HEI’s may decide to review their provision in light of these findings and the revision to the benchmark statements.
● There were also suggestions about how students might be prepared for placement (e.g. an understanding of daily tasks) and the attitudes and dispositions that benefit students on placement.
● Some settings felt the assessments for placement could be more linked to practice e.g. taking a more practical form than an academic approach. This could allow students to link knowledge to practice.

Graduates in the workforce
● Those settings that employed graduates were able to know the important link between knowledge and professional practice. This research highlighted that reflective practice was an important component of the role where graduates knew the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’. These were demonstrated in the skills and competencies highlighted in the report and link to the previous research evidence that highlights what graduates bring to the sector and how they have the potential to increase the life chances of young children. HEI’s can consider these comments when they develop and deliver their ECS and Foundation Degrees.
● Many settings were experiencing sufficiency challenges linked to government funding and parents’ fees. This impacts the ability to pay graduates a wage commensurate with their knowledge and experience. The impact of this is that graduates leave the sector and seek employment elsewhere or undertake Initial Teacher Training. Along with others, our recommendation is that the DfE should revisit the funding levels offered to ECEC settings and align these with those offered to compulsory education to ensure there is pay parity, and in order to retain staff that are having a positive impact in supporting the life chances of children.
● There is still an issue about the two different modes of education and training when entering the sector. Participants reported that in some cases there was a divide between those who had undertaken a vocational course and those who had undertaken a degree course. The idea of how the novice professional becomes an expert in their role is important as no graduate (regardless of their degree) is a fully formed employee post-graduation. Some settings acknowledged this and noted that it was their role to support practice development. Perhaps the DfE could consider supporting and funding an extended induction period similar to the Early Career Teacher year that is required for those completing Qualified Teacher Status. We realise this suggestion could be problematic due to the different nature of funding between non-compulsory and compulsory education but DfE financial support might mitigate against this.

Knowledge of the ECGPCs
● The ECGPCs are not well known in the sector. More work could be undertaken by both the ECSDN and HEI’s that deliver placements to raise this awareness and understanding.
● The ECGPCs are no longer explicitly mentioned on the DfE qualification checker (DfE, 2022a) and there remains some confusion about whether ECS degree students are classed as ‘full and relevant’. The ECSDN might want to lobby the DfE to ensure that they provide further clarity on this matter on the qualification checker and pathway link (DfE, 2022b).
Effective start/end date1/11/2031/12/22

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities


  • Early Childhood Studies Degrees
  • Graduates
  • Placement Students
  • Early Childhood Education and Care


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