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Problematising the CPD (Continuing Professional Development) Needs of Early Years Educators in England

Ewan Ingleby

Aileen Kennedy’s (2005) ‘most read’ article was used as a starting point for a current research project that explores the CPD experiences of a sample of Early Years educators in the north of England. I presented the emerging research findings at the IPDA (International Professional Development Association) conference on Friday 27th November 2015 at Aston University, Birmingham, UK.

Kennedy (2005) outlines a range of professional development models that are experienced by educators. The ‘nine models’ of CPD range from ‘training courses’ providing ‘instruction to novices’ through to ‘coaching/mentoring’ and ‘action research’ resulting in ‘transformative education’. An interesting issue in Kennedy’s (2005) work is the concept of ‘transformative education’. Any of the nine training models can be ‘transformative’ if the professional experiences of the educators are changed in significant ways. In the research presentation I explored the conceptualisation of transformative education within Early Years in England in 2015. Urban (2009) previously outlined at an IPDA conference that Early Years educators in England are perceived as ‘solvers of all sorts of problems’. The problem with interpreting CPD in this way is that the educators become immersed within a ‘game of representation’ (Rowbottom and Aiston 2006, 143). They are expected to go to ‘infinity and beyond’ and become ‘super teachers’. Schwandt (2004) argues convincingly that working with children and families is more about ‘the messiness of human life’. It is less about ‘solving problems’.  In England however, going ‘to infinity and beyond’ appears as a key theme within the framing of CPD (Ingleby 2015).  

The research reported at the conference is based on an inductive, qualitative paradigm. The respondents were selected through dimensional sampling in order to gather the views of participants with experiences of professional development in both private and statutory Early Years settings in the north of England. 10 interviews were completed through 2015 and 10 more are due through 2016. ‘Nvivo 10’ software is being used to code the research transcripts in order to embellish my thematic analysis. The respondents’ reflections reveal two key emerging themes.

  1. The ‘business facing’ agenda within the private settings (the need to make money and the consequence of getting as many ‘customers’ as possible) can lead to CPD becoming a ‘low priority’.
  2. There is also ‘resistance’ from the participants to the concept of CPD. It is regarded as a ‘nuisance’ as it is ‘not paid’. One of the research participants asked to be ‘left alone to teach the children’ as opposed to being sent on ‘training courses’.

The emerging findings have been analysed according to an epistemological framework that interprets theories of literacy as social practice (Barton 2007). The ‘texts’ informing CPD include policy documents in England such as the EYFS (or Early Years Foundation Stage). This ‘text’ produces what Barton (2007) refers to as ‘events’- ‘activities where literacy has a role’ (Tummons 2014, 35) and ‘practices’ – ‘ways that people use language in all sorts of social contexts’ (Tummons 2014, 36). In viewing the curriculum as a series of ‘texts’, pedagogical ‘events’ and subjective ‘practices’ it becomes possible to understand why the research participants interpret CPD in their ‘own way’.  The ‘texts’ (or policy documents) provide an initial framework for CPD. The ‘events’ (for example training courses, coaching, mentoring) are guided by these policy documents. The personal interpretations of these CPD events can in turn be viewed as subjective ‘practices’. Many thanks to the helpful comments received thus far from academics who attended the IPDA conference of 2015.


Barton, D. 2007. Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Ingleby, E. 2015. “The Impact of Changing Policies About Technology On the Professional Development Needs of Early Years Educators in England.” Professional Development in Education 41 (1): 144-158

Kennedy, A. 2005. “Models of CPD: A Framework For Analysis” Journal of In-Service Education 31 (2): 235-250.

Schwandt, T.A. 2004. “Hermeneutics: a Poetics of Inquiry Versus a Methodology for Research.” In Educational Research Difference and Diversity edited by H.Piper and I. Stronach. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Tummons, J.E. 2014. “The Textual Representation of Professionalism: Problematising Professional Standards for Teachers in The UK Lifelong Learning Sector.” Research In Post-Compulsory Education, 19 (1) 33-44.

Urban, M. 2009. “Strategies for Change: Rethinking Professional Development to Meet the Challenges of Diversity in the Early Years Profession.” Paper presented at the IPDA Conference, Birmingham, UK, 27-28 November