Professionalism and the transition from the Faculty of Education to working in the nursery school: the case of England and Scotland

Issue 16-17

“Professionalism and the transition from the Faculty of Education to working in the nursery school: the case of England and Scotland”

Evanthia Synodi



This paper is devoted to a dramatic transition in a nursery teacher’s life, the transition from being a student to being a teacher of young children in England and in Scotland. The topic is considered important because reforms on such a transition are taking place on the premise that they will contribute to teachers’ professionalisation. However, work by sociologists and early years educators reveal a different perspective on professionalism. So the purpose of this paper is to find out if the relevant reforms in these two countries have anything to do with the definition of professionalism given by sociologists and early years educators.
Sociologists and early years educators agree that it is professional for a teacher to (a) own a body of esoteric knowledge with practical applications which they acquired after studying at a university and to (b) prioritise their clients’ welfare over anything else. It is also professional for a group of equal competence professionals, in this case teachers, to control other workers employed in semi-professional or bureaucratic jobs (e.g. nursery nurses, teaching assistants).
England and Scotland were selected to be studied, because, even though they are parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Nothern Ireland, they have different education systems. Not only that, the active involvement of practising teachers in professional matters such as the induction of new teachers came in England 30 years later than in Scotland. This has a negative effect because the state was responsible for certain professional issues rather than the teaching profession a lot longer than in Scotland. These countries were also selected because there is school hierarchy among teachers in a nursery school, which is not considered a professional characteristic by sociologists.
To discover whether current policy promotes teachers’ professionalism during their first year of employment, their induction year, the respective policy documents of each country were analysed.
It has been found that both Ministies of Education are interested in teachers knowing how to teach and relate to other education partners as well as how to keep informed and appraise their own progress.
However, there are a few extra criteria in the Scottish case, which are in accordance with the definition of professionalism provided by sociologists and early years educators but not in the English one. These are the importance of justifying one’s practice based on current theory and research, which at the same time combats the unprofessional element of hierarchy and its pressure on teachers to conform to a supperior co-worker’s suggestions.
The second extra criterion found in the scottish document refers to the perception of what a teacher is supposed to do, which is broader because it refers to children’s social, physical and civic education unlike England.
A third criterion is that teachers should (a) differentiate their teaching according to their pupils’ age and its developmental features and (b) organise the nursery nurses’ work, which is professional and even though nursery nurses are found in English nursery schools this duty is assessed only in Scotland.
Finally, teachers acting as researchers, which enriches the theoretical knowledge of the profession was appreciated only in Scotland.
In conclusion there are more professional elements in the teachers’ induction year policy of Scotland, which means that their perception of a profession is closer to the sociological and education definition than that of their English counterparts.