Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Practitioner to professional: de- and reconstructions of professional identities in the early years workforce

By Gillian McGillivray


The use of the term ‘professional identities’ proliferates among those working in children’s services in England as recent policy has focused on workforce reform and integrated working. Subsequent debates reveal hegemonic discourses about ‘quality’, ‘professionalism’ and ‘professionalisation’ but these are contestable terms, shaped by multiple social, political and historical influences. For decades demands for increased pay and status have been made on behalf of, but not by, the early years workforce but to no avail. Agency, gender and power are thus significant forces in an ecological model of macro-, meso- and micro- levels of influence on how individual early years workers construct professional identities.\ud The aim of this research was to explore how professional identities are constructed within the early years workforce in England, and to understand what factors contribute to the construction of such identities. It set out to investigate how members of the early years workforce themselves shape the construction of their professional identities, and how professional identities impact on practice. An interpretive paradigm, informed by feminist and Marxist perspectives, determined the methodological approach. Interviews, focus group conversations and documentary analysis generated discourse from early years workers, decision makers, students and texts for dialectic, hermeneutic analysis.\ud Findings reveal multiple, recurring and competing professional identities for early years workers which are shaped by powerful forces in the home, the workplace and wider communities through subjugation and feminised, not feminist, performativities. The dialectical, multi-levelled positions of participants in the research were congruent with the multi-layered ecological model of professional identity construction. Through this model recurring identities as feminine child-carer and passive -resistant worker were evident in the data. These identities were reproduced by workers, their families and decision makers at meso- and macro-levels of influence.\ud Early years workers’ identity of resistance to hegemonic professional identities is not futile however. Through resistance to imposed identities they have the agency to construct new professional identities for themselves

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2011
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2002). A certain art of uncertainty: case presentation and the development of professional identity.
  2. (1971). A fair start: the provision of pre-school education. London :
  3. (2004). A New Deal for Children?
  4. (2004). A New Deal for Children? Bristol :
  5. (2000). A note on status, in du
  6. (2008). A perfect match? Pupils’ and teachers’ views of the impact of matching educators and learners by gender.
  7. (2007). A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about qualitiative research.
  8. (2010). Activity Theory in Practice. Abingdon :
  9. (1998). Acts of Resistance: Against the New Myths of Our Time. Tr by R.
  10. (2006). An analysis of Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological perspective for early childhood educators: implications for working with families experiencing stress.
  11. (1993). An ethic of care.
  12. (2004). An examination of the UK Early Years Foundation Degree and the evolution of Senior Practitioners – enhancing work-based practice by engaging in reflective and critical thinking.
  13. (2005). An introduction to discourse analysis. 2nd ed.
  14. (1995). An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture.
  15. (2005). An introduction.
  16. (2003). Analysing discourse.
  17. (2005). Analysing talk and text,
  18. (1983). Anthony Giddens and the crisis of social theory.
  19. (2001). Apprenticeship as a conceptual basis for a social theory of learning, in
  20. (2008). Available at Accessed
  21. (2007). Becoming a teacher, in
  22. (2003). Beyond caring: The case for reforming the childcare and early years workforce. Facing the Future: Policy Paper No 5. London: Daycare Trust.
  23. (2005). Beyond communities of practice. Cambridge:
  24. (2007). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care. 2nd ed. London :
  25. (1997). Breaking through the barriers: professional development, action research and the early years.
  26. (2005). Bringing it together: the role of the programme manager, in
  27. (2002). Britain’s continuing failure to train: the birth pangs of a new policy.
  28. (2004). Building an integrated workforce for a long term vision of universal early education and care. Policy Paper Number 3. Daycare Trust.
  29. (2008). Building brighter futures: next steps for the children’s workforce. London :
  30. (2007). Building social capital in professional learning communities: importance, challenges and a way forward,
  31. (1995). Capital. A new abridgement.
  32. (1971). Capitalism and modern social theory. Cambridge:
  33. (1999). Case study research in educational settings. Buckingham :
  34. (2004). Celebrating childhood: research to inform improvement in provision.
  35. (2006). Certifying the workforce: economic imperative or failed social policy?
  36. (2007). Changing teacher roles, identities and professionalism. An annotated bibliography,
  37. (2007). Childcare and child poverty – delivering solutions Speech by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, at the Daycare Trust Conference: QE II Centre, London. Available at Accessed
  38. (2008). Childcare and early years providers survey
  39. (2006). Childcare and Early Years Providers Surveys. London :
  40. (2007). Childcare market management: how the United Kingdom Government has re-shaped its role in developinf early childhood education and care Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood.
  41. (2007). Childcare Nation? Progress on the Childcare Strategy and Priorities for the Future. London : Daycare Trust.
  42. (2001). Childcare Students and Nursery Workers. London : Thomas Coram Research Unit.
  43. (2002). Childcare workforce surveys 2001: Overview. London :
  44. (2006). Childhood and society.
  45. (1983). Childminding and day nurseries. What kind of care?
  46. (1967). Children and Their Primary Schools (the Plowden Report). London :
  47. (2006). Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC),
  48. (2008). Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC), 2007a. Workforce skills and training survey. Available at Accessed
  49. Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC), 2007b. Summary of literature reviews.
  50. (2010). Children’s Workforce Development Council CWDC,
  51. (2004). Choice for Parents, the best start for children: a ten- year strategy for children. London: HM Treasury.
  52. (2007). Coming to Care. Bristol :
  53. (1998). Communities of practice. Cambridge:
  54. (2005). Community teaching in a SureStart context, in
  55. (2003). Conceptualising social capital in relation to children and young people: is it different for girls? Paper presented to Gender and Social Capital Conference,
  56. (2005). Conceptualising the early childhood pedagogue: policy approaches and issues of professionalism.
  57. (2002). Configuring the ‘new’ professional.
  58. (2004). Constructing a professional identity: some preliminary findings from students of early years education.
  59. (2009). Contemporary social theory. Abingdon :
  60. (2000). Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage.
  61. (2008). Dealing with uncertainty: challenges and possibilities for the early childhood profession.
  62. (2006). Deconstructing professionalism in early childhood education. Contemporary issues in early childhood.
  63. (2003). Developing a critically reflexive position using discourse analysis, in Finlay L. and Gough B. (eds) Reflexivity: a practical guide for researchers in health and social sciences.
  64. (2005). Developing early years practice.
  65. (2008). Developing new professional roles in the early years, in
  66. (1994). Developing professional knowledge and competence. London : Routledge Falmer.
  67. (2008). Developing professionalism within a regulatory framework in England.
  68. (2006). Dicourses of the good early childhood educator in professional training,
  69. (1979). Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. Tr A. Sheridan Smith.
  70. (2001). Disciplining bodies: on the continuity of power relations in pedagogy, in Paechter
  71. (1997). Discourse analysis as a way of analyzing naturally occurring talk, in Silverman D. (ed) Qualitative research: theory, method and practice.
  72. (1995). Doctors and nurses: stereotypes and stereotype change in interprofessional education.
  73. (2007). Early Childhood Education and Care. London :
  74. (2005). Early millennial feminist qualitative research: challenges and contours,
  75. (2004). Early years childcare and playwork workforce development: final report. Bedford: sauve Bell Associates.
  76. (2000). Early years educators in Finland and England: issues of professionality
  77. (2008). Early Years Professionals: making the EYP project a success. Aspect Policy Paper Available from Accessed
  78. (2009). Early years sector looks to hire laid off bankers. Children and Young People Now
  79. (2006). Early years, low status? Early years teachers’ perceptions of their occupational status.
  80. (2008). Economy: employee earnings 2008. Available at Accessed on 15.5.09.
  81. (2007). Education and Skills (DfES),
  82. Education and Skills (DfES), 2004b. Every child matters: change for children. London :
  83. (2005). Education as a career: entry and exit from teaching as a profession. DCSF Report no 690, available at Accessed on 22.11.09.
  84. (1972). Education: A framework for expansion. London :
  85. (2003). Education’s hidden professionals. GMB survey of teaching assistants and nursery nurses.
  86. (1993). Educational research and reform: some implications for the professional identity of early years teachers.
  87. (2006). Effective leadership and management in the early years.
  88. (2004). Effective Pre-school Education.
  89. (2009). Endorsed Foundation Degree in Early Years,
  90. (2000). Essential works of Foucault
  91. (2005). Ethics and Politics in Early Childhood Education. Abingdon : Routledge Falmer.
  92. (2006). Ethics and politics in qualitative research,
  93. (2005). Everything to play for on childcare workforce. Editorial, Children and Young People Now,
  94. (2009). Extra pay needed to coax more men into early years. Times Educational Supplement 23rd January.
  95. (2009). Facilitating Progression: towards a ‘fit for purpose’ progression model for early years practitioners. Birmingham Black Country and Solihull Lifelong learning Network Report.
  96. (2009). Failing to get men into teaching – a feminist critique,
  97. (2009). Failure to clarify status angers experts.
  98. (1998). Feminism and the problem of patriarchy,
  99. (1992). Fieldwork in Educational Settings. London :
  100. (2006). Focus groups,
  101. (2008). For Love or Money? Pay, progression and professionalisation in the ‘early years’ workforce. London : Institute for Public Policy Research.
  102. (1997). Foucault’s discipline: the politics of subjectivity.
  103. (2008). Foundation Degree Gateway project: report for the Children’s Workforce Network. Available at _Project_CWN.pdf Accessed
  104. (2009). Fresh impetus for childcare strategy.
  105. (1998). From child development to the development of early education research: the UK scene.
  106. (2002). From children’s services to children’s spaces. London: Routledge Falmer.
  107. (1995). Gender and knowledge Oxford:
  108. (2008). Gender and professionalism: a critical analysis of overt and covert curricula Early Childhood Development and Care.
  109. (1990). Gender Trouble.
  110. (1994). Geographical imaginations. Oxford and Cambridge,
  111. (1991). Getting smart.
  112. (2007). Habitus and reflexivity: restructuring Bourdieu’s theory of practice.
  113. (2005). Hodge promises funding,
  114. (2004). How do they manage?
  115. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses.
  116. (1982). In a different voice. Cambridge MA:
  117. (2001). Interpreting qualitative data. 2nd ed.
  118. (2010). Interpreting risk: factors, fears and judgement,
  119. (2005). Interpretive practice and social action,
  120. (2005). Interviewing and focus groups.
  121. (1997). Introducing Bakhtin. Manchester:
  122. (2008). Introduction and Information Guide: Early Years Professionals.
  123. (2000). Introduction: five strategies for de-construction, in McQuillan M. (ed) deconstruction: a reader Edinburgh:
  124. (2000). Is working with children a good job? In Penn H. (ed) Early childhood services: theory, policy and practice.
  125. (2006). Leadership in early childhood 2nd ed.
  126. (2008). Leadership in the early years, in
  127. (2007). Leadership in the early years.
  128. (2007). Leading and managing in the early years. London :
  129. (1997). Leading professionals. Towards new concepts of professionalism, in
  130. (2006). Learning in and for interagency working. Working paper, September, Teaching and Learning Research Programme. Available at Accessed
  131. (2006). Learning to labour with feeling: class, gender and emotion in childcare education and training.
  132. (2006). Learning to labour with feeling: class, gender and emotion in childcare, education and training.
  133. (2006). Learning working lives: a working paper. Available at Accessed
  134. (2005). Literacy, reification and the dynamics of social interaction.
  135. (2010). Local council urging men into childcare. Nursery World.
  136. (1999). Making the Link: Dual ‘Problematisation’, Discourse and Work with Young People.
  137. (2004). Media and crime.
  138. (2008). Media, gender and identity. 2nd ed.
  139. (1998). Meeting the childcare challenge. London : The Stationery Office.
  140. (1999). Men in the Nursery: Gender and Caring work. London :
  141. (2001). Men working in childcare, in
  142. (2003). Michel Foucault.
  143. (2007). Millennium man: constructing identities of male teachers in early years contexts
  144. (1934). Mind, Self and Society. Works of George Herbert Mead Volume 1. Edited and with an Introduction by Charles W.
  145. (2007). Models of interprofessional working within a SureStart ‘Trailblazer’ programme
  146. (1991). Modernity and self identity.
  147. (1998). More than gentle smiles and warm hugs: Applying the ethic of care to early childhood education.
  148. (1995). Mother-work: women, child welfare and the state 1890 –
  149. (2007). Moving between higher education and vocational education.
  150. (2008). Nannies, nursery nurses and early years professionals: constructions of professional identity in the early years workforce in England.
  151. (2001). National Training Organisation,
  152. (2000). Negotiating otherness: a male early childhood educator’s gender positioning
  153. (2009). Next steps for early learning and childcare. Building on the 10 year strategy. London :
  154. (2000). Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work.
  155. (1996). Nursery education. The first steps.
  156. (2009). Oh nurse, your degree is a symptom of equality disease. The Sunday Times,
  157. (2002). Omega’s story.
  158. (1996). On the genealogy of morals. Tr D Smith.
  159. (2006). Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD
  160. (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge :
  161. (2009). Parents want to see more men in nursery,
  162. (2003). Participation, policy and the changing conditions of childhood, in
  163. (2001). Passion, paradox and professionalism in early years education.
  164. (2008). Pedagogy, knowledge and collaboration: towards a ground up perspective on professionalism.
  165. (2000). Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity: Theory, Research and Critique (revised edition).
  166. (2009). Perceptions and reflections on the role of the teaching assistant in the classroom environment.
  167. (2005). Philosophy and hermeneutics, in Somekh B. and Lewin C. (eds) Research methods in the social sciences. London:
  168. (2003). Playing’ doctors and nurses? Competing discourses of gender, power and identity in the British National Health Service. The Sociological Review,
  169. (2002). Postmodernism and social research. Buckingham :
  170. (2001). Power, Gender and Curriculum
  171. (2007). Power, participation and social renewal. Bristol :
  172. (2004). Practitioners’ beliefs and children’s experiences of literacy in four early years settings.
  173. (1974). Pre-school education in Great Britain: a research review.
  174. (1974). Pre-school education. London: Schools Council/Macmillan.
  175. (1989). Pre-school playgroups: The Handbook.
  176. (2003). Prime Minister’s speech on children’s green paper 8th
  177. (2002). Prison Notebooks Daedalus Vol 131 Available at Accessed
  178. (1995). Professional knowledge and professional practice London:
  179. (2007). Professional learning communities, in Stoll, L.and Seashore Louis, K. (eds) Professional learning communities.
  180. (2007). Professional learning communities.
  181. (2008). Professionalism – a breeding ground for struggle. The example of the Finnish day-care centre.
  182. (2006). Professionalism and performativity: the feminist challenge facing early years practitioners. Early years.
  183. (1998). Professionalism as enterprise: service class politics and the redefinition of professionalism.
  184. (2008). Professionalism in the early years.
  185. (2005). Professionalism, partnership and joined up thinking: a research review of front-line working with children and families. Available at Accessed on 11.10.07.
  186. (2001). Professionalism: the third logic.
  187. (1972). Professions and power London:
  188. (2006). Qualifications, pay and quality in the childcare sector. Report for UNISON prepared by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion. Available at Accessed
  189. Quality Assurance Agency, QAA 2007. Early Childhood Studies Benchmark Statements. Available at dies07.asp Accessed on 24.7.08.
  190. (2003). Quality in early childhood education and care: a cultural context
  191. (2008). Raising the bar. What next for the early childhood education and care workforce? Joint paper from the Daycare Trust and the Trade Union Congress. London: Daycare Trust.
  192. (2006). Re-contextualising observation: ethnography, pedagogy, and the prospects for a progressive, political agenda.
  193. (2009). Recruitment and retention of early years and childcare practitioners in private day nurseries. Available at Accessed
  194. (2003). Reflexivity: a practical guide for researchers in health and social sciences.
  195. (2001). Refusing the realism – structuration divide.
  196. (1993). Representations of youth.
  197. (1990). Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London :
  198. (2005). Research interviewing: a practical guide.
  199. (2005). Research methods in the social sciences. London:
  200. (1995). Researching powerful people from a feminist and anti-racist perspective: a note on gender, collusion and marginality.
  201. (2002). Researching your professional practice.
  202. (2005). Rethinking critical theory and qualitative research,
  203. (2006). Safeguarding childhood.
  204. (2006). Safety in stereotypes? The impact of gender and ‘race’ on young peoples’ perceptions of their post-compulsory education and labour market opportunities.
  205. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebook Translated and edited by Quintin Hoare and Goffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
  206. (2006). Short note: the sociology of professional groups.
  207. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge:
  208. (2008). Social Selves. 2nd ed.
  209. (1988). Social skills, competence and quality.
  210. (2004). Social work practice and identity in joined up teams: some findings from a research project.
  211. (2007). Spaces of professional learning,
  212. (1996). Spatial formations.
  213. (2004). Speech to the SureStart national conference,
  214. (1994). Start Right. The importance of early learning. London: The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce.
  215. (1980). Street-level bureaucracy: dilemmas of the individual in public services.
  216. (2003). Structure, agency and the internal conversation. Cambridge :
  217. (2006). Structures, understandings and discourses: possibilities for re-envisioning the early childhood worker Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood.
  218. (2004). SureStart Early Years Workforce Development Evidence Paper.
  219. (2000). Teachers’ perceptions of professional identity: an exploratory study from a personal knowledge perspective.
  220. (2008). Teaching manfully? Exploring gendered subjectivities and power via analysis of men teachers’ gender performance.
  221. (1988). Technologies of the self’, in L. Martin et al (eds) Technologies of the self: a seminar with Michel Foucault,
  222. (1995). That’s funny, you don’t look like a teacher’.
  223. (2005). The ‘childcare champion’? New labour, social justice and the childcare market.
  224. (2002). The ‘feminisation of schooling’ or ‘re-masculinising’ primary education.
  225. (1980). The Aims, Role and Deployment of Staff in the Nursery. Windsor :
  226. (2005). The assault on the professions and the restructuring of academic and professional identities: a Bernsteinian analysis.
  227. (2000). The biographical illusion. In
  228. (2007). The Bronfenbrenner ecological systems theory of human development. Paper presented at the Scientific articles of
  229. (2007). The children’s plan: building brighter futures. London :
  230. (2005). The Common Core. London: DfES Department for Education and Skills DfES 2005b. Children’s workforce strategy.
  231. (1984). The constitution of society. Outline of the theory of structuration Cambridge:
  232. (1995). The continuing professional development of early childhood educators: planning contexts and development principles.
  233. (2003). The demonization of children: from the symbolic to the institutional, in
  234. (1981). The dialogic imagination: four essays. Tr
  235. (1968). The discovery of grounded theory. London: Wiedenfeld and Nicholson.
  236. (2008). The Early Years Professional Status in the UK- recognition for early years educators or an attempt at government control?
  237. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development.
  238. (1997). The End of the Professions? The restructuring of professional work. London :
  239. (1991). The ethics of social research.
  240. (1972). The evolution of the nursery-infant school. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  241. (1982). The Foucault Reader Harmondsworth:
  242. (2004). The good nurse’: visions and values in images of the nurse.
  243. (1978). The history of sexuality. Volume One.
  244. (2006). The interview, in Denzin N K and Lincoln Y (eds) The Sage handbook of qualitative research 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks CA:
  245. (2001). The invisible professionals: English school nursery nurses talk about their jobs.
  246. (1990). The Logic of Practice. Cambridge :
  247. (1987). The micro-politics of the school: towards a theory of school organization. London :
  248. (2001). The OECD Thematic Review of Early Childhood Education and Care: Background Report for the UK. Available online at, accessed
  249. (2006). The personal and professional selves of teachers: stable and unstable identities.
  250. (1998). The politics of History: some methodological and ethical dilemmas in élite-based research.
  251. (2009). The poor professionals.
  252. (1956). The power elite.
  253. (2006). The practice of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks,
  254. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life.
  255. (2009). The problem with boys’ education.
  256. (1999). The quality of qualitative research.
  257. (2002). The reconstruction of primary teachers’ identities.
  258. (2010). The roles and responsibilities of leaders in
  259. (1951). The social system.
  260. (2003). The sociological analysis of professionalism.
  261. (1968). The sociology of Marx.
  262. (1982). The subject and
  263. (2000). The third way and its critics,
  264. (2008). The training and development of middle managers in the children’s workforce. London:
  265. (2003). The Victoria Climbié Inquiry: Report of an Inquiry by Lord Laming
  266. (1989). Theme and variations, in Kahan, B.(ed) Child care research, policy and practice. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
  267. (2008). time training courses
  268. (2001). Toward a general theory of action
  269. (2004). Towards a cultural theory of college-based learning.
  270. (1993). Towards a methodolody for feminist research, in
  271. (2002). Towards a sociology for childhood.
  272. (2002). Towards an uncertain politics of professionalism: teacher and nurse identities in flux.
  273. (2008). Towards integrated working, in
  274. (1993). Traditions in documentary analysis,
  275. (2005). Transforming the Early Years in England. Oxford Review of Education.
  276. (2005). Transitions through the lifecourse: political, professional and academic perspectives.
  277. (2007). Troublesome boys’ and ‘compliant girls’: gender and identity and perceptions of achievement and underachievement,
  278. (1990). Under Five – Under Educated? Buckingham :
  279. (2004). Understanding context, understanding practice in early education.
  280. (2005). Understanding early childhood. Issues and controversies.
  281. (2009). Understanding early years policy, 2nd ed. London :
  282. (2005). Universal childcare – towards a progressive consensus.
  283. (1998). Using focus groups with lower socio-economic status Latina women,
  284. (2008). Using social theory in educational research.
  285. (2008). What’s in a name? Seeking professional status through degree studies within the Scottish early years context.
  286. (2004). Who is the Senior Practitioner? Issues in the early years workforce – a draft discussion paper. Paper presented at the British Education Research Association SIG,
  287. (2000). Who needs identity? In
  288. (2007). Why ‘what works’ won’t work: evidence based practice and the democratic deficit in educational research.
  289. (1972). Why nursery schools?
  290. (1993). Willingly to school: the working class response to elementary education in Britain,
  291. (2001). Wise practice: the need to move beyond best practice in early childhood education.
  292. (1997). Women and Work in Modern Britain. Oxford :
  293. (2009). Workforce re-modelling and pastoral care in schools: a diversification of roles or a de-professionalisation of functions? Pastoral care in Education.
  294. (1981). Youth and history.
  295. (2004). Youth Working: Professional Identities Given, Received or Contested?

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.