This paper argues that early childhood education and care (ECEC) has a legitimate aspiration to be a 'caring profession' like others such as nursing or social work, defined by a moral purpose. For example, practitioners often draw on an ethic of care as evidence of their professionalism. However, the discourse of professionalism in England completely excludes the ethical vocabulary of care. Nevertheless, it necessarily depends on gendered dispositions towards emotional labour, often promoted by training programmes as 'professional' demeanours. Taking control of the professionalisation agenda therefore requires practitioners to demonstrate a critical understanding of their practice as 'emotion work'. At the same time, reconceptualising practice within a political ethic of care may allow the workforce, and new trainees in particular, to champion 'caring' as a sustainable element of professional work, expressed not only in maternal, dyadic key-working but in advocacy for care as a social principle
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