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You Say Po-tay-toe, I Say Po-taa-toe, You Say Childcare Worker, I Say…..Practitioner, Educator?

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Professional Identity in Early Childhood Education and Care.

The current Government strategy regarding Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) is the First 5 Whole-of-Government strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families 2019-2028 which was published by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in 2019. Goal D of this strategy outlines the Governments plans over the next number of years for what it terms the Early Learning and Care (ELC) sector in Ireland. A significant component of Goal D is to attempt to increase the professional status of those working within the sector through such endeavours as the attainment of a degree led workforce and efforts to increase retention within the sector.

What is my name?

There has been much narrative around the professionalisation of the sector over the last number and although the strategies proposed in First 5 are welcome and overdue, there is a significantly large elephant in the room. We are nameless as a profession. We have no commonly accepted title and as such no meaningful professional identity.

Those working with in primary and secondary education have a common understanding of their professional identity as “teacher”. This commonly accepted title is automatically bestowed upon these professionals after completion of their degree education (and Teaching Council registration) and means that society has a universal understanding of who they are, what they do and what the value of their role is. Robson (2006) explains how being a professional is a social construct. Having an understanding of who you are as a professional, relative to those in your field and those in other fields, means that a community of practice can be established where everyone understands the values and expectations of that profession (Appleby and Pilkington, 2004).

Educational attainment in the sector

Educational levels have increased steadily over the last number of years within the ECEC sector with increases specifically identified in relation to the attainment of degree level education (Pobal, 2019).In other educational professions a degree qualification results in a universally recognised professional title, why does this not currently apply in ECEC? Even the name of our sector has been changed from Early Childhood Education and Care to Early Learning and Care. So not only do we now not fully know who we are as a professional neither do we know who we are as a sector. Where has the “education” gone from the Governments portrayal of our sector? I, for one, refuse to use the term ELC unless it is absolutely necessary, I will continue to refer to our industry as ECEC as I believe it better justifies the complexity and educational element of our role.

Who are we and what exactly do we do?

The result of this lack of clarity around professional status in ECEC is that we do not know who we are or what to call ourselves.

I refer to myself as an Early Childhood Educator, others use terms such as Educarer, Practitioner, Teacher and even sometimes the term Childcare Worker is still used. If we do not know who we are, then how can we expect others to know who we are, what we do and how well qualified we are to do it, never mind how we should be remunerated.

In 2019 the Department of Education and Skills published Professional Award Criteria and Guidelines for Initial Professional Education Degree Programmes for the Early Learning and Care Sector in Ireland. During the consultation stage that informed these criteria it was agreed that the title of graduates of Level 7 and Level 8 degree programmes will be that of Early Childhood Educator (DES, 2019). However, ask around your own circle of colleagues, parents, friends and peers working within the sector and you are likely to find that this term has yet to be universally adopted.

Be the change you want to see in the world

An agreed title needs to be used by all of us working within the sector to support our status as a professional. Adams (2005) informs that professional titles which are associated universally with a particular sector are fundamentally linked to the perception of a professional status.

If, like me, you feel strongly regarding the professionalisation of the sector and societal perception of you as a highly qualified individual within a professional and specialised field, then, as Ghandi once said, “be the change you want to see in the world”. Challenge any perceptions of your role as anything other than a professional educator of children. Adopt your professional title and embrace it.

About the Author: Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (, where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter Contact Paula: LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator.


Adams, K. (2005). What’s in a name? Paper presented at the 15th Annual Conference of EECERA (European Early Childhood Educational Research Association), 1-3 September 2005, St Patrick’s College. Dublin.

Appleby, Y. & Pilkington, R. (2014). Developing Critical Professional Practice in Education. NIACE, Leicester.

DES. (2019). Professional Award Criteria and Guidelines for Initial Professional Education (Level 7 and Level 8) Degree Programmes for the Early Learning and Care (ELC) Sector in Ireland. [online], available:

DCEDIY. (2019). ‘First Five’: A Whole-of-Government-Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families 2019-2028. Dublin: Stationery Office.

Pobal. (2019). Annual Early Years Sector Profile Report 2018/2019. Dublin: Pobal.

Robson, S. (2006). Developing Thinking and Understanding in Young Children. Routledge: London.

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