Since the mid 1990s there has been unprecedented interest in the early years sector (Hammond et al. 2015), with significant government investment directed towards the goal of ‘the professionalism and the upskilling’ of the early years workforce (HM Government 2007). Workbased programmes, which are generally designed through the collaboration of employers, universities and further education colleges, provide both an academic and work-based component (Burke et al. 2009), enabling students on placement or those employed within a setting, to ‘learn while doing’ (Rowley 2005). Seen as a means to help combat poverty, improve opportunities for children and engage parents back into the workforce (Farrelly 2010), a high quality early years workforce was a priority on the New Labour government’s ‘transformational reform’ agenda (Miller 2008). To this end, in 2001, the ‘Senior Practitioner’
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status was introduced for those working with children from birth to eight years. This status was attained through successful completion of the Early Years Sector-Endorsed Foundation Degree (EYSEFD); a vocational qualification, designed to integrate academic study with work-based learning (Miller 2008). The Foundation Degree is just one of the many formal qualifications or awards, for which early years work-based learners can gain accreditation. Others include: the full BA (hons); Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS); Early Years Educator (EYE), as well as post graduate qualifications such as the Post Graduate Certificate in Education, (PGCE) and Masters. This chapter aims to support and encourage those work-based learners who are seeking to gain such formal accreditation, however, it is important to appreciate the multiple other personal and professional reasons why practitioners might engage in informal study, research or work-based investigations. As Callan and Reed (2011) suggest, practitioners may want to improve practice, to inform parents, to find out more in order to lead or change practice, because an inspection is imminent or to aid professional development. Although the outcome of such endeavours might not lead to a formal qualification, early years settings can be described as natural research sites, in which practitioners are already using the critically reflective ‘skills, the attitude and the ability to engage in enquiry’ (Callan and Reed 2011: 8). And at the heart of such practice lies critically reflective practice, as shall now be explained.