Early Years Mentors: from principle and policy to practice and assessment

This PhD is in its initial stages and the purpose of this research is to ascertain the effective role of a work-based mentor within the early year’s (EY) sector. Mentoring is a complex and multifaceted role and the development of the Early Years Teacher (EYT) has created debate and discord within the sector regarding status and pay. For some practitioners this has been seen as an imposed change in the EY community of practice (Wenger, 1998; Paler and Locke, 2013).

As this PhD design is in its early stages, the current focus of this research is on the initial literature reviewed and how this has influenced the development of this research so far. There is a focus on the complexity of defining the mentoring; potentially as coach, councillor and ‘critical and professional friend’ (Andrews, 2010). Within the EY workforce this identity is compounded by the context of the EY sector which is situated mainly in the provision of Private, Voluntary and Independent settings (PVI). The EY sector is predominantly part-time female workforce offering an array of qualifications, organisation and structure. Underpinning this sector is a discourse of dialogic and collaborative communities of practice (Hammond et al, 2015). The EY sector is situated predominantly within an educare curricula framework; whose EY practitioners have, over the past 10 years, been under a plethora of professional reform. The most recent change has been initiated following the Nutbrown Review (2012). The emergence of Teachers in the EY has highlighted the need for collaborative partnerships across work-based settings, and with, higher educational institutes. Thereby advocating the role of setting based mentor as pivotal in the training process.

As course leader for one of the undergraduate and graduate EYT routes available there have also been reflections on this year’s academic experiences and observations of the mentor, mentee relationships. This has further influenced the direction of this research design and has led to possible methodological  directions; such as taking a sociocultural perspective in considering the value of practice in the EY’s community (Wenger, 1998) . Engestrom’s ‘Activity Theory’ (1979) is also considered as a conceptual framework in terms of history, context and participant positioning in the EY sector.