The University of Sunderland has been selected as part of a national pilot to develop highly skilled graduates which will help improve the lives of young children and their families.

Sunderland is one of only eight universities in the country – and first in the North East, to introduce a new level of recognition for students on its Childhood Studies course.

The Early Childhood Studies Graduate Practitioner Competencies aim to shape the identity of the early childhood workforce and strengthen the professional practice aspect of the degree.

The competencies have been developed by members of the national Early Childhood Studies Degree Network (ECSDN) in conjunction with students and employers, and will be endorsed by the Department for Education (DfE).

Currently there are different routes into the early childhood careers, with some programmes having an academic focus only, while others offer placement opportunities or are employment based.

Under the new programme at Sunderland which begins in September, students have to meet nine competencies through assessed placement tasks, observations of practice and academic assignments.

They include: advocating for young children’s rights and participation, promoting holistic child development, working directly with young children, families and colleagues to promote health, well-being, safety and nurturing care, observing, listening and planning for young children to support their well-being, early learning, progression and transitions, safeguarding and child protection.

Bruce Marjoribanks, Programme Leader for BA (Hons) Childhood Studies at the University of Sunderland, explained: “This new opportunity for our graduates will enable them to stand out when applying for jobs, benefitting children’s development. It also allows for a smoother progression to post-graduate academic programmes or professional training including early year’s teacher, teacher, social work and health professions.

“We are delighted to have been selected by the ECSDN which validates the innovative work and reputation of our Childhood Studies team.

“We continue to recognise the need to enhance early learning provision as a positive way to improving young children’s lives through the development of a highly skilled graduate workforce.”

Dr Eunice Lumsden has led the development of the competencies as part of the ECSDN and is an external examiner. In her assessment of the Sunderland programme she praised the team, saying: “I would like to commend both the Programme Team and Professional services for the thoroughness of the documentation, the quality of information provided and the huge amount of work that evidentially has gone into this submission.

“Furthermore, the team need commending for being at the forefront of the national development of Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies and their work on developing this programme has informed the development of others across England.”

Lindey Cookson, Principal Lecturer and Team Leader Childhood Studies, added: “This new development reflects the enthusiasm and commitment of our Childhood Studies team to remain at the forefront of the changing agenda for childhood and early years degrees.

We have also engaged with early years’ employers in the local area including Sunderland, Durham, Newcastle and Northumberland to ensure that our students are well equipped for graduate opportunities working with children and families, and for progression to post graduate study in this area.”

The Competencies will also be included as part of the University’s Education and Curriculum Studies top-up degree.

Alexandra Lock, who enrolled on a part-time Education and Curriculum Studies top up and currently works at Holy Trinity CE Academy School, is part of the pilot and will be one of the first students in the country to gain the new qualification.

She said: “I began my journey at Holy Trinity as an apprentice and had the lucky opportunity of being offered full-time employment, on completion of the apprenticeship. I took no time out of education and jumped straight into a Foundation Degree in Education and Care.

“When I started the programme at Sunderland, some students were offered the opportunity to take part in the Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies pilot. I was made aware that this would add extra work on top of my current degree and full-time job.

However, the more I learned what it entailed, the more eager I became. The challenge of this pilot directly enables learners like me to practice skills in the workplace which my current degree may not.

“I especially showed interest in this because I would like to become a more valued member of staff within the workplace; due to the skills and knowledge I would be able to share with others. This pilot will enable me to gain more confidence engaging

with colleagues, also practicing the skills within the classroom. I feel this would give me and advantage over others studying a less practical degree.”

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