Grant holder
Dr Lucy Parker
Project status

A PhD study which explored the factors that influence the formation of female early years teachers' pedagogical beliefs.

Project summary

Aims and Theoretical Framing : This qualitative study explored the formation of pedagogical beliefs in female early years teachers in England. A feminist social constructionist framework was adopted in order to gain a greater understanding how early years teaching has been framed by the concept of gender. Bourdieu’s theoretical tools of habitus and institutional habitus were utilised in order to give greater consideration to how the social world and early childhood may have influenced the formation of the study participants’ pedagogical beliefs.

Methodology : A two-phase life history interview method was utilised in order to provide the twelve study participants with the opportunity to discuss their personal and professional lives. Both phases involved an interview, with the second phase utilising objects and photographs, chosen by the participants to represent their pedagogical beliefs and used as a stimulus for further reflective discussion. Data were analysed through a thematic analysis approach.

Project findings

The findings from the study suggest that there are a range of factors that influence the formation of female early years teachers pedagogical beliefs. The role of the past played a significant part, with childhood and school memoires and maternal influences being particularly significant. The values and dispositions that were established in the participants’ childhoods were often taken into their pedagogy. The impact of a maternal identity was also a key factor, from a personal perspective the participants own maternal identity and influence from their mothers was significant. From a wider societal perspective, the construction of the female early years teacher in a maternal, caring role had also been influential. Wider influences included policy and the historical legacy of early years education, which had created key early years pedagogical principles that the participants identified with. There was also evidence of how the participants’ pedagogy had developed and changed over time highlighting the importance of engaging in thinking and discussion but also the responsibility of the individual teacher in actively challenging their beliefs.

Project implications

“At a school level, settings need to provide early years teachers with the opportunity to develop their pedagogy. The participants in this study had benefitted from attending training and courses, working with other colleagues and early years advisors. Therefore, having opportunities to engage in professional development appears to be an important part of continuing pedagogical growth. Some of the participants felt isolated and neglected in their settings therefore, schools need to value early years and gain a greater understanding of the pedagogical principles within early years education. If early years teachers are to be seen on an equal footing to their colleagues then they will be more confident to articulate, share and develop their pedagogical beliefs.

When the participants in this study began their teacher training, they had already been forming their pedagogical beliefs. Their childhoods, schooling and family backgrounds had been shaping their ideas and values. This has implications for the institutions that provide teacher training and suggests that student teachers need opportunities to discuss and explore their pedagogical beliefs, particularly as aspects of their pedagogy may not yet be fully understood. I would suggest that the life history method of using objects to evoke discussion of pedagogical beliefs could be a suitable method to use with trainee teachers as a way to begin to challenge and discuss beliefs.

The participants in this study highlighted the tensions within the early years curriculum. Although the participants favoured a play based curriculum, which is also advocated in the EYFS (DfE, 2017) they were also aware of the subject specific standards children had to achieve at the end of the Reception year. For the study participants, the different expectations of the EYFS (DfE, 2017) caused frustration. I would argue that these conflicting messages could also lead to pedagogical confusion and leave teachers questioning their pedagogy and practice. I suggest that policy makers need to address the conflicting constructs within the curriculum. I would also urge policy makers to consult early years practitioners so their views help to inform policy. The participants in this study show that early years teachers have a strong pedagogical understanding and as the people who are delivering the curriculum, I would argue their opinions should be heard.” (pp.254-255)

Further reading

PhD Thesis (2017) full text is available as a PDF from: