Constrained or sustained by demands? Perceptions of professional autonomy in early childhood education

Oosterhoff, A., Oenema-Mostert, C. & Minnaert, A., Jun-2020, In : Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 21, 2, p. 138-152 15 p.

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  • Constrained or sustained by demands? Perceptions of professional autonomy in early childhood education

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Early childhood teachers worldwide feel that their ability to act according to their professional knowledge and values is constrained. This sense of constraint is commonly attributed to the pressures of accountability policies, aimed at ensuring and improving educational quality. By law, Dutch schools are free to choose how they design their teaching practices. Nevertheless, efforts by the government to control daily teaching practices are encountered in Dutch schools. The generally recognized importance of teachers’ professional autonomy led the authors to conduct an in-depth study on this topic in Dutch early childhood education. They interviewed experienced early childhood teachers in open one-on-one interviews to explore their lived realities. The findings contribute to the discourse on three topics: first, the generally felt forces of accountability stemming from a variety of actors in the school environment; second, the impact of these forces on daily education practice, as well as on teachers’ emotions; and third, the role of the head teacher, who appears to be able to either enforce or inhibit these impacts. The results of the study show that where external forms of regulation and accountability measures are passed on by the head teacher, the negative emotional impact of the pressures is high. For head teachers, however, operating in a position between multiple fields of professional influence also seems to
offer opportunities for maintaining a healthy balance between regulation and freedom.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-152
Number of pages15
JournalContemporary Issues in Early Childhood
Issue number2
Early online date25-Jun-2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun-2020


  • early childhood education, Professional Autonomy, Accountability policies, local leadership, teachers' emotions, TEACHERS, COMMITMENT

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