Kellie Duggan – Accelerating Her Career Path with MA in Early Childhood Studies

MA in Early Childhood Studies

Early Years

Kellie Duggan has worked in the early years sector since 2007 and has graduated from Portobello Institute’s MA in Early Childhood Studies.

Kellie is a motivated and passionate educator who began her journey with a BA in Mathematics and a PGCE in Primary Education in East London. Her leadership role in mathematics led her to discover her love for early years education. In 2007, she founded Kickstart Education, opening three successful early learning centres in Wexford.

Since gaining her MA in Early Childhood Studies at Portobello Institute, Kellie has been promoted to Curriculum Manager/Department Head at Durham Further Education College, while still managing several preschools in Ireland.

Kellie says that her journey through the MA in Early Childhood Studies helped to expand her perception of early childhood development and has guided her career progression.

“After working in the early years sector since 2007, I naively thought I had already acquired an indepth understanding of early childhood development and education, however, this wasn’t to be the case!

“My MA in Early Childhood Studies challenged my thoughts, views, and perceptions of what I thought I knew about early childhood.

“Through comprehensive, and robust coursework and associated research, I was afforded opportunities to not just delve, but to reconsider, reframe and recontextualise all I knew with regards to early childhood practice.

“There were moments that were simply mind-blowing, certain trajectories that were never before on my radar emerged within my knowledge and practice. It challenged my personal and professional capacities, which ultimately led to a newfound appreciation, passion, and overall advocacy within early childhood,” she said.

Kellie felt like she was at a crossroads in her career and gaining her MA has guided her path into the career she wants.

After the pandemic, and after successfully launching three early years centres I found myself at a professional crossroads.

“The dilemma was to move forward by opening more, however, this was counterintuitive to my core philosophy of personalised service.

“I had dipped in and out of tutoring/lecturing in Early Years and SEN, since 2009, hence I decided to transition into lecturing full-time and make a difference by disseminating my passion for excellence, advocacy, and professionalisation to those coming into the sector.

“Due to family circumstances, we made a decision to visit the UK for an academic year in July 2021, to make memories with family members whom we had not seen throughout covid. At the time, I was working remotely tutoring online, and developing a level 6 and a BA program.

“My CV was picked up by a UK recruitment agency in February 2022, asking if I would be interested in lecturing a couple of days a week, so I said yes. This led me to New College Durham, a further education college with a university centre, offering lower-level and degree programmes in Early Childhood.

“Fast forward to July 2022 and I had secured a promotion to Curriculum Manager/Department Head. It’s here I am empowered to make a difference in the education of early childhood graduates.

“Therefore, I now aspire to take on leadership positions in early childhood education, advocating for high-quality early childhood education. This acceleration of career path would not have been possible without the MA,” she said.

Kellie explains the positive impact her MA has had on her career progression and her ability to lead change in early childhood care and education at a local and regional level.

“My MA has been highly regarded by employers and has played a significant role in securing a Curriculum Manager/Head of Department role ultimately advancing my career much sooner than anticipated.

“My aim was to secure a lecturing post, I never envisaged securing such a post so soon after completion of the MA. I currently lead and manage a team of 15 lecturers and assessors, delivering early childhood programs up to the honours degree level.

“It is exceptionally challenging but also very rewarding, disseminating excellence of knowledge, and inspiring aspiring graduates to have a passionate voice of advocacy, making a positive contribution in the lives of young children, fully understanding the importance of societal futurity.

“Aligned to this, the MA developed expertise in specific areas of early childhood education, which has led to invitations to participate in research projects that are currently been aimed at professional publications.

“I recently led a webinar at New College Durham’s Higher Education academic fair, promoting the importance of embracing a growth mindset as a professional early years educator.

“This has consequently led to an opportunity to lead a college-wide research project during the 2023 – 2024 academic year, which we hope will make publication.

“MA study and associated opportunities have increased my visibility within the field, and I am extremely happy to say, I have kept contact with lead co-ordinator Dr Marguerita Magennis, who has also opened further doors to participate in research and at present has invited me to present at an upcoming conference, opportunities that would never have been possible without studying at Portobello Institute.

“Securing the role as curriculum manager has afforded links with Durham County Council, in the proposal of a new mentorship program based upon pedagogical leadership, with regards to student placements.

“This proposal is in its infancy stage. However, this collaboration will have an impact on a local to regional level, overhauling the current approach to student work experience, and embracing a more robust approach within the mentorship of key competencies crucial in promoting a professional identity, with each early years educator identifying as a pedagogical leader.

“We hope this supports higher order skill sets, but more so pioneers the cause of sector professionalisation,” she said.

Studying her MA offered Kellie new perspectives that she had never considered before.

The depth of reflection and self-efficacy were two core skills that elevated my MA journey. These skills naturally accompanied my research journey on the MA, and thus probed difficult realisations and outlined barriers I hadn’t even realised within what I did consider as outstanding practice.

“Questioning the ‘why’ behind why we do what we do, became an underlining epistemic aspect but more so finding the answers to this elevated my confidence in the leadership of early childhood moving forward, instilling new values, and beliefs within my own personalised trajectory of early years pedagogy,” she said.

Kellie says that the MA programme enhanced her ability to advocate for children and families in the field of early education.

“Advocacy within early childhood has now become a driving force behind my professional career.

“My aim aspires around the dissemination of knowledge on the exceptional importance of early formative years and the need for professional identity in progressing the sector toward professionalisation.

“The MA provided me with a comprehensive foundation of knowledge and research on the importance of early childhood education and fostered extensive provocations on the diverse needs of children and families, emerging due to covid enabling me to embed confidently inclusive, restorative, and equitable educational practices.

“Aligned with the needs of the pandemic the MA established the significance of true engagement with families as partners in early years education, enhancing strong collaborative relationships as central to practice.

“You realise the level of tokenistic attributes across our sector, and very much come to the realisation that the voice of children is insignificant amongst our neoliberal society, and therefore advocating for children is now something I consciously support,” she said.

The coursework and research in the MA programme have influenced Kellie’s approach to creating inclusive and culturally responsive learning environments.

The coursework and research allowed me to gain in-depth and reflective insights into the value of cultural diversity. It challenged levels of unconscious biases that I would never have contemplated, ensuring new strategies in practice to promote inclusive practices that respect and celebrate individual differences, but that also challenged staff’s levels of conscious and unconscious bias.

“Our communities have changed rapidly over the past five years – a pandemic and a war, pushing culturally responsive teaching to the forefront.

“The MA fostered a sense of confidence on approach and supporting these community changes, thus deepening my understanding of the importance of creating learning environments that honour and incorporate the cultural backgrounds and experiences of all children meaningfully – more importantly making sure practices were not tokenistic in nature,” she said. 

Kellie adds that she has gained new strategies that have helped her to effectively collaborate with colleagues, parents, and other stakeholders in the field of early childhood.

I learned the importance of open and respectful communication, active listening, and shared decision-making.

“Collaborative projects and group discussions allowed me to develop my teamwork skills and engage in meaningful dialogue with diverse perspectives, at insightful academic levels.

“Moreso, the MA has equipped me with confidence in challenging cultured and or conditioned ways of being within early childhood, all whilst sitting in the pocket of advocacy.

“At present, I have been lucky enough to be involved in a project that involved collaboration with over 100 leading providers, in proposing a new mentorship program based upon pedagogical leadership within the sector. This has involved many collaborative and formal communications, which I feel I have only been able to facilitate with the specified stakeholders due to the professional and academic stance and or strategies the MA supports,” she said. 

This MA programme also prepared Kellie to address the unique challenges and opportunities that arise in early childhood education policy and advocacy.

Through coursework and research, I gained a comprehensive understanding of the policy landscape and its impact on early childhood education, not just nationally but also internationally.

“It provoked vast insight into our conditioning as an early years society, often accepting policy and new frameworks as they are, without really questioning their origins and indeed motif, unfortunately often government agenda, not necessarily central to the child’s voice.

“The MA also emphasised the importance of staying informed about current research and evidence-based practices that inform policy decisions and advocate for high-quality early childhood education for all children. Bedtime reading is now often a newly released research article or policy reform/review!” she said.

Kellie shares some insights into the research and projects she undertook during her studies that have had a significant impact on her understanding of best practices in early childhood education.

I was exceptionally lucky during the MA to be offered the opportunity to partake in two webinar projects. As an MA student, I was asked to research and deliver short presentations alongside keynote speakers. This was an amazing honour as the very first was alongside Dr Noirin Hayes, an accolade on my professional CV that would never have been possible unless I participated in the MA.

“Most recently I was asked back as a guest alongside Dr Mary O’Kane, again an absolute professional honour and one that has only occurred due to the support of Portobello, in particular lead co-ordinator of the MA, Dr Marguerita Magennis.

“The majority of my research was based around STEM in early years, again a topic that I thought I understood, but once again my knowledge was challenged and turbulent, as research probed and pushed me to re-contextualise STEM, in a newly emerging STEM-based era of covid within our Aistear framework.

“Although the dissertation project was challenging, I cannot recommend the support from Portobello enough, tutors were always available no matter how small the question, and their quality team was empathetic and supportive of mitigation if needed.

“In short, the opportunities I have had for research and extended projects are unrivalled, I will be very ever grateful for the opportunities my MA journey afforded me,” she said.

Kellie says these experiences, her research, and the knowledge she has gained have equipped her with the skills to critically analyse and apply research findings in the field of early childhood studies.

The MA was fundamental to developing differing lenses, that supported my skills to critically analyse and apply research findings – I particularly enjoy a post-structural disposition as it offers a lens to challenge and question the conditioning of power and knowledge in early childhood questioning ‘truth’.

“I developed a strong foundation in research methodology, including quantitative and qualitative research methods, data analysis, and interpretation. Developing the skillset to identify strengths and limitations of research, allowed for in-depth analysis, hence applying the findings to inform my practice within a very meaningful context.

“These skills have also been invaluable in ensuring evidence-based decision-making and continuously improving my professional practice and leadership within the field of early childhood studies,” she said.

Gaining her MA in Early Childhood Studies has helped Kellie to develop her professional growth and leadership potential.

“You gain a deep understanding of educational leadership, organisational management, and effective leadership. I honed my skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making, empowering informed evidence-based practices.

“Additionally, the program provided opportunities for collaboration and networking with professionals in the field, allowing me to expand my professional connections and learn from experienced educators and researchers.

“Each lecturer was an expert in particular fields and thus contributed to a robust and comprehensive knowledge of differing discourses.

“The MA’s emphasis on research, policy, and inclusive practices has equipped me with the knowledge and tools to identify and address critical issues in early childhood education.

“This commitment has fueled my engagement in advocacy efforts, both at the local and regional levels, to promote positive change and create a brighter future for young children and their families. 

“Overall, my MA program has equipped me with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to take on leadership roles and contribute to the advancement of early childhood education,” she said.

Portobello Institute’s Early Years department has qualifications ranging from level 5 to level 9. We offer:

Other courses you may be interested in include:

Visit our Early Years & Montessori department for more.

You can book a consultation to speak with our expert advisor, Jennifer Matteazzi, about any of our Early Years & Montessori courses. Call her directly on 01 892 0031 or email [email protected].

Read more to discover early childhood care and education as a career path.

Kellie Duggan – Accelerating Her Career Path with MA in Early Childhood Studies Kellie Duggan – Accelerating Her Career Path with MA in Early Childhood Studies