Call for more teachers in nurseries

Pressure groups want MSPs to boost role of fully trained staff in early years

Elizabeth Buie

A coalition of teacher, headteacher and parent bodies has urged MSPs to reverse a trend they detect of councils diluting the use of teachers in nurseries.

A "case for teachers in nurseries" was made in a joint statement - aimed at the Scottish parliament's education committee - by the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS), NASUWT Scotland, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Scottish Primary Teachers' Association, and Scottish Parent Teacher Council.

Notable in its absence from the statement was Scotland's largest teacher union, the EIS, for which the employment of nursery teachers has been something of a cause celebre in recent years.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the union had supplied background documents on its previous campaigns and research on early years to the committee and highlighted the importance of nursery teachers in its local government manifesto.

"It is good to see groups, most of whom do not represent nursery members, also agreeing with the EIS position," said Mr Flanagan.

But there was not unanimous support for the case for teachers in nurseries. Carol Ball, chair of Unison's education issues group and a child development officer, said: "The earliest years of a child's life are crucial and, while we recognise that nursery teachers have a place in nurseries, the vital role that early years staff play in children's education cannot be downplayed.

"Child development officers are fully qualified early years professionals - with equivalent qualifications and duties to nursery teachers - and deliver high-quality early years education and childcare."

The joint statement from the teacher unions and SPTC said: "Despite a commitment by the Scottish government to (provide) `access to a nursery teacher for every nursery age child' and considerable evidence demonstrating the long-term impact of trained teachers in pre-primary settings, many local authorities are diluting or dismantling their nursery provision."

High-quality pre-school education had long-lasting positive effects on the cognitive and behavioural outcomes for children, they said. But high- quality establishments were, in the main, ones staffed with trained teachers and headteachers.

Their "unique" training and role meant they had a greater impact on pupils than other groups of staff; evidence also showed that other groups of staff improved their practice when working with teachers.

The current approach - removing or diluting the role of teachers in nurseries - was a "save now, spend later" policy, they added.

Children's minister Aileen Campbell responded that the Scottish government was committed to ensuring all children receive access to a pre-school teacher.

"Significant progress has been made in recent years. The number of children in nursery with access to a teacher has increased from 66 per cent to 75 per cent in 2011 during the past three years," she said.

Evidence session on early years

The parliament's education committee last week held a one-off evidence session on early years education and will meet education secretary Michael Russell in late June to discuss some of the issues raised.

Bill Alexander, director of health and social care in Highland Council and a member of the Early Years Taskforce, told the committee last week that the shift achieved by investing in the early years would demand political bravery - it would not deliver outcomes overnight.

"Our early intervention work started in 2002-03. We do not think that it is irrelevant that while looked-after children numbers and youth crime numbers for most of the rest of Scotland have been going up, ours have not, or that when substance misuse is a significant challenge across Scotland, our performance on that has been improving," he said.

"I think that we were also the authority with the lowest exclusion from school rate in mainland Scotland for a number of years. Those things are certainly linked to our early intervention work."

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Elizabeth Buie

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