When is a school not a school? No, this isn't some joke from a Christmas cracker but a real issue for newly qualified teachers. They can only do induction where there is a headteacher, the induction tutor has qualified teacher status and the school can satisfactorily provide an induction support programme that will allow the NQT to meet the qualified teacher status and induction standards.
Karen Wickett has fallen foul of this rule. She is passionate about working with young children and highly experienced in that field. She originally trained as a nursery nurse, ran a day nursery for eight years and became a registered nursery inspector, but she felt strongly that she wanted a teaching qualification and so did a four-year BEd, specialising in early childhood studies.
She was aware of the need to do induction in a school setting, but wanted to work in the early years and so accepted a Sure Start-funded job at Circles neighbourhood nursery, which is based in the playground of Halcon primary school in Taunton, Somerset. At the interview, Karen asked whether she would be able to do induction there - everyone thought she would.
However, on a closer examination of the induction regulations and following advice from the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) and the Department for Education and Skills, Somerset education authority decided that because Circles nursery has charitable status, it is not a place where an NQT can do his or her induction.
This is bonkers! Karen is employed under school teachers' pay and conditions, Halcon primary school has a headteacher, and the deputy is happy to be her induction tutor. Letters to the DfES, the TTA, her MP, and the Secretary of State, Charles Clarke, have proved fruitless. So, she is now teaching the reception class rather than the nursery children that she wants to work with - and all so that she can comply with the induction regulations because Circles, on paper, is a separate outfit from the school.
Alison Oaten, manager of Circles, is really disappointed. "The children are missing out and deserve better," she says. "It's so frustrating because Karen, with her specialised skills, is available - she's just across the playground but can't work here because of the induction rules."
The neighbourhood nursery programme was introduced to provide good quality and affordable childcare and early-learning opportunities in the poorest areas of the country. Many of these areas often have little or no childcare at present. Jon Bazley, manager of the Taunton Sure Start programme, is frustrated that Karen can't work where she is most needed. "We need professionally recognised teachers in early-years settings in order to provide a high-quality foundation stage curriculum, but the induction rules are getting in the way. Government policy and practice need to be joined up quickly," he says.
The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) project has shown that having qualified teachers in early- years settings makes a difference to the quality of children's experiences."Given the Government's commitment to raising the profile of qualifications for early years workers, the induction rules seem an anomaly," says EPPE research co-ordinator Brenda Taggart, from London University's Institute of Education.
Dr Jan Savage, joint co-ordinator of early childhood studies at Plymouth university, where Karen trained, is indignant. "The Government wants teachers to work in multi-disciplinary early years settings and our course gives people the skills they need to do just that, but what's the point if they get discriminated against by the induction rules?"
By March 2004, the Government wants 45,000 new places for children under five. But who is going to teach them? The TTA has just allocated 400 extra places to early-years trainees. Ralph Tabberer, the agency's chief executive, says that "more people will now be able to train as teachers for the important early-years phase which aims for all children to have a sure start in school life". However, he needs to change the induction rules - or even more people will be stymied unless they get a job in a nursery school or a nursery class in a maintained school.
There is no legal requirement to complete induction if you don't teach in a maintained school, but Karen, rightly, considers that structured support, monitoring, and assessment in her first year will be beneficial in helping her become the best teacher possible. She wants to do induction for the benefit of her career and the children she will be teaching - and because she wants to be treated like all other newly qualified teachers. "It's ridiculous! It's completely undermining the professional status of people who work with the youngest children", she says.