Unions warn children's education will suffer if teachers are kept out of early-years classes. David Henderson reports
CHILDREN and parents are shortchanged when nursery nurses replace teachers, leaders of the Educational Institute of Scotland have reasserted.
Different approaches to nursery expansion in neighbouring Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire have reignited teachers' grievances about professionalism and quality in the face of a perceived threat from nursery nurses.
Union leaders at their annual conference in Perth last weekend heaped unexpected praise on East Renfrewshire for employing teachers but labelled pre-five practices in Renfrewshire a "scandal".
Ian McCrone, Renfrewshire's EIS secretary, said the council's strategy of employing nursery nurses had cost the jobs of 30 teachers. He claimed Renfrewshire was breaking the 1956 legislation on nursery provision which stated that one teacher should have a class of no more than 20.
In April an EIS appeal over nursery staffing was rejected by Renfrewshire councillors but Mr McCrone insists the authority continues to break the law.
Sheila Cronin, Renfrewshire's head of community and special services, this week replied that the council was developing a more flexible model of pre-five education, based on wrap-around care. Other councils in the west of Scotland, such as Argyll and Bute, were following a similar pattern.
Ms Cronin said no councils followed the precise terms of the 1956 code which was acknowledged by the Scottish Office to be out of date. Renfrewshire was giving extra management time to new school nurseries, freeing up early years teachers to carry out extra duties.
"We've put in a 1:10 ratio and that's the same everywhere. We found that in nursery classes teachers were always being called away. That's why we put in FTE (full-time equivalent) in the school management team to allow the early years head to oversee curriculum development," she said.
Ms Cronin said that contrary to the EIS view, assistant heads were in and around the class nearly all the time but with flexibility.
In its response to a Scottish Office consultation paper on early education and childcare, Renfrewshire argues that many nursery managers have a range of expertise and qualifications which enable them to be in "an equal if not better position (than teachers) to ensure that quality pre-school education is delivered."
Recent reports from HMI inspections of extended day nurseries in Renfrewshire highlighted the quality of education and the fact they were managed by heads without a teaching qualification.
Neighbouring East Renfrewshire, however, continues to employ teachers in nurseries, although it, too, admits the '56 code is out of date.
Ian Fraser, head of early years, said the council expected to increase the number of teachers in nursery classes. The previous ratio was two teachers to six nursery nurses. Now it was three to five.
The council also wants to extend a teaching presence to groups in the voluntary and private sector.
Mr Fraser added: "It's more expensive to employ teachers but in terms of quality it's justified. Parents expect high quality."
News H3 TESJJune 18J 1999 Nursing a grievance: East Renfrewshire children will find more teachers in their nurseries, than those in neighbouring Renfrewshire