What does access to a nursery teacher really mean? That, essentially, is the question that has been dogging the sector since the SNP-led Scottish Government made its pledge. Would it be acceptable for primary or secondary children to have "access" only from time to time to a qualified teacher? The answer, resoundingly, would be no.
So why is it different for the pre-school sector? The reason is partly pragmatic. Local authorities cannot now find enough nursery teachers to take pre-school classes on a full-time basis, although that is partly a legacy of their own making. The decision by Cathy Jamieson when she was education minister to remove the requirement for qualified nursery teachers set in train a series of staffing changes that are difficult to reverse. Having been given permission to remove nursery teachers and replace them with cheaper staff, some councils promptly did so. Some nursery teachers inevitably moved into primary for fear of losing their jobs further down the line. In turn, the dwindling number of nursery teachers in post has made it more difficult to find training placements for potential new nursery teachers.
On the bright side, what had threatened to become a vicious circle of ever-diminishing early years specialist teachers may have been halted by the Scottish Government's pledge to provide access to a nursery teacher for all children. But, given the new freedoms ministers are promising local authorities, there will be variations across the country.
Does it matter to children if their access to a teacher is not full-time? Probably not, as long as their early years education receives expert direction. Will it matter to the teachers if their access to a single group of children is not full-time? Probably. For some, there will be a loss of job satisfaction; for others, the chance to extend their expertise may be just the challenge they need.