PRE-SCHOOL education has been "devalued" by the decision to give local authorities the freedom to remove teachers from nursery classes, the General Teaching Council for Scotland has asserted.
The GTC has launched a vigorous protest after the Scottish Executive insisted there will be no last-ditch reprieve for the 1956 Schools Scotland Code, which is due to be phased out at the end of July. The code enshrines the right to have trained teachers in front of nursery pupils on a 1:10 ratio but ministers and local authorities argue that it has been made obsolete by the vast expansion of early years education.
Matthew MacIver, GTC chief executive, said: "This is a retrograde step as far as Scottish education is concerned."
In a letter to the Executive, Mr MacIver points out that all levels of school education have used registered teachers since the GTC was set up in 1965. The removal of the regulation that protects teachers in nurseries "appears to be the first repeal of a requirement for an appropriate teaching qualification".
Mr MacIver states: "At a time when we are striving for excellence and when a report entitled A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century underpins our thinking, it is singularly sad that we are not just devaluing pre-school education but also devaluing the teaching profession itself and its contribution to children's education.
"That does not seem to me to be a particularly auspicious start to the whole process of looking at our regulations as we plan for future development of the teaching profession in the 21st century."
However, local authorities welcome the increased flexibility and maintain they will still employ teachers in early years education. Linda Kinney, head of early childhood services in Stirling, said: "We remain committed to teacher involvement in the early years as part of a multidisciplinary team.
Teachers are vital to the learning and care of young children."
The authorities say they cannot plan for the 21st century on the back of a 50-year-old regulation which does not take account of new approaches to integrated services and the increased role of other pre-five staff, including nursery nurses.
They want freedom to extend education and care services as they see fit and scope to employ managers without a teaching qualification.
Authorities are also pressing for a review of workforce planning in early years and may propose a new breed of pre-five worker - which would further alarm the GTC and the teacher unions.