Money-grubbing primary headteachers were criticised at the conference for not caring enough about young children's education.
According to an early-years adviser, who did not wish to be named, the heads - mainly men - cared more about increasing the numbers of four- and five-year-olds in their classses and getting more money for their schools than they did about the needs of the under-fives.
"They try to convince the parents that the children are better off in schools because of the national curriculum and then ask whether they have to advertise for someone qualified in the nursery," said the adviser. She was backed up by other early-years specialists at a workshop on training which was part of the Start Right conference at London's Barbican centre. They said after the workshop that it was common for nursery units in primary schools to get second-best. Broken crayons no longer wanted by the primary classes were often passed down to the nurseries.
Professor Christine Pascal, chair of early childhood education at Worcester College of Higher Education, who led another workshop on training, proposed a 12-point agenda for action on training early-years practitioners. The agenda includes:
* Minimum levels of specialist training for all early childhood workers including child-minders.
* All early childhood workers to undertake five days' paid training each year throughout their careers.
* The development of a clear framework of training and development for early childhood workers which provides a continuum of professional development and career progression.
* All training and development to be linked to salary levels and bonuses.
* Specialist local advisers to provide and monitor training opportunities for early childhood workers in their areas.
* Training for all early childhood workers to be subsidised by government and industry.
Practitioners were concerned that education and training had not been addressed by the Government and, moreover, that recent changes had made opportunities for training worse, not better.