No pledge on nursery staff
Teachers gave an extra dimension to nursery education but so did other pre-school staff with appropriate qualifications, Peter Peacock said. There were no plans to have teachers in all settings.
"Sixty per cent of all centres have got a teacher but only 17-19 per cent of staff are teachers in the sector. It's quite a small proportion of total staff. To guarantee a teacher in every centre would create enormous logistical and practical problems apart from anything else," Mr Peacock said.
Many teachers now lacked the specialism in nurseries they needed to work in the sector.
The Educational Institute of Scotland has campaigned vigorously against Glasgow's plans to remove 37 teachers from nurseries - set to be ratified by the city council yesterday (Thursday) - but Mr Peacock offered no prospect of stepping into a local authority's pre-five planning.
The 1956 Schools Code which stipulated the presence of a teacher in nursery had been repealed to allow authorities flexibility, Mr Peacock said. That flexibility was not a signal to councils to stop employing teachers, merely a recognition that there were different options open to them.
Mr Peacock assured MSPs that high standards were also guaranteed by the inspection system which had highlighted high quality in non-local authority settings.
But Rosemary Byrne, Scottish Socialist and EIS member, said there was ample research evidence to support the key role of teachers in nurseries. Even the inspectorate had reported on higher standards in local authority provision than in the private and voluntary sector where there are fewer teachers.
"It's not something that can easily be dismissed but I do appreciate the difficulties of having that across the board," Ms Byrne told the minister.
Mr Peacock replied: "We have no desire to phase out teachers. We have given flexibility to local authorities to allow them to deploy staff in a way that will have the best professional impact. It's not a policy intention to phase out teachers."
Research from the EPPE (Effective Provision of Pre-School Education) study south of the border about teachers' role in nurseries indicated that level of qualification was the key factor, he said. The study is led by Professor Kathy Sylva of Oxford University, who is acting as an adviser to MSPs on the early years inquiry.
Val Cox, head of early education and childcare in the Scottish Executive, maintained: "It's the level of qualification rather than the nature of the qualification that makes the difference."
* Pioneering family learning centres in Glasgow have made a mixed start, according to unpublished research by a team from Strathclyde University.
Centres are seldom used by the most vulnerable and difficult to engage families -a key objective of the government's Sure Start initiative.
Willie Hart, local secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, criticised the city for failing to publish the report, which it has had since last October, when it is taking a major decision to remove 37 teachers from nurseries.
"The way to improve the service is to have more teachers involved," Mr Hart said.