Nursery teachers on the move

11th January 2008 at 00:00
Nursery teachers in one education authority have been turned into peripatetic teachers, allowing the council to fulfil the Scottish Government's promise to give every pre-school child access to a teacher.

Under the new scheme - introduced in August - nursery teachers in Stirling no longer work full-time in one class or nursery but work for 13-week blocks in three different settings over the course of a year.

The Educational Institute of Scotland has criticised the move. It says having a dedicated teacher is in the best interests of the child - not part-time access to one.

But David Cameron, the director of children's services for the LabourLibDem-led council, argued that this was an overly simplistic view of early years education given that there was a shortage of nursery teachers and that some early years educators have degrees.

Since the Scottish Government pledged to "deliver access to a fully qualified nursery teacher for every nursery age child", early years practitioners have voiced concerns about what constituted "access".

An EIS spokesman said: "The phrase 'access to a nursery teacher' does give councils a considerable amount of flexibility, which could lead to an increase in authorities going down the route of removing class teachers and sharing teachers across various centres."

A tight financial settlement for local government has heightened the EIS's fears that nursery provision could be one of the first areas to suffer.

Stirling Council, however, believes that its model will result in a quality early years education. Mr Cameron said: "We are not sure that having nursery education delivered on a full-time basis by a teacher is the best way forward.

"Nursery teachers are difficult to recruit. We have highly trained early years educators and there is a tension between whether it is better to have a teacher who may not have experience at that level or an experienced early years educator.

"The situation is more complex than the current debate would lead us to believe."

Linda Kinney, head of learning and development at Stirling, prefers to describe the new nursery teachers' role as that of pedagogue - not peripatetic teacher. They are early years experts, up-to-date with the latest research and thinking. They support staff, pupils and parents and focus on key areas such as transitions, she argues: "In the past there has been a blurring of the roles of teachers and nursery nurses. We are trying to form roles and responsibilities that when they come together are complementary."

She admitted that some teachers were "unsure" about the new arrangement. But only two teachers decided they did not want to be involved and moved into primary.

She said: "We believe strongly that this is a model that could be considered elsewhere and will meet the current expectations of the Scottish Government."

The Minister for Children and Young People, Adam Ingram, recently said in response to a parliamentary question from Labour MSP Andy Kerr that the government has no intention of setting "a minimum threshold as to what constitutes access to a teacher". Mr Kerr went on to ask if access could mean "the teacher being available at the end of a telephone". Mr Ingram said that the Government was "clear that the commitment concerns teachers being present in pre-school centres".

Pre-school round-up

West Dunbartonshire: despite being SNP-led, the authority said it was unable to offer a child daily contact with a nursery teacher. Instead, a teacher visits from half a day to three days a week, depending on the size of the establishment and deprivation. The authority said it wanted clarification from the Government about what access means.

Aberdeenshire: its rural nature means it cannot provide daily access. Nursery co-ordinator teacher posts have been created to work with playgroups.

Glasgow: all nursery schools and classes have at least one full-time teacher "on hand". The removal of teachers from 37 establishments caused controversy last year. "Some" family learning centres and day nurseries have teachers.

Edinburgh: all children in local authority nursery schools and classes have daily access to a teacher. Children in child and family centres have weekly access. Some partner providers employ teachers.

West Lothian: all mainstream pre-school nursery classes and early years centres have full-time teachers. Teachers also work part-time in the private and voluntary sectors.

Fife: every council-run pre-school facility is led by a teacher.

Perth and Kinross: all pre-school children have access to a nursery teacher. The authority's two nursery schools have more than one teacher and the majority of its 47 nursery classes have a full-time teacher.

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