Variety of qualifications and skills is of benefit in early years

1st June 2012 at 01:00
One course alone will not give professionals all they need to educate young children

As someone who has worked as a lead practitioner with young children for more than 30 years, I read with interest the Herald's recent article, "Concern at lack of qualified nursery teachers" (8 May). In the course of my working life, I have had the opportunity to work with many professionals - teachers, early years practitioners, health workers and psychologists - some excellent, some not so excellent. Professionals, like children, are not a homogeneous group; they are diverse in motivation, inspiration and ability.

The contours of the debate put forward by the reporter, Andrew Denholm, were obscured by an underpinning belief that one professional degree overshadows the other and that one is consequently better for children. Denholm is not alone. It is easy to find professionals on different sides of the debate who are uncompromising about the distinction between the qualification they hold and another qualification.

These arguments do not, however, allow for the complexity of our culturally mixed society. Living in conditions of globalisation and migration, we are all dealing with the fast-moving pace of cultural change. Take the children's rights debate - it covers a wide range of provision that has enormous significance to practitioners. Children now contribute to the day-to-day planning and organisation of their early years experiences in consultation and dialogue with practitioners. Instead of the traditional practice of doing to children, we now work with children.

Such cultural changes in the early years community require a flexible and adaptable workforce of open, critical and reflective professionals to respond. Various professional qualifications are required for working with young children. No single qualification is the right one. There is room for an extraordinary variety of qualifications and learning opportunities.

There is widespread agreement that the BA in childhood practice is designed to meet the complexities of working with young children. Precisely because of these complexities, the course draws on a range of academic disciplines. This type of approach supports our government's vision of a highly trained and qualified workforce.

One academic qualification alone will not give the professionals all they need to educate and care for young children. The rich day-to-day interactions of members of a learning community are of fundamental value. In such an environment mutual respect is fostered, social justice prevails as children and adults learn together.

Finally, in the words of Mark Twain: "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect."

Lynn McNair is head of centre at Cowgate Nursery, Edinburgh.

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