Under-five education being eroded

Carol Morley

I retired as a nursery head in June 2007. After more than 30 years of working with children under five and their families in England and Scotland, I am extremely concerned about the lack of a coherent policy and direction for pre-school education in Scotland.

I welcomed last November's HMIE publication, The Key Role of Staff in Providing Quality Pre-School Education, hoping that authorities would act on the conclusions: "Local authorities need to ensure that they make effective use of the skills and expertise of teachers to ensure that they maintain the consistently high standard of provision."

And the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education project in England found that "having qualifed, trained teachers working with children in pre-school settings (for a substantial proportion of the time and most importantly as the pedagogical leader) has the greatest impact on quality, and specifically on better outcomes in pre-reading and social development".

Despite these findings, we have reached the stage where there is a plan to withdraw teachers in Renfrewshire nurseries (TESS October 3). How can quality be maintained when "access to a teacher" is not permanent? It is this sustained interaction that is important to the development of the pre-school child.

A Curriculum for Excellence states that "children and young people should experience continuous progression in their learning from 3 to 18. Each stage should build upon earlier knowledge and achievements. Children should be able to progress at a rate which meets their needs and aptitudes, and keeps options open so that routes are not closed off too early."

It is teachers in nursery who have the training and experience to ensure that happens. If they visit once a week to provide "access", this cannot be effective.

In Edinburgh, the council has reversed two decisions: to close five nursery schools and withdraw cooked school meals in nursery schools. Meals have not materialised yet. I suspect that nursery schools are under covert threat of numbers of full-time places for children being cut and staff moved. One was replaced this year by a "campus model" and the retiring head by a head of centre. Yet the HMIE report cautioned against weakening existing effective provision "such as that found most often in nursery schools with teacher involvement".

My post has not been advertised; will that be another head of centre's post? The acting headteacher who replaced me is now in her second year. The home-link teacher post has been frozen. The community learning and development worker has been seconded without replacement. The minibus has disappeared. I am very apprehensive about further loss of services for the community which is in an area of multiple deprivation.

It is time for the Scottish Government to secure high-quality provision for all children under five. It is time for authorities to stop treating nursery schools as out-dated, and recognise the quality of their pre-school education. And it is time for the statutory requirement for a teacher to be reinstated and the additional qualification for teachers wishing to work with nursery children re-established.

There cannot be excellence in the curriculum if the foundation is subject to erosion.

Carol Morley was headteacher of Greengables Nursery School and Family Centre in Edinburgh.

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Carol Morley

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