Examination of witnesses (Questions 197
WEDNESDAY 5 APRIL 2000
ABBOTT and DR
197. Thank you very much for staying with us
and listening to the preceding questions and answers. Can I start
by saying that you have heard a range of opinions this morning,
the job of this Committee is really to delve into everything that
is out there in terms of new ideas, innovations and best practice?
We are listening to anyone who wants to talk to us or write to
us and we are going out there and seeing things on the ground.
We are always going to be grateful to people like yourselves who
say, "Go and look here, go and look at this sort of practice",
and we are even going to Denmark in three or four weeks to have
a look at their practice. Obviously we should have gone to Hungary
instead. However, I understand, Professor Abbott, that you are
responsible for the whole notion of the Climbing Frame and when
people talk about the Climbing Frame notion of training it is
attributed to you, so can I congratulate you on that? It is now
used everywhere for everything. Can I ask you to say a couple
of words of introduction about yourself?
(Professor Abbott) I am responsible for Early Childhood
Development in the Institute of Education at Manchester Metropolitan
University, which includes teacher education, multi-professional
development for all workers involved in the care and education
of young children, continuing professional development for teachers
and people who are working across various sectors and departments,
and practitioners working up to master's and PhD level in the
early years. I am also very much involved in research into the
education and care of children under five. I am delighted to hear
that you are now widening your remit to look at the age range
birth to three. We are very much involved in a research project
working with the under-threes and are just producing training
materials and resources to help practitioners right across the
board to look in a rigorous and reflective way at their practice.
198. Thank you for that.
(Dr Fabian) I too work at the Institute of Education
at Manchester Metropolitan University and have a similar field
to Lesley, working with teachers who are training to be early
years' specialists and working in the field of continuing professional
development with people who are in the field of early years. My
particular interest is the start of school and the way in which
children are brought into compulsory education now. I am also
here today representing TACTYC.
199. I am sure I offended everyone concerned
with early years when I made the remark, "You wouldn't hire
a plumber who was not qualified", but I did that to bring
the argument out. What is your opinion in terms of the ways in
which we train the people who are responsible for the early years
of our children? As I said yesterday, there are stark contrasts
and it is very different. One was a playschool hiring people on
minimum wage and then training them. I am not saying that those
people were not very good, but there are very many of them in
the country. Then we looked at other establishments where people
have very much longer training. What is your view on this contrast
of education and training backgrounds for people in the early
(Professor Abbott) My response would be that all people
working with young children should have adequate and supported
training. That is not to say that we will not have the gifted
amateur and people working alongside people who are highly trained,
but I think the aim should be to provide access, funding and support
for all those who are working with young children. Having recently
been a member of the Government Review of-Pre-Schools and Playgroups
and looking at the barriers to full inclusion of pre-schools and
playgroups in the provision of early years care and education
right across the board, one of the most compelling findings of
that group is the fact that access to, and support for training
is one of the barriers that we really do need to look at. I would
advocate training for all those who are working with young children,
but anyone in a leadership position in any early years centre
must have high quality training. My response would be that it
needs to be graduate training, whether a teacher, re specialist
early years training or an early childhood studies degree which
equips those people to lead the team, to manage, to work with
parents and to identify and meet the needs of the children that
they are working with. They need that skill.
200. It begs the question whether we should
have graduate parenthood. The people most involved with children
are the parents, so are we actually saying by implication that
there is this needI want to come on to your continuum 0
to 8but ultimately the parent is the child's first teacher?
(Professor Abbott) Exactly, and research has shown
just how important that first educator is. My concern is with
children in out-of-home settings and if parents are going to invest
in care and education out of their home, then that child deserves
the best and the most highly educated people are required to work
with those children. I would not disagree at all. I think parents
work tremendously well with their children, they respond to their
children's needs. Recent research has just shown how important
that is and the News Night programme on Friday looked at
the ways in which parents were responding so sensitively to their
children's needs. Research suggests that parents are programmed
to respond to the needs of their children. We are talking about
out-of-home settings and I would say that those children deserve
well qualified and well trained people.
201. But in the out-of-home setting the people
responsible for the young people by implication are also, therefore,
involved with the families from which those children come to get
the best development for the children. I remember the time when
the NNEB qualification was essentially for 16 to 18 olds and then
we realised that the responsibilities they had in day nurseries
or in other settings involved talking and sharing with parents
and they were not qualified, simply by the lack of experience,
to deal with that setting. So how are we going to ensure that
those qualified do have this wider concern and involvement and
are able to be creative and responsive to it? Secondly, and importantly,
how do you ensure that in the setting of care for young children
we give a positive creative message to the parents as well as
to their involvement?
(Dr Fabian) One of the things that we need to consider
is the close communication between the setting and the home. You
are right, people need training in ways of communicating with
parents. I think for most courses that are available that is an
element of the course. Within that training people need to have
systems whereby they can communicate with parents and invite parents
into their setting so that they can also see what goes on. You
are almost educating the parents along with the children very
202. We have just heard that the development
of oral language is key. The oral language is going to start at
that very early level. If that is true, then the essence of what
we are doing in those early years is a link between parent, teacher
and child. How do we get it right?
(Professor Abbott) I think we get it right by supporting
parents and by acknowledging parents as partners in the process.
I think we can be very patronising in talking about educating
parents. I know that parents are educated by seeing a different
model of working with their children and I think the closer involvement
in their child's pre-school or early education offers the parent
the opportunity to see a different model of handling, a different
way of responding to their children's needs. It is the interaction
of different skills and different responses to children that I
think is important. Making our settings welcoming to parents,
rather than making them feel as though they are handing over their
child to the professionals, is a very important aspect. There
is strong evidence that many early years settings are doing just
that. Parents are seen as partners in the process and many settings
feel that they could not function without parents. This is one
of the strengths of the playgroup movement, parents are involved
right from the beginning, but it does not excuse us from training
the leaders of the playgroups and the managers of those groups
appropriately, so that that team approach is employed.
203. We went to many early years settings yesterday
in Oxfordshire and every one of them said that their staff were
trained, or were being trained, but clearly there is a huge range
of difference between the various training courses, some are vocational
and some are academic. Can you tell us what the major differences
are and what you think is useful training and what is relevant?
Clearly it would partly depend on the setting, but is some training
really just a paper exercise and really not very effective in
terms of getting the best out of those young children?
(Dr Fabian) As with most professions, you need a variety
of people within that profession, you cannot, for instance, with
a health organisation, simply have all consultants, you have to
have a range of people, and hence there is a range of training
on offer to people. The teacher training that exists is a course
that looks at 3 to 8 year olds and they are covering that age.
That, of course, does not cover our 0 to 3 year olds that we are
now looking at, so perhaps that is something that needs opening
204. To follow Charlotte's pointyou are
the Climbing Frame people, or Lesley certainly is, who are the
people at the top of the climbing frame? What are their qualifications?
What have they got that the people at the bottom have not got?
What is the difference? If I am sending my child to be stimulated
by someone who is only at the bottom of the climbing frame as
opposed to the next door neighbour who is sending his son to someone
who is at the top of the climbing frame, who is getting the best
(Dr Fabian) I would hope that they are both getting
a good deal, because I would hope that the people who are working
with them areI do not like talking about the bottom of
the climbing frame or the top, but
205. It is your climbing frame.
(Professor Abbott) People who are just starting out
may be young apprentices, may be people who are being trained
in the workplace towards achieving NVQs, and those people will
be supported by, or should be supported by, people who have the
qualifications at the top of the climbing frame. They should be
supported by qualified early years specialist teachers, maybe
someone with a master's degree, maybe someone with a PhD in early
years, but that support should be there. The people who are beginning
that training, maybe a vocational training, will need some support
in terms of acquiring underpinning knowledge. One of my concerns
is that purely workplace based training does not always give those
students access to the underpinning knowledge. I think what we
need to be looking at is vocationally related training allied
with an opportunity for those people to step out of their setting,
to mix with other people, to talk about the key issues in early
childhood care and education, but not to be so blinkered that
they only train within the workplace and only come out with a
competence based qualification. I think that mix, that diversity,
is very important.
206. We spoke to someone yesterday who said
that she had done a diploma, but she found that the NVQ 3 was
really just about providing evidence and clearly had decided that
she had not got time or it was not really relevant to her work
place. How can we make sure that the training that they get is
relevant and effective in terms of right across this hotch-potch,
as an earlier witness said, of the early years settings we have?
(Dr Fabian) Training does not just stop at the point
at which they have their NVQ, there has to be continued professional
development and it has to be diverse, they have to learn about
systems that are wider than the setting that they are in. It is
no good practitioners just being with practitioners, they have
to have that underpinning knowledge. Presently the training that
people take on top of their basic qualification is often in their
own time, in the evenings and on Saturdays, and perhaps there
is a case for releasing people from work in order to go and have
(Professor Abbott) I think, to be fair, we have come
a long way and we must recognise that. The QCA framework of accredited
training is important, but I do not think it goes quite far enough.
NVQ level 4, which is supposed to be the link with higher education,
is not yet fully developed and higher education is not yet linked
into that framework, so the QCA climbing frame stops short of
the link with higher education. I think a lot of work still needs
to be done on the link between initial training and continuing
professional development. One of the strengths is that we now
have specialist early years teacher training and recognition by
the Teacher Training Agency. Many of us have worked long and hard
for that revolution. An advanced study of early years is now seen
as comparable to a specialist subject in maths, English, science
and other primary national curriculum subjects. We have actually
won that battle. What we need to do now is safeguard the needs
of early years teachers who are required by the Teacher Training
Agency to do everything that every other student training to teach
at any other age has to complete. All the additional early years
areas such as child development, management, leadership and working
with parents, must be sidelined as well. I think we are in a dilemma,
we do not want to hive off early years teacher training as a separate
area, as in many other countries to which reference has been made
this morning. We are the one country that has graduate teacher
qualifications for all our early years teachers and I think we
have to hang on to that, otherwise we will not get primary head
teachers who know anything about early years, because people will
say, "We are not going to appoint an early years trained
person if they have not also worked with children in the later
years." What our teacher training strives to do, and we battle
to do it, and I think we do it effectively, is to allow our students
to experience the later years as well as the early years so that
they have that spread but also specialist early years knowledge
207. It is rather building on the line of questioning
that Valerie had and just putting to one side that the Climbing
Frame analogy does have this hierarchial problem that we were
concerned about earlier, and you might want to think about spiders'
(Professor Abbott) We are going that way, we have
got away from the ladder.
208. I am struggling. You know that I have been
pursuing a line of questioning in the earlier sessions aboutas
I see it from the evidence of my own eyes, albeit I expect not
a scientific example, but certainly from my own constituency experiencethe
value placed within these early years settings of the gifted amateur
and the involvement of parents, from all backgrounds, not just
necessarily those who have got, one might say, an enlightened
view on these matters. I am wrestling, I have to be honest, and
would hope to have your view on this, with this trend that appears
to be creeping in that somehow we need to get children away from
their parents as soon as possible in order to give them to the
professionals, because parents are simply not up to the job of
giving children the right start. It is my belief, and it cannot
be more than that, that that is completely the wrong way round
and the parents are the right place to start, of all backgrounds,
and we should not presume that only the "middle-class"
are capable. I will be grateful for your views given that that
seems to be contrary to a lot of the training course success.
(Dr Fabian) I do not think that we are wanting to
get children away from their parents necessarily to the professionals.
A lot of the reasons why that happens in some areas is because
of the social and cultural influences that are there. It is usually
mothers who want to go out to work and need to go out to work
in order earn a living. Therefore, they are looking to the professionals
and good care, good education for their children, and that is
why they are sending them to a lot of the settings that they are.
(Professor Abbott) I would not say that we are advocating
taking children away from parents. I think that some children
need to be in settings where they can learn alongside other children
and can benefit from other models and other styles of handling.
I think what is important is that parents should have that choice
and should have a diversity of provision from which to choose.
Their choice may be to bring up their child in the home, but the
choice ought to be there. If they want two days a week of good
quality childcare and early education with well qualified people
who they can trust that choice should be available, I think that
is the important issue. So the choice will still remain with the
parents. I do not think anyone should put pressure on parents
to feel that they are not doing a good job and that the professionals
will take over. I would advocate very strongly a partnership model,
but I think the choice ought to be there and the choice ought
to be from a level playing field, so that wherever they choose
to place their child, whether it is with a childminder, in a private
nursery or in an early excellence centre, then the qualified people
to work with their child should be there. So we are not saying
that is an inferior type of provision. I think that choice and
diversity is what we ought to be working towards.
209. I think a lot of the thrust of what you
have been seeking to argue and achieve is to place a value upon
the provision and the recognition on the provision that is made
for early years outside the home setting, and I think that it
must be helpfulagain your views will be very welcometo
try and put that alongside the continuing value of those parents
who choose to retain the children within the home for the longest
possible period of time, not least because I think there are a
number of pressures that are now creeping in on those mothersI
do not want to use that in a discriminatory waybut it is
primarily mothers who choose to keep there children at home for
the longest period of time and a lot of them are made to feel
somewhat guilty or have to question that motive. It is often proven
that mothers who can give time to read stories to their children,
very often the reading skills of their children are way in advance
of others, and it is those sorts of examples which ought to be
given, I think, some equal weight. Again, your views will be welcome
(Dr Fabian) Again, there are some families who choose
not to send their children to school at all. If you look at the
organisation of education otherwise, that is one of their main
criteria. They feel that they can do it better outside of the
school or the formal setting. However, I think we have moved a
long way on this, inasmuch as a few years ago parents were put
under a lot of pressure to start their children earlier at school
and there are some authorities now who are wanting all the four
year olds to start in school in September, which for many children
is disadvantaging them. There are other schools who are much more
willing to take the children later on.
210. You prefer the latter?
(Dr Fabian) I think parents need the choice. The discussion
earlier was talking about children developing at different rates
and there are some children who develop very quickly and who are
ready for that compulsory schooling earlier rather than later.
211. Some teachers told us yesterday that the
difficulty is when you do not have a class of your own and children
keep changing in and out all the time.
(Professor Abbott) In answer to your question I think
that I would just say that parents need to know how exciting,
interesting and stimulating early childhood education is. I think
one of the things that we have got to look at is that, however
good the home is, and however positive the parenting, some children
will benefit from being with other children, having a broad and
balanced and relevant experience of exciting activities from which
they will gain a great deal. I think parents need to feel that
that is appropriate provision for their child, maybe not on a
full-time basis, but an opportunity to which they will have access.
I think maybe we have a job to do in advertising much more just
how exciting early childhood education is.
212. Perhaps this is why we are urging you to
kite-mark it. What I was particularly interested in, when I was
reading the evidence that you gave us, firstly the TACTYC point
when you said, "The processes of children's learning are
far more important than the content of teaching." Processes
against teaching. "The observation of children developing
attitudes, skills and knowledge are vital to the basis when performing
teaching." You go on to say, "Developing the appropriate
approach to learning at this stage is vital in the creation of
life-long learners." What I wanted to ask is, first of all,
can you describe the appropriate approach to learning for young
children? What is the secret? What is the best approach? How is
this going to lead to life-long learning? Finally, are there indications
about who is the best qualified educator of pre-school children?
In other words, if process is important, what does that lead on
to in terms of who should conduct the process?
(Dr Fabian) We have already heard this morning that
play is an important element of the way in which children learn.
Part of that play needs to be structured and, again, we have heard
about the notion of a planning and assessment cycle so that practitioners
are planning the learning that is taking place, albeit through
play, albeit through investigation and decision making, and within
that there is also some unstructured play whereby children can
develop further by interacting with other children. So certainly
one of the approaches is play and that is important.
The other thing is that the teaching is important whereby the
teachers and the practitioners need to be observing the children's
learning and assessing what they are doing in order to plan the
next stage, so they can then move them to the next stage of learning.
They have to see where those children are at before they can move
213. What you are saying leads me to conclude
that the better qualified, the more highly qualified supervisors
of that process, the better?
(Dr Fabian) Yes. They need to be able to observe children
and the training they receive as teachers or as nursery nurses
gives them that qualification. They are good at observing.
214. Lesley do you want to add anything to that?
(Professor Abbott) Yes. I think the process is important.
The way in which children learn is as important as what they learn.
I do think we have to get the balance right, we have to make sure
that the people who are working with young children have knowledge,
skill and the right attitude. It is that balance between knowing
when to intervene, when to step back and let children take the
lead and when to participate in children's learning. All early
learning should be planned, should be carefully and rigorously
planned, but the knowledgeable and well-trained adult will know
when to step back and know when to take the lead from the child
and when to intervene and develop that play. I think there is
an under-estimation of the competence of young children and play
has got a rather bad press in many ways over the years. I think
what we have to do is to make sure that people are aware of the
complex nature of play and recognise that play is an umbrella
term for a whole variety of complex behaviours in which children
engage. It is those kinds of understandings that an appropriate
training will help those educators to gain and to use with children.
Chairman: We want to finish on baseline assessment
and Michael Foster has a question on that.
215. In your submission you mentioned failure
and labels being applied. Can you give us some specific reference
to what type of a system you are referring to so we can get a
feel for what it is that the children are failing at?
(Professor Abbott) I could give you an example from
a nursery I was in last week, I hasten to add not with one of
ny students, where a head teacher had said to his nursery teacher,
"I want you to do some baseline assessments with the nursery
children." There was a parent and child and the child was
moving from another area and the teacher had been asked to give
the child some kind of baseline assesment. Together the parent
and child were being, what I would call, tested. The teacher was
holding up four red elephants and saying, "How many?"
"What colour?", and the child was getting more and more
frustrated because he did not want to answer and the parent was
getting embarrassed and anxious. That same child, in the afternoon,
was with a group of students who were working with the children
and one of the students said, "Pass me four red counters
from that pile. Pass me three blue bricks", and the teacher
was carefully observing and ticking off what the child knew. The
child was not being put in a failing situation and the parent
was not made to feel a failure too, because the parent was saying,
"He does know. He knows. Tell the teacher." What is
needed is that understanding of what assessment means in the early
stages. We have to give children the opportunity to show us what
they know and what they can do. It is starting with what the child
can do and not what the child cannot do that is important and
making sure that those people who are doing the assessing actually
know what they are looking for and how to record it, rather than
adopting a check-list approach. Untrained people, and it is not
their fault, and those who are minimally trained will often hang
on to a document and use it as a life-line to tick off children's
achievements I think we have to guard against that. Assessment
has to be started from the child.
Mr Foster: My second question was going to be,
can you suggest good practice and bad practice? But you have done
that in the example.
216. Are we getting it totally, totally wrong?
You heard the previous contributions. Should we absolutely scrap
what we are doing and our methodology and take up the Hungarian
methodology, because we are just missing something fundamental
and we are not performing to the same standards in early years
as these countries such as parts of Belgium and Hungary?
(Dr Fabian) I do not think we can polarise the situation
like that. There is good in all those practices that we have heard
about today. In some settings in this country there is very good
practice and what we need to be doing is identifying what that
good practice looks like and building on it.
(Professor Abbott) There is certainly no room for
complacency. I think we have some excellent practice in this country
and as someone who has worked in Denmark and Sweden and visited
Reggio Emilia I have seen some excellent practice there, but I
think if we did the same and we had study tours over here we could
take people to some excellent centres in this country. I am sure
that you have visited many of those centres. What we want is best
practice for all our children in whatever setting they are being
cared for and educated in. We have to learn from other countries,
we have to learn from the many pieces of research that are presented
and apply it to our own culture and to our own context and certainly
not to be complacent, but to strive for what we have in many of
our early excellent centres and many of our early childhood settings.
217. We represent a lot of parents as elected
Members of Parliament and what, in a sense, I am saying to you
is, do we not need to be able to assure parents out there that
when they send their child off to early years learning the door
they go through is recommended for quality? I am not saying it
is three star, four star or five star as we have in a guide to
hotels, but something that gives an assurance, a kite-mark, that
that quality of experience is of the best. Yesterday, asking everyone,
and listening this morning, I was not sure there was a kite-mark
there that I could discern.
(Professor Abbott) If we are talking about kite-marks,
I think we have to look at a whole range of factors. Research
is showing that one of the strongest and most influential factors
in the provision of quality education and care is the appropriateness
of the training received by those people who are in a leadership
role within each setting. Having said that, we have to look at
provision, you may have well qualified people but very poor provision
in terms of the physical environment in which children are operating,
and this is why there is no room for complacency. The Government
is obviously pushing diversity of provision, and I would not argue
with that, but I think it has to be diversity with quality. We
have to be honest with the parents and say research is showing
that centres where there are trained, well qualified people, where
the setting in terms of physical provision and environment are
of the highest quality, are coming out as being the most effective
types of provision. I think we have to be honest, but I think
we still have to strive for the best provision in every setting
that is offering care and education.
218. Is the best way of doing that the OFSTED
Report, or is it for an organisation such as the one that gave
evidence first to actually do the kite marking? Who would you
leave it to?
(Professor Abbott) It is a balance. It can be an appropriate
OFSTED inspection if it involves people who know what they are
looking for and using a framework that allows them to do that,
and also an organisation that has that overall umbrella responsibility
for ensuring that best practice is actually introduced. I think
we have still got a long way to go in terms of getting the OFSTED
inspection framework for early years right.
(Dr Fabian) The implication of that is those people
who go and do the inspection, whether it is under OFSTED or whoever,
need to have their training right as well and they need to know
what they are looking for, not just in the teaching but in the
provision of the resources that are there and the buildings that
are there as well.
Chairman: Thank you very much. We much appreciate
all the time and trouble and expertise of the witnesses. Thank
you very much and I hope that you will, as you drive away or go
away on the train, think of something that you should have said
to us and add to your evidence. Thank you.
6 Note from witness: Other approaches to learning
- Children being active: by having
first hand experiences both on their own and with others;
- Children engaging in real-life situations
which are meaningful and where they are encouraged to think by
engaging in problem-solving activities;
- Children having opportunities for
trial and error and taking risks;
- Children having time (learning cannot
be hurried) to be immersed in experiences and gain a disposition
for learning; and
- Children have opportunities to be
creative and use their imaginations.
In this way children will be helped
to develop resilience, social understanding and confidence to