Memorandum from NASUWT (EY 54)
1. NASUWT welcomes the opportunity to provide
evidence to the Committee on this important issue. The Association's
submission outlines its policy, addresses the issues specifically
identified in the Committee's call for evidence and evaluates
2. NASUWT has considerable expertise in
early years education. The Association's process of policy development
and review draws upon the practical knowledge, expertise and direct
experiences of members who work in a wide range of early years
settings such as classroom teachers, headteachers, advisers, nursery
nurses and support assistants.
3. This advice and information is enhanced
by the Association's active involvement in organisations which
have a specific focus on early years. NASUWT is represented on
the Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education (CACHE),
the National Training Organisation for Early Years Qualifications
and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority Early Years Forum.
4. NASUWT believes that national discussions
of early years provision have often failed to emphasise the important
distinction between early years education and care. Three to four
year olds in nursery schools and classes are in an environment
quite distinct from other pre-school provision.
5. The Association is committed to the provision
of high quality nursery education for every child aged three and
four whose parents require it.
6. To ensure high quality there must be:
- qualified teachers supported by qualified nursery
- a high ratio of staff to children;
- a clear policy and management structure;
- a broad and balanced curriculum which includes
learning through first-hand experience with an emphasis on structured
play and language development;
- a structured assessment process;
- planning, based upon observation and assessment;
- a well-organised, well-equipped physical environment;
- partnership with parents.
7. NASUWT strongly believes that a key factor
in the quality of provision is ensuring that qualified teachers
are always employed in the educational settings. The Association
is concerned that in some authorities there has been an attempt
to remove or reduce the numbers of qualified teachers employed
and to replace them with qualified nursery nurses. NASUWT believes
that this undermines the quality of the provision, fails to recognise
the distinct role and skills of teachers and nursery nurses and
leads to the exploitation of nursery nurses, who are neither qualified
nor paid to undertake a teaching role. It is the combination of
the skill and expertise of teachers and nursery nurses which results
in high quality provision.
8. NASUWT recognises that not all parents
wish their children to participate in nursery education. Children's
pre-school experiences will therefore vary depending on parental
choice and the nature of pre-school provision available in their
area. Whatever the choice of provision, it is important to recognise
that there is a considerable body of research which demonstrates
that high quality pre-school experience can have both short and
long-term benefits for children. Children with special educational
needs particularly benefit. Studies have highlighted the importance
of high quality provision. A quality service enhances a child's
development whereas poor provision has been shown to exacerbate
a child's problems of concentration and motivation.
9. The aim of early years education should
be to provide a developmentally appropriate, flexible and exciting
curriculum which lays the foundations for children's later learning
but which also has regard to their present individual needs.
10. It should be developmentally stage related,
build on children's prior experiences and encompass different
approaches to learning, and should not underestimate their natural
curiosity and capacity for critical thinking. It should encourage
creativity and imagination, problem solving, curiosity and investigation
and prepare children to be good members of society by promoting
care and respect for themselves and each other.
11. It is important that the curriculum
allows for the flexibility necessary to meet the needs of pupils
with special educational needs and those for whom English is an
12. Best practice in nursery schools and
classes recognises a rich curriculum of seven components:
Aesthetic and CreativeArt, drama,
dance, music, imagination.
Personal, Social and EmotionalRelationship,
self awareness, social interaction, diversity.
Language and literacyListening,
speaking, reading, writing.
MathematicsShape, numeracy, measuring,
sorting, assessing, recording.
PhysicalBodily and spatial awareness,
physical skills, health and safety.
Science and technologyLife and
its environment, materials and their properties, energy, force,
time, space, weather, use of materials, tools, planning and construction.
Spiritual and moralRight and wrong,
fairness, cultural diversity, tolerance, awe and wonder, responsibility.
13. The content outlined above is largely
recognised in the QCA Early Learning Goals. Whilst these
have been welcomed by NASUWT as guidelines for early years education,
the Association also recognises that they are more relevant to
those settings lacking qualified teachers and nursery nurses.
14. There is also a danger that the Early
Learning Goals become an over-prescriptive statutory requirement,
accompanied by a bureaucratic pupil assessment system. As guidelines
they should provide a framework on which practitioners can build.
A flexible curriculum is required so that teachers can use their
professional judgements to determine the needs of children who
will have differing pre-school experiences and rates of development.
15. Furthermore, early years education should
not become a watered down version of the National Curriculum.
NASUWT believes that the National Curriculum must remain distinct
from an early years curriculum. Pressure which may lead to an
over-concentration upon formal teaching, and upon the attainment
of a specific set of targets, must be resisted. Early years education
should assist development and equip children to cope with the
transition to Key Stage 1.
16. NASUWT advocates a holistic, cross-curricular
approach which should avoid practice that allows children to feel
that they have failed.
17. The two main approaches adopted in high
quality settings are theme and skills based. Both concentrate
upon active and independent learning through structured play.
Play is an important way to develop independence, confidence,
self worth and valuing others. Growth in these areas is crucial
to the development of skills and attitudes needed for future learning.
18. The use of the word structured when
referring to play in this context is important. Critics of play
often perceive it as aimless and non-educational. This is simply
not so. Qualified teachers plan the activities in order to achieve
specified learning outcomes. Their intervention during play activities
focuses upon questioning and directing in the same way as that
of teachers in other stages of education. Teachers use their professional
judgement to develop children's learning.
19. Although structured play must be an
essential focus for early years education there are times when
a more formal approach to learning may be required. In nursery
schools and classes this can be observed in the provision of set
periods for story telling, rhymes, songs, discussion and in small
group work. All of these elements provide an appropriate learning
20. NASUWT believes that all providers of
early years education should be subject to the same inspection
standards which apply in other sectors of education. This does
not, however, mean that the Association supports the extension
of the remit of OFSTED into the care aspect of early years provision.
21. NASUWT has serious concerns about the
OFSTED inspection regime. These concerns were identified in the
Association's submission to the House of Commons Select Committee
of Inquiry into OFSTED (December 1998). They included:
- the stress, strain and pressure the
process placed upon staff;
- the mismatch between inspectors' qualifications
and experience in the areas being inspected;
- inconsistency of judgement;
- lack of proven track record of competence
by those making the judgements;
- absence of external inspection of
the OFSTED process itself.
22. At all stages of education the OFSTED
inspection regime often has the effect of reducing teaching to
a mechanical process in which enthusiasm and indeed, inspiration
from teachers and children are taken out of the equation.
23. It is crucial that inspectors have the
expertise and experience within the sector being inspected. This
has not always been the case with regard to nursery schools and
classes. The QCA Desirable Learning Outcomes, (recently
revised and renamed Early Learning Goals), were, during
some inspections, misinterpreted by OFSTED inspectors demonstrating
both a lack of understanding and of training in new Government
initiatives. NASUWT is also aware of the difficulties caused by
some inspectors who have insisted on adopting the grading system
in relation to nursery nurses.
24. The establishment of a new arm of OFSTED
with responsibility for delivering regulation of early years provision,
bringing together the two systems, could exacerbate the problems
of inappropriately qualified inspectors, and will certainly extend
the difficulties NASUWT has consistently highlighted in relation
25. In the majority of countries in the
European Union the start of formal schooling is later than in
Great Britain with compulsory education beginning at the age of
six. In others such as Luxembourg and Northern Ireland it begins
earlier with education compulsory from the age of four. In contrast,
in Denmark the age is set at seven.
26. There has been a great deal of discussion
concerning the introduction of a distinct stage for the education
of children aged three, four and five. NASUWT is concerned that
the establishment of a distinct stage could lead to the devaluing
of the role of teachers of this age group and diminish the status
of this phase of education.
27. Taking all these factors into consideration,
and in the absence of evidence to demonstrate any educational
advantage to any specific age range of starting ages across the
European Union, NASUWT believes that the status quo should apply.
28. However, it is therefore essential to
acknowledge the distinct challenges teachers of reception children
face and to address their specific needs with regard to staffing
and other resources. Teaching reception pupils is probably one
of the most demanding roles within the education service. Pupils
enter reception with a variety of pre-school experiences ranging
from having remained at home with a parent or other family member
through to two years in a nursery school setting.
29. In some local authorities pupils are
admitted to reception classes as rising fives, i.e. they will
reach the age of five during the academic year but are four on
admission. In these settings teachers may find that there can
be up to 12 months difference in age between the oldest and youngest
pupil, with a marked difference in maturity and development of
pupils who reached their fourth birthday in, for example, the
August prior to admission in September, and pupils who were five
in August and admitted at the same time.
30. NASUWT is not opposed to the admission
of rising fives and does not advocate any compulsion for parents
to choose a particular type of provision pre-five. The Association
does believe, however, that this situation must be addressed by
distinct support being provided for reception classes, in terms
of staffing levels and other resources, which recognise these
key issues and to enable the provision of an appropriate curriculum
and support in a suitable environment with adequate numbers of
qualified staff for all the pupils.
THE SURE START PROGRAMME
31. NASUWT supports many of the principles
which underpin the Government's Sure Start project and
recognises the benefits of early intervention strategies, the
need to support families in areas of deprivation and the need
for a cross-departmental strategy to improve services.
32. The Association is aware of the benefits
achieved by the Headstart programme adopted in the USA
in the 1970s. This scheme targeted areas of need in the delivery
of services for children under five and their families.
33. At the same time the establishment of
combined nursery centres in some English Local Authorities brought
together social services and education departments to provide
care and education for children and support for parents/carers.
34. NASUWT welcomes the provision of additional
funding associated with Sure Start but any impact in the
area of early years education will be affected significantly by
the quality and consistency of the provision, and the continuing
provision of funding to support to sustain the project in the
35. A key factor in this respect is the
employment of qualified teachers and nursery nurses in all early
36. In addition, the partnership between
parents/carers and staff is an important part of a support programme.
NASUWT maintains that non-contact time must be made available
for teachers and nursery nurses to promote parental involvement.
OTHER KEY ISSUES
37. Class size and pupil teacher ratios
are a major issue in the early years sector. NASUWT maintains
that there is a need to recommend a minimum teacher/child ratio
for all early years settings, particularly reception classes.
This is distinctly different from an adult/pupil ratio and essential
to the provision of high quality education and to ensure the health
and safety of children and staff.
38. NASUWT welcomes the Government's commitment
to the provision of access to early years settings for every three
and four year old. The Association believes however that the emphasis
on the provision of part-time places as opposed to full-time provision
needs careful consideration.
39. NASUWT recognises that part-time placements
have been adopted by Government as a cost-effective and pragmatic
solution to the problem of providing opportunities for more children
to participate by using existing full-time places without a vast
increase in the provision of "new" places. However,
the Government must also recognise that part-time places are not
a simple, cheap option if they are properly utilised and resourced.
Part-time places need additional resources to support them. They
can double the workload of teachers and increase the organisational
and administrative burden on the school. In a full-time setting
a teacher supported by nursery nurses may have 30 pupils during
the day. In a part-time setting a teacher with the same level
of classroom support may deal with 60 children in one day, thus
exacerbating the workload problems which teachers generally face,
particularly with regard to record keeping, assessments, parental
consultation and individual support.
40. The Government must recognise the implications
for teachers' conditions of service, for funding and resources.
The Association also believes that the Committee should recognise
the educational benefits for some children provided by the continuity
of a full-time placement.
41. NASUWT believes that nursery schools/classes
and reception classes suffer from the same deficiencies of the
current funding mechanism experienced by all schools. The Association
submitted detailed written evidence in November 1999 to the House
of Commons Education and Employment Committee Inquiry into the
DfEE funding, and believes that the issues raised in that submission
must be considered in the context of the Inquiry into Early Years
42. High quality early years education must
be supported by continuing professional development for teachers
and nursery nurses. Adequate finance must be made available for
both courses and supply cover so that staff can attend during
their working time.
43. The allocation for early years training
and development within the Standards Fund currently focusing on
three year olds, is woefully inadequate and it is not possible
to fund key provision such as supply cover, travel and subsistence.
44. Moreover, if the demand for qualified
early years teachers is to be met, Initial Teacher Training Courses
must include the opportunity to choose of an early years phase
with an emphasis on child development.
45. The significant contribution made by
high quality early years education to a child's development and
educational progress cannot be challenged. It is therefore essential
that all children have the opportunity to access such provision.
The key factor influencing the nature of the early years setting
a child experiences, should be parental choice not variation in
provision depending on geographical location or the varying structures
and funding policies of local authorities.
46. NASUWT acknowledges that the Government
has attempted to introduce coherence and planning by the introduction
of the Early Years Development Partnership. However, in the absence
of a coherent national policy which ensures consistency of funding,
staffing levels of both teachers and nursery nurses, and type
of provision, many children will be denied the opportunity to
experience the high quality nursery education which can make such
a positive contribution to their long-term educational progress.