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Lord Tope: My Lords, I, too, should like to support the amendment and, indeed, to endorse what the two previous speakers have said with greater eloquence and knowledge than I can muster. One of the reasons that I want to support the amendment is that it deals with the assumption made by so many that, somehow, to teach young children is easier than to teach older children. At this point I should declare a sort of interest in that my wife is an infant school teacher. If I ever thought that it was easier to teach young children than older children, the last 22 years have taught me that the reverse is the case.
It is not the qualification as such which is important in this respect; it is the skills and the training which go with attaining that qualification. The amendment seeks to recognise the importance of those skills and of that training in looking after young children. Indeed, the point has been made, and made very well, about the particular importance of all this to children with special educational needs. That applies especially to the age group about which we are talking. It also applies more widely. That is what the amendment seeks to achieve. For those reasons, and because the amendment would give recognition to the importance of teaching young children, while not over-simplifying that teaching, I wish to support the amendment.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, a qualified teacher in every nursery setting is not a luxury; in hard economic terms, it is a good investment. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, pointed out the need in that respect, and I should just like to give the House one illustration of it. As noble Lords know, we get an enormous postbag on such matters and we read all the letters. One letter I received came from the headteacher of a tiny school in South Wales. He pointed out that, from time to time, there arrives in his school a child who has absolutely no ability to communicate. It is not a case of that child being mentally unbalanced in any way or indeed a matter of his not having developed; such a child has probably never been in a situation where communication was called for. He is dazed and dazzled; he does not understand and is confused when confronted with it in school. It takes someone who is skilled and trained to recognise that fact and know what to do about such a child. Although this amendment is a generous one and would cost a little more to implement, I believe that the fruits would be enormous.
It seems to me that if we are to convince parents about the importance of nursery education--and they are convinced to a very large extent--it is important to add to that that those who are teaching their children in nursery schools are what we would call fully qualified; in other words, they are fully trained and specially trained. That would add great status to the teachers themselves and to the schools in which they are employed.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I assume that the intention of the amendment is to increase the minimum qualification requirements that the providers, particularly in the private and voluntary sector, will have to meet. As other speakers have said, I accept that training and qualifications are extremely important. My department is committed to that and that has been one of the themes of the merger, going wider than just the educational world.
However, I believe that it is unnecessary to put such a requirement in regulations as is suggested. Under the Bill it will be possible for my right honourable friend to review at any stage the requirements of grant relating to staff qualifications. Requirements of grant are a very powerful tool indeed to use to lever up standards over time.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, asks whether extra money is being made available for training. But as regards the vouchers, it is for each provider to decide how to use its own voucher income and whether to direct some into training. Anecdotal evidence from the pre-school movement in Norfolk--and this is one of the reasons behind Phase 1's evaluation--is that training is an extremely high priority.
As our next-steps document makes very clear, we see the touchstone of quality in all settings to be whether the desirable learning outcomes are likely to be achieved. There is a range of qualifications, not only qualified teacher status, that offer teaching staff the necessary expertise to help children work towards these outcomes. As well as the BEds and PGCEs that lead to QTS, there is a whole host of others which are important in the nursery setting: the NNEB (CACHE) Diploma in Nursery Nursing; the PLA Diploma in Playgroup Practice; NVQs, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, (Levels 2 & 3) in Childcare and Education; a new range of BAs in education and childcare; and a range of independent qualifications like Montessori.
We also need to recognise that there are many staff working in nurseries and playgroups who do not have the qualifications that I have mentioned but who have the experience, built up over a number of years, and indeed the skills, to offer children a wealth of personal, social and learning skills. It is important to remember that there is that wealth of experience out there of which we should make use even if no formal qualifications
As I have done on a number of occasions, I remind the House that in order to obtain registration under the Children Act, those providers must meet the qualification requirements recommended under that Act. At the moment these requirements are interpreted locally by local authority social services departments. This helps to ensure that only those institutions with suitably qualified staff gain registration under the Act and in turn are able to redeem vouchers. This is an important and valuable quality control.
I am confident that, over time, we shall see an improvement in the qualifications of staff working in voucher-redeeming institutions. I do not therefore believe that it is necessary to place this proposed requirement in regulations. We already have a mechanism to review as necessary the qualification requirements of voucher-redeeming institutions. In my view, that is the appropriate mechanism. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps he will clarify one matter for me. I believe that he said that there may be some teachers or helpers in nursery schools who have no formal educational qualification. He said words to the effect that they may have the aptitude and experience built up over the years which enable them to make very valuable contributions. I agree that that is the case. It is said that there are some natural teachers, and I think that that is true, but that is always based on the fact that they have had training as teachers. Therefore, is the Minister saying that there are people who would help or teach in a nursery school who would have no formal qualifications?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I was referring to staff who have no formal qualifications working in particular in playgroups--and there are many of them--and the same is true of nurseries. We do not wish to lose the wealth of that experience which has been built up over the years.
Over time we may wish to consider other measures. But as I made clear, through the requirements of grant we have power to lever up standards and to look to other qualifications. But I believe that to introduce a standard right at the beginning and to include it in regulations would bring with it a danger of losing a great deal of wealth of experience which we do not wish to lose.
Once again, I feel a curious sense that the concept of nursery education is becoming diluted in two different directions--this has been discussed over and over again--in order to accommodate the playgroups and the reception classes where all the teachers, although not their ancillaries, presumably have teacher training qualifications. Between that, the idea of what nursery education is and what it requires is getting lost.
The Minister said that he hopes that standards will rise; that qualifications will increase and so on. What is the basis for that hope if there is no requirement that there should be qualifications for the staff? It has now become explicit that we are talking about those groups of playgroups which come together and make themselves into new providers. If there is no requirement that those groups should be staffed by people who have some qualifications, we are in danger of providing far less than the best that was promised. Therefore, I should like a suggestion from the Minister that guidelines may be issued along those lines.
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