Equality from the start

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All young children need high-quality education and care

A guiding principle for my review and recommendations to the Government last year was that every child deserves the very best early education and care.

Early years practitioners need to be confident in their own work with children, their parents and other professionals, such as health visitors and social workers.

In Foundations for Quality, I set out recommendations to improve the quality of early education and care so that:

  • every child is able to experience high-quality care and education whatever type of home or group setting they attend
  • early years staff have a strong professional identity, take pride in their work, and are recognised and valued by parents, other professionals and society as a whole
  • high-quality early education and care is led by well-qualified early years practitioners, and the importance of childhood is understood, respected and valued.

Good foundations for life and learning cannot be provided on the cheap, says Prof. Nutbrown.I have long argued that if settings are able successfully to understand and include children with specific physical and learning needs and difficulties, they are well positioned to provide a high-quality experience for all children, and I am committed to the belief that young children need well educated practitioners with good qualifications, as well as the important personal attributes that make them caring human beings.

The Government’s More Great Childcare report proposed a second kind of teacher, heralding a two-tier teacher status, those working with younger children being (it seems) less qualified and attracting lower pay than teachers of older children who hold qualified teacher status. There is a risk, here, of an Orwellian state where – to borrow from Animal Farm – ….all teachers are equal but some are more equal than others. Given that those working with young children are frequently perceived as lower status professionals than those working with older children, this is a danger, not only to teaching professionals, but also to the importance of young children’s early years experiences.

Why should those working with children in these challenging and complex years of development and learning be less well qualified and afforded a lower professional status than those teaching older children? That those who care for and support their learning are properly qualified is important for all children, and for those with additional needs there is a particular imperative.

Work with young children demands a strong body of knowledge, skills and understanding of their needs and those of their families, and the ability to work with other professionals and agencies. Any positive impact of raising the quality of qualifications will be weakened if, as proposed in More Great Childcare, ratios are weakened. Reducing the number of adults working with young children with complex needs will dilute any positive effects on the quality of the experiences children could expect to receive; there just won’t be enough people.

Trading staff to child ratios for higher-qualified staff will threaten quality provision that can positively support young children’s development, learning and wellbeing, in calm and positive child- and family- oriented learning communities. Watering down ratios, regardless of the level of qualifications held by staff, will reduce the time staff have for children and their parents.

It is not possible to provide good foundations for life and learning for the youngest children on the cheap. But it should be possible, with political will, to provide properly funded, quality experiences for children.

Inequality is bad for everyone, particularly those who are most vulnerable. High-quality early education and care provides one effective means of combating inequalities. Young children must not bear the costs of government getting this wrong.

Further information

Professor Cathy Nutbrown was commissioned by the Government to lead a review of early years education. Her report, Foundations for Quality, was published in June 2012. She is Editor in Chief of the Journal of Early Childhood Research and Head of The School of Education, The University of Sheffield:
www.sheffield.ac.uk/education

 References

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