A personal perspective on the plans to remove trained teachers from Edinburgh's nurseries.

The Scottish Government has forced £590m of new commitments on to Councils, but have given them only £495m to undertake the work. Edinburgh has a £35m black hole to fill.

It is heart-breaking that the poorest people in Edinburgh will feel the impact of this most.  The Oxgangs area of my Ward alone will see:

  1. Over ninety-thousand pounds slashed from school budgets;
  2. A threat to nursery teacher posts;
  3. Community policing cut,
  4. Local library opening hours cut; and,
  5. The unfair Council Tax will rise by almost 5%.

Many of these cuts were proposed last year, but were blocked. With regard to removing nursery teachers, I did manage to help win the argument against it. This year, however, it is proving tougher. Below is a message I received from a nursery teacher regarding what she feels the impact will be in attainment.

From a nursery teacher:
I am writing to you regarding the Early Years Service and Management Reform proposals as stated in the City of Edinburgh Council’s Finance and Resources Committee document, to remove/redeploy nursery teachers and nursery headteachers from their posts in the City of Edinburgh Council nurseries/Early Years teams. 

Edinburgh has a long and proud tradition of providing quality nursery provision within the city.  Nursery teachers and headteachers, supported today by a growing team of professionals in modern-day settings, are the reason for this internationally respected tradition.  Links to the work of nursery pioneers, supported through courses at Edinburgh University, continue to inform, direct and inspire teachers today.  As a nursery teacher and current student taking part in the Edinburgh University Froebel course, I can see the lasting positive impact highly trained, and educated teaching professionals have had on my own experience of attending St. Mary’s nursery in Leith, my practice as a teacher both in Scotland and internationally, my nieces and nephews education and the children in my care.

Removing highly trained and educated teaching professionals from nursery/Early Years teams may provide a short-term economic gain; however, the longer-term impact on future social, academic and financial issues will continue to be felt for years to come. 

The Scottish Government’s ambition is for Scotland to be the best place to grow up. One way they wish to achieve this is to raise attainment and reduce educational inequity across Scotland.  In order to accomplish this, more highly qualified teachers are needed to work with children during the most crucial periods in their development.  The Scottish Government document, The Early Years Framework, states that the most critical time in a child’s life is during the pre-birth to three years period in ensuring favourable future life chances.  The second period is three years to seven years.  It is during these critical times that early intervention can support children and families in breaking these cycles of poor outcomes.

The Effective Provision of Pre-School Provision project has found that outcomes for children who attend high-quality settings before starting school achieved higher literacy and numeracy levels than those who did not.  These findings are similar to those of the Field Report.  The Effective Provision of Pre-School Provision project also found that:

  1. quality was higher in settings where care and education were integrated,
  2. settings with staff with higher qualifications had higher quality scores and the children made more significant progress,
  3. having a trained teacher as manager and qualified teachers on the team led to more positive, warm relationships with the children,
  4. where education and social development were viewed as complementary and equal in importance, children made more considerable progress,
  5. teaching approaches such as ‘sustained shared thinking’, effective and appropriate pedagogy and instructive learning environments all extended learning,
  6. children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefitted significantly, from good quality pre-school education.

The Scottish Government understands the importance of having highly qualified and educated teachers working with children in a measure to reduce the attainment gap and has invested in the Additional Graduate Programme.  The City of Edinburgh Council proposal suggests replacing degree-qualified teachers, some with postgraduate and Masters level education, with Early Years Practitioners.  The difference in qualification, educational pedagogy, training and perspective between these two very different jobs is significant.  Early Years Practitioners are trained to SVQ3/HNC level, which is SCQF level 7.  A degree is SCQF level 10 with subsequent postgraduate levels of 10, 11 and above.  Several Scottish universities are now only offering initial teacher training at Masters level, in a bid to raise attainment and outcomes for future generations.

Recent Care Inspectorate findings show that 4 Scottish local authorities who do not have teachers in nursery are performing well below the national average, and significantly below the City of Edinburgh Council level of 81% (West Dumbarton (32%), Moray (55%), Borders (58%) and Highland (70%)).  Dundee council are increasing their numbers of nursery teachers with the aim of closing the attainment gap.  Removing teachers and nursery teachers will likely remove the City of Edinburgh Council’s sector-leading status as quality nursery providers and reduce the Care Inspectorate gradings. 

It is essential that children build stable and consistent relationships with their caregivers as a strong attachment is paramount for their cognitive development.  Close working relationships between professionals are also crucial in ensuring a consistent, supportive approach.  This will also be harder to develop and nurture if the teacher is not always on-site as part of the nursery team.  The example from East Lothian Council has shown that peripatetic teams are not successful, as many teachers leave to work in nursery classes, leading to instability and constant change. 

The aim to close the attainment gap while supporting all children is an enormous challenge.  Ensuring that the youngest children have access to motivated, qualified and educated teachers will help in realising this challenge.  I feel it would be a false economy to remove nursery teachers and headteachers from nurseries as it is here at the beginning of a child’s life that the most positive impact can be made.

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