Sunday, 7 September 2014

The future of Nursery Schools: Tuesday morning's adjournment debate in Parliament

On Tuesday morning, Pat Glass MP has secured an adjournment debate on the Future of the Nursery School.  So, there is still just time to get in touch with your MP (it takes less than a couple of minutes online) and tell her or him about the importance of nursery schools having a future.

Pat Glass MP
It's urgent: over 100 nursery schools have closed since 1999.

Some basic text you might want to use or adapt is below. You might also want to have a look at Why Nursery Schools Matter from the National Campaign for Real Nursery Education.

If you have some time to personalise what you say and make it more relevant to your MP, then your email will have even more effect. If it helps, have a look at what I wrote to Stephen Timms MP.


Dear [insert the name of your MP]

On Tuesday there is an adjournment debate on the future of nursery schools. The continued closure of nursery schools is a matter of great concern to me, and I think it is urgent that parliament speaks up to support them.

Maintained nursery schools are DFE-registered schools, like primaries and secondaries. There is a substantial evidence-base for their effectiveness. The DFE-sponsored Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project found that nursery schools had the highest quality and the best outcomes for children. As recently as this year, Ofsted’s first Annual Report on the Early Years found that “looking only at the overall judgements given, nursery schools perform considerably better than other types of early years provision”. In fact, figures from the National Campaign for Nursery Education show that 55% of nursery schools inspected between 1st January and 31st March 2014 were judged outstanding in comparison to 8% of Primaries and 14% of Secondary schools.
Perhaps even more impressively, Ofsted commented in its annual Early Years Report that nursery schools are the only part of the school system which “perform as strongly in deprived areas as more affluent ones”.

So, the evidence points strongly to the quality of nursery schools, and their particularly beneficial impact for disadvantaged children. Nursery Schools do not just benefit the children on their roll: they are often at the heart of Children’s Centres, providing support and early intervention for thousands of children. Increasingly, they work with other early years settings and with childminders to support quality improvement for all. The national charity Early Education reports that more than 80% of nursery schools are involved in training and placements for training, with more than one in five leading or being part of a Teaching School Alliance.

Yet they are closing fast. In 1980, there were 599 nursery schools in England. According to the DFE, there are now just 418. And the rate of closure is getting faster all the time: figures from the national charity Early Education indicate that over 100 nursery schools in Britain have been closed since 1999.

Across the country, many nursery schools report that they are feeling vulnerable to closure. In a recent survey conducted by Early Education, 77% of nursery schools reported that they were concerned about their future viability or faced imminent loss of their independence. Only 12% felt positive about the future. Ignoring the evidence about quality and wider impact, the previous minister for Early Years and Childcare, Liz Truss, sat back and allowed the continued loss of nursery schools to accelerate, telling the Select Committee that “nursery schools should not get special treatment”.

Please show your support for nursery schools on Tuesday, before it is too late.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

NUT Education Conference: workshop presentation

Here is s the PowerPoint from my workshop at the NUT's National Education Conference; it's also available to download [PDF]



Quick quiz about early years, nursery schools and nursery teachers













I'm delighted to be offering a workshop at the NUT's Education Conference later today. Part of my presentation is quick quiz about early years with a particular focus on teachers and the early years. 

Questions

A major, independent report on the early years was launched with the suggestion that “child benefit could be linked to parents' attendance at parenting classes” and claimed more than two-thirds of children are receiving a sub-standard preschool education. 
Who? When?


Will staff with the new “Early Years Teacher Status” be qualified teachers who can teach any class in a maintained primary school? Will they be able to teach a class in an academy?

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Taking a break























I'm going to take a break from the blog up to May 2014 as I am focussing my energies on Early Education's #earlyyearspledge campaign. Visit our campaign website to find out more, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, support, donate and keep up to date.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Two-year olds in schools - standing together for quality

There's currently a rather shouty discussion going on through social media and the early years specialist press about whether school is the "right place" for two-year olds, like the Pre-School Learning Alliance's tweet asking "should schools take children from the age of two? - Alliance CEO Neil Leitch says NO".

In fact, in the linked article Neil Leitch makes the entirely sensible point that that using school nurseries to offer childcare for very young children “should only be done where the environment and provision is suitable and of sufficiently high quality and appropriate to their care and development". In other words, the question is not about schools vs private nurseries, but about whether the early provision being offered to two-year olds is appropriate for their needs, or not.

It is true that the discourse of the current discussion about schools admitting two-year olds is largely about finding a cheap solution to the childcare shortage in England. I would argue that "childcare" itself can be very limited in its conception, implying a utilitarian service enabling parents to go to work. Instead, I would argue for early childhood provision that is in the interests of the child, as well as making it possible for parents to balance bringing up their children with going out to work.

Margaret McMillan
I have worked in maintained nursery schools offering places for two-year olds throughout most of the last two decades, and have been privileged to work alongside practitioners who are absolutely dedicated to proving the best possible experiences to those young children. Schools have been admitting two-year olds for a hundred years now - the very first nursery school, set up in 1914 by the McMillan sisters in Deptford admitted two-year olds.

The debate about quality for two-year olds is too important to get sucked into the long-running and pointless war of attrition between the different organisations which offer early years provision. When the sector is divided, we are easily defeated: we should be standing together for quality.





Saturday, 1 February 2014

Baseline assessment in reception: five reasons why it's a bad idea

The Guardian reports today that four-year olds will face compulsory tests when they start reception. There are so many reasons why this is wrong ... but here are my top five:

1. The results will be unreliable.
Testing young children to assess their ability is notoriously difficult. For a start, whilst there will be a standard test, some children (born in August) will have just turned four, and others (born in September) will be five. 11 months of development are very significant when you are five-years old.

Secondly, even well-trialled tests like the British Ability Scales have problems with reliability and robustness. For example, the BAS tests have been found to be unreliable in respect of children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and children learning English as an additional language (Hill, 2005).

2. Testing policy is erratic.
In theory, assessments could help educationalists and policy-makers intervene to identify promising practice, and could help teachers to evaluate how well their curriculum serves the different children who come into their schools. However, this would only be possible in a stable environment. Instead, in England there has been a high amount of instability: the new Early Years Foundation Stage Profile assessment (for children at the end of Reception) was first used nationally last summer; the phonics test for five and six-year olds was also made compulsory in 2013. Furthermore, the whole framework and curriculum guidance for young children (the Early Years Foundation Stage) was itself substantially revised in 2012. So teachers have been faced with constant change since 2012, and now another fundamental change looms.

3. Testing children is not the way to give them the best start to school
Starting school is a big step for children. Many children find it stressful at first to settle in and feel confident. Testing them just sets up another hurdle, and one which is likely to cause some children considerable distress. Additionally, because the children are dealing with so many new things when they start school, the tests will not show anything like their potential.

4. The tests will cost time and money which could be spent better elsewhere
94% of children have attended nursery in England from the age of three onwards. It is compulsory for early years providers to track the development of those children using the EYFS. So why test them? Not only will the tests be stressful for the children, they will create a mountain of work for teachers and they will cost lots of money, too - if children are to be tested individually, who will do that, and who will be teaching and looking after the rest of the class?

If the problem is that there are not proper arrangements for the transition of children from nursery to reception, why not address that problem rather than bring in yet another regime of testing?

5. The wellbeing of children in England should worry everyone
UNICEF has drawn attention to the poor level of wellbeing of children in the UK, including England, in both 2007 and 2011. 

In 2011, UNICEF commented that "Compared with 20 other OECD2 countries, including substantially poorer countries such as Poland and Greece, the UK came bottom on three out of six dimensions of well-being, and came bottom overall in the league table. Other indices of children's well-being have also found the UK to be doing badly."


Does subjecting every four-year old to a test when they start school seem like the best response to that?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Sutton Trust urges government to delay roll-out of 2-year old scheme

The BBC is reporting today that the Sutton Trust urges delay in the expansion of free places for two-year olds. It's a familiar story - the plan to offer the places is a good one. But it is being implemented with too much haste.

Here's a quick rundown of what we know. In 2009, the DFE evaluated the pilot phase [PDF] and found that overall, there had been no benefit to the children involved. However, the evaluation did find small gains (in significant areas, like language development) where children attended an early years setting of good quality. The evaluation measured quality using the ITERS and ECERS scales.

Five years later, there isn't any further evaluation of the scheme in the public domain, even though the level of spending is shooting up. You might have thought that there would be a small pilot, evaluating quality using the ECERS and ITERS measures, and following the children for a couple of years into school before any more  money was committed. But there hasn't been.