Monday, 25 June 2012

"Feeling a bit offended" - the Nutbrown Review and Early Years Professional Status (EYPS)

As someone who was involved in supporting the Nutbrown Review of early years qualifications, I'm really pleased to see that it's being so well received. On the whole.

The main exception to this seems to be the proposals about Early Years Professional Status. This was always going to be contentious, and I think that today's piece in Nursery World does a good job of covering that. I imagine that Alexandra Skvortsov is speaking for many when she says that "Teaching a class of children is very different from interacting with a six-month old baby. I didn't want to be a teacher, I could have got QTS at any point. I feel a bit offended, as if EYPS is a second-rate qualification for people who can't get into teaching. We think of ourselves as specialists in our chosen work."

I think her feelings are understandable. It must be a matter for regret, when changes are proposed to a qualification or exam, leaving people feeling that something they have worked hard for isn't valued any more.
But I think she, and others, are coming at this from the wrong place.

Yes, there is a clear difference between interacting with a baby and teaching a reception class. But so is there a difference between being a hospital teacher working with small groups of children, and a secondary school PE teacher; or between teaching a Year 3 class in a primary school and working individually with a child on the Reading Recovery programme. There are important similarities as well as differences. What Professor Nutbrown is recommending, is that we think of early years pedagogy, and pedagogical leadership, running right through the EYFS. There are some similarities to this idea and the developments in New Zealand towards a teacher-qualified early years workforce, or the Danish model of social pedagogy for all those working with children up to 6 years old. The Nutbrown Review is calling for an end to the traditional model, where those working with children up to three are lower in status and qualification, and less trained, than those working with older children in schools who have the title of "teacher" and much better pay, too. 

Early Years Professional Status aimed to deal with that, but it failed. EYPs are nowhere near as well paid as teachers. According to the DFE's evaluation of the scheme [opens as a PDF], the large majority either work with older children in the EYFS, or do not work directly with children much at all, as they are managers.
There are several structural problems with EYPS beyond the issues of pay and status. Most notably, you can gain EYPS without ever being formally observed and assessed on your practice by an experienced, external tutor. That gap means that whilst there are lots of good EYPs, there are also some who are much less good, have only had narrow experiences in their own setting, and may be better at putting together files and evidence than actually caring for and teaching young children.

At the same time, teacher qualifications need urgent reform. Current routes do not meet the requirements of the EYFS, which is a holistic curriculum barely covered in some PGCE courses. A specialist, birth to seven teaching qualification will be a big step forward.

It is difficult for people with EYPS who now have to study more, and be assessed more. That is regrettable. There are parallels - for example, those teachers with the non-graduate teaching certificate who then had to top up their qualification to degree-level. But that probably is not much consolation.

However, the big, important message is that we need - urgently - to improve the status, pay and conditions of many graduate-level practitioners in the Early Years. Cathy Nutbrown has faced up to this problem and proposed a decent solution, which is controversial, bold, and ultimately right.