Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Liz Truss on ratios and qualifications - an ill-considered announcement

I've blogged previously on why I think Liz Truss is absolutely wrong to change the law around ratios in early education and childcare. In case you just want the highlights: every single piece of international research I can find contradicts her, and the well-respected OECD commented that ratios ought to be improved in England, not worsened.

At Policy Exchange this morning, Truss argued that we need a better qualified workforce, and that the evidence from the EPPE report shows the benefits of having a qualified teacher. Whilst praising the nursery class at Durand Academy, she did not point out that the very best outcomes for children were achieved, the EPPE Reports say, in integrated centres and nursery schools (although nursery classes in primary schools came out pretty well, too).

Unfortunately, we are continuing to see the closure of Children's Centres, the reduction in the numbers of Children's Centre teachers, and the loss of nursery schools every year in England. So we are losing much of our very best early years provision at the same time as the minister says she is emphasising quality.

Likewise, Truss's decision to reduce the role of local authority early years teams and expand Ofsted is misguided. Local authority teams don't just check up on the quality of early education and childcare, keeping an ear to the ground in a way which a national organisation like Oftsed will find difficult. They also combine that with targeted support for poorer settings, training for staff, and so on. Without the local authority teams, there will be a still further reduction is support and training for staff. Nurseries will have less access to quality training which is relevant to them individually. Very promising initiatives, like the English ECERS network - which is doing great work to improve quality -  might go to the wall.

Truss is right to say that the evidence points to the advantages of a better qualified workforce, but this needs to be held alongside the strong evidence that better ratios correlate strongly with better quality.

We need both - it's not a case of one or the other. There is no evidence anywhere that quality can be improved in a context where staff numbers have been cut.

My fear is that this is going to lead, frankly, to a kind of brutalisation in baby rooms and toddler rooms around the country. There just will not be enough staff to care for the children physically and meet their emotional needs.

In affluent areas, parents will continue to choose nurseries where there is a favourable ratio.

But in poorer areas, where choice is driven much more by cost considerations, nurseries will be tempted to operate at the edge of the new legal limits. That's not going to be good for babies and toddlers in the years to come.

Watch Liz Truss's announcement, including questions at the end.

Read more of my posts about More Great Childcare:

Leading researchers warn that government proposals will "lead to an unintended reduction in quality"

Professor Denise Hevey's comments on More Great Childcare

Can we afford not to provide high quality early education and care? Cathy Nutbrown responds to More Great Childcare

When is a teacher not a teacher?

Elizabeth Truss and nursery ratios: why there is no case for change