Sunday, 24 March 2013

Professor Denise Hevey's comments on More Great Childcare

Whilst most of the early years sector has been strongly critical of More Great Childcare, it's been interesting to find a statement from Professor Denise Hevey on the BECERA website in which she welcomes "much of its content". Her statement is interesting, and worth reading alongside Professor Cathy Nutbrown's powerful attack on government proposals this week [PDF].

Professor Denise Hevey
Cathy Nutbrown strongly opposes the plan to worsen adult to child ratios. She highlights the failure, to date, of the government to accept her recommendation that the early years workforce should be more highly qualified overall, progressing in steps towards everyone being at level 3 or above (if they are to count within the prescribed ratios; others could work as supernumerary assistants). Nutbrown also notes that the government has not yet accepted her recommendation to commission research in order to learn more about the experiences of black and minority ethnic staff, who may be under-represented in the numbers of level 3 practitioners, and amongst managers. 

So when Professor Hevey welcomes "much of the content" in More Great Childcare - does she include the proposals on ratios and the decision not to accept proposals on upskilling with workforce and looking more closely at the experiences of BME staff? Or does she agree with Professor Nutbrown? It isn't clear.

Professor Hevey then looks in detail at the debate about the proposal to replace Early Years Practitioners with Early Years Teachers. She makes some important points here, notably that parents will surely be confused when there are two groups of people called "teachers" in the early years. One group with qualified teacher status (QTS) will be eligible to teach in nursery and reception classes in schools, and another group, who are also called teachers, do not have QTS and cannot take up teacher posts in the schools. 

However, whilst Nutbrown argues for a single, coherent definition of a teacher in the EYFS, Hevey makes an interesting argument for a "different but equal" model. She argues that both groups of professionals should be equally valued, and remunerated, but have different roles. In particular, Early Years Teachers would maintain their role as class teachers, eventually being eligible for promotion to leadership roles, whilst Early Years Professionals would have an immediate role as leaders of change. Professor Hevey appears to accept the distinction that Early Years Teachers should be specialists in education for children from 3 to  7, whilst Early Years Professionals should have a specific remit for children up to the age of 3 years old. On the other hand, Nutbrown argues for a single qualification specialising in the whole birth to 7 age range.

Hevey's arguments are strong - but in the end I disagree with her. Given that there is a single curriculum, the EYFS, covering all children (whether they are in a private or community nursery, a pre-school, a nursery school or a primary school) I don't understand the rationale for different qualifications. Isn't that an example of what Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford recently called the "muddle in qualifications"? 

Secondly, I still don't see that it makes sense for EYPs to go straight into a "change agent" role immediately after qualifying. I think the model proposed by Nutbrown for Early Years QTS makes more sense - qualify, pass a probationary year, and then start taking on more responsibility and leadership in due course. 

How can it make sense for someone to complete a degree, go straight into a full-time pathway EPYS course and end up as a "change agent" in a setting working with much more experienced staff? Especially when that person may have only 18 weeks of experience working in a setting, never have been formally observed and assessed by an independent tutor, and not have to demonstrate their suitability and competence during a probationary year.

Additionally, there is still a lack of evidence that EYPs have had a significant impact on the birth to three age range, despite Professor Hevey's arguments. The DFE-commissioned research into graduates in the Early Years (Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund - Final Report) finds that "no EYP effects were identified for the younger age group" (birth to 30 months) - "settings which gained an EYP did not make significant improvements in quality for infants and toddlers during the course of the evaluation." 

The researchers find that the most likely reason for this is that EYPs are not working much with the younger age range, either becoming managers (and therefore not working directly with the children) or working with the older age range. The longitudinal study of Early Years Professional Status gives more up to date information; whilst this builds on the evidence from the earlier report that EYPs have a positive impact on quality, there is still a lack of information about improvements in practice for babies and toddlers (the specific area of EYP expertise that Hevey focusses on). 

One way of looking at the choice is this: is quality more likely to improve for babies and toddlers with the development of a new Early Years Qualified Teacher status with a birth to 7 focus, maintaining the current ratios, and working towards all practitioners having level 3 or above? That's the Nutbrown position. 

Or would we be better off welcoming much of the content of More Great Childcare (including ratios and not accepting the proposal to have everyone at level 3 or above) and have a "different but equal" model to maintain EYPS in its current form?

Or, to take another perspective: do you want a "teacher" working with three and four year olds in a private nursery to have the same qualification as a "teacher" working with the same age range in a maintained nursery school (the Nutbrown position). Or do you want "different but equal" practitioners in the two settings (the Hevey position)? 

In the end, I am more convinced by Professor Nutbrown - but it's a crucial debate, and we need to keep the discussion open.

Read more of my posts about More Great Childcare: