Sunday, 3 March 2013

When is a teacher not a teacher?

I've been puzzling for a while about the government's proposal in More Great Childcare to create the role of "early years teacher". What would being an EYT mean?

After digging around quite a bit, I've found that EYTs will not actually be qualified teachers. They will not be able to lead a nursery or reception class in a school as a qualified teacher. There is also nothing to suggest that the new EYTs will have anything like the same salaries or terms and conditions as other teachers have.

In other words, the preface of "early years" to the term "teacher" actually means less pay, less status, and less professional recognition. Nothing unusual there, then - because in general, anything to do with the early years in England is seen as less important than work with older children.

However, there are also further implications which we ought to be just as worried about. The proposal to create EYTs is a Trojan Horse for the whole deregulation agenda, both in nurseries and in schools.

In nurseries, the government explicitly hopes that by having EYTs, there can be a cut in the adult:child ratio for 3 and 4 year olds. Currently, nursery classes in schools can operate on a 1:13 ratio, whereas private nurseries and playgroups must operate on a 1:8 ratio. Without going into too much detail, school nursery classes are rather different to other early years settings - for a start there is the whole structure of the school around them (management, administration support, help for children with special needs, etc). More Great Childcare proposes that "we will maintain the existing ratio of one adult to 13 children, but we want to see more teacher-led nursery classes using the flexibility already available". What that actually means is, we already have a 1:13 ratio in schools and we would like to drive the ratio down in private nurseries and playgroups, too.

Looking at schools, EYTs are also part of the agenda to deregulate. An EYT does not have qualified teacher status. But ... the government is increasingly keen on allowing people who do not have QTS to come and teach in schools. They are cheaper, for a start. I'm told that the line is that the government wants to give more autonomy to head teachers so that they can decide who is best qualified and suited to teach in their schools. Free Schools and academies can already employ teaching staff without the requirement for them to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).  In maintained schools, Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) is currently a requirement for teachers... but ...  teachers in maintained schools have the discretion to employ people who don’t have QTS as "instructors". 

In other words, there isn't much to stop a headteacher employing an EYT to lead a class and save a bit of money. It will be baffling to parents, because if they see that their child's class is led by someone called an "Early Years Teacher", they are naturally going to assume that person is a qualified teacher. But he or she may not be. 

More Great Childcare claims that these proposals arise from the recommendations of the Nutbrown Review: they don't. A little bit of background is needed here. First, we had the Early Years Professional Status (EYPS), a post-graduate professional role which was intended to bring more graduates into the early years workforce, specifically in private nurseries and playgroups. The government-sponsored review of EYPS shows that it has indeed created a substantial new graduate-level workforce, and that EYPS have led to improvements in quality and outcomes for children. But there have been major downsides. For example, there is no national payscale for EYPS. Even large nursery chains do not necessarily have a specific EYP role or salary. So experienced nursery nurses will often have worked hard to get a degree (in their own time) and then to get EYPS, only to find that there are no EYP jobs as such for them to apply for. So they end up being Room Leaders, Deputy Managers or Managers - all roles they could already have done with their Level 3 qualification.

So, these EYPs are almost all very committed and experienced practitioners whose work is excellent, but unrecognised in terms of pay and wider status. A more worrying route to EYPs is when a student finishes her or his first degree and then decides to go straight into the training programme without any substantial prior experience of working with young children. That may sound the same as training to be a primary or secondary school teacher by doing a one-year post-graduate course (a PGCE). But there are two significant differences. Firstly, trainee EYPs do not have their practice observed and assessed by their university tutors. Instead, they build up a portfolio of evidence which will include statements from colleagues in the nursery. This risks being a much less rigorous and less consistent assessment of capability. Secondly, teachers must follow their year of training with a "Newly Qualified" Year, where they are given more training and they are formally assessed again. Their work will be overseen by an experienced school leader, and they will not have management duties themselves. There is no equivalent newly qualified year for EYPs, and their role is explicitly about leading and managing change and improvement.

So, EYPs are given less support than new teachers; more is expected of them, but for less pay.

The Nutbrown Review proposed that there should instead be a single qualification of Early Years Qualified Teacher (EYQTS). EYQTs would have a single training route and could teach children from birth to eight, in early years settings and in schools. The portability of the qualification would drive salaries up in the private sector - if EYQTs could teach in a school, with the larger salary, private providers would need to offer a competitive salary to keep their staff. Existing measures to "top up" salaries, like the Graduate Leader Fund, could have been used to make this happen, as many private nurseries operate on very low margins and could not take on more costs.

The Nutbrown Review also saw this as a two-way street, because the proposal of EYQTS also recognised that the initial teacher training we currently have is not adequate for the early years. There is currently a gross failure to focus on the practice and theory of early years education. Early years teacher training urgently needs reform and improvement.

So - Nutbrown proposed a single, specialist teacher qualification which would transfer across sectors and classes, and that would do a great deal to address the problems of pay and status in the early years. The government's proposal is quite different - EYTs would further the aim of deregulation in every sector and drive down ratios in private nurseries and pay in schools. Don't be taken in.

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

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

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