Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) (EY 23)


  1.  The Association is pleased to respond to the request for written evidence. The Professional Association of Teachers (the Association), incorporating the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses (PANN), is in a unique position to assist members of the Committee in this inquiry into early years education. Our membership of 30,000 teachers and 5,000 nursery nurses represents the interests of early years experts and childcare practitioners throughout the UK, whether they work within the Education Service, the Health Service, Social Services or in the private sector. It also represents students who are working to gain a professional childcare qualification. This Association has a significant number of members working in early years settings, many of whom have contributed to the views expressed in this response, in support of our aim to promote professional standards, particularly emphasising the well-being of children and service to the community.


  2.  Care and education go hand-in-hand. However, each has its own distinct traditions which must be equally respected and further developed. Parents play a key role in the care and education of their children, creating interactive experiences for them as they grow up. All children should have access to a culturally and developmentally appropriate curriculum which promotes learning and development of their understanding, skills and knowledge. As the primary school curriculum becomes increasingly prescriptive, downward pressure is exerted on early years practice, with the effect of narrowing the curriculum offered to very young children. Vital skills of speaking and listening are in danger of being neglected in favour of other curriculum demands, and less emphasis will be placed on the need to develop children physically, socially and emotionally.

  3.  The replacing of the Qualification and Curriculum Authority's (QCA) Desirable Learning Outcomes for the under-fives in nursery and reception classes, by the Early Learning Goals has been awaited with apprehension by Association members. It is most important to bear in mind that the Key Stage 1 curriculum cannot be merely simplified or watered down for younger children. Early years pupils have differing needs to be met through differing approaches to learning. The development of these goals, to which members with particular expertise in this area made valuable contributions to the QCA Early Years Focus Group, are seen as a positive move forward in the understanding of how very young children learn. It is vital that practitioners are consulted and listened to and on this occasion, the views of professionals have been noted. There had been concern that the goals were not to be seen as a curriculum for the foundation stage, but aims for the end of the reception year. It is essential that practitioners delivering these goals are fully aware of this distinction, setting "targets" for three year olds would be totally inappropriate.

  4.  This Association has welcomed the recognition of our advice about the importance of play-based learning. Learning through play is a vital foundation for future development and must be available to children whatever setting they are in; after all, learning and play are almost discernable in the early years. Offering play-based activities, both indoors and outdoors, presents opportunities for complementary experiences and together will contribute to the holistic development of children. Independent and creative exploration, freedom of movement and imagination are essential to a child's learning.

  5.  Concern remains that goals for literacy and numeracy are being given a higher priority than other goals, in fact the younger the child the more emphasis should differ in range of experiences offered. For our children to become literate and enjoy reading and writing, we must create a literacy environment in which they can thrive. Children whose language is limited, those for whom English is not the first language, are likely to experience more difficulties across the curriculum than those who are articulate and understand a variety of sentence structures and have good vocabulary. Young children need to develop physical control, learn about their world and develop good social and linguistic skills. Good language models and appropriate learning experiences, with fair and consistent guidelines on how to interact beneficially to others, will encourage children to learn to reason, to learn to evaluate their experiences and to learn to plan and judge future actions effectively. What is vital is that children learn how, what and most of all, why they need to communicate, or they will not see the point of becoming literate or numerate.


  6.  Learning is a developmental process beginning before birth. Children have begun to learn before they enter any education pre-school setting, bringing with them a wealth of experiences and skills which must be taken into account if they are to sustain future progress as lifelong learners. As they enter a new environment, transition from home to school must be smooth and positive for all concerned. Children need to feel secure and confident within an environment that will encourage them to make choices, take responsibility and develop as independent and creative individuals. Existing skills and knowledge should be built upon, with emphasis on practical activities, within a well structured, play-focused programme. Each will offer its own context for learning, and by returning frequently to familiar experiences, learning will be consolidated.

  7.  The type of environment provided for young children will have a lasting effect on the quality of the learning provided within it. It should reflect a challenging, well organised and well resourced environment, providing a wealth of opportunity for young children. An important maxim, often ignored or overlooked, for all early years education is "the younger the child the bigger the apparatus". This can be applied in all areas of learning: physically, socially, linguistically and creatively.

  8.  Formal small group and individual work can be beneficial alongside the provision of opportunities for children to experience and learn new skills and concepts. By observing and identifying the individual needs, teachers extend their knowledge of the children and use this information to determine what children should learn. Teachers can then provide motivating and purposeful ways of supporting learning. Nursery practice is a balance between child and adult-directed learning. Adults are able to pick out thoughts and ideas expressed by the children, together with making an assessment of any particular needs that an individual child may have. It is difficult to assess a very young child accurately; lengthy observations made by nursery staff are needed in order to make judgements about existing skills and future needs. It would be unrealistic to expect every nursery practitioner to possess the specific skills to recognise the vast range of difficulties a child may have; specialist advice must be readily available when necessary. For those children requiring special needs support, early intervention is essential to ensure that children have the best possible start. Specially trained adults must support these children, together with a multi-agency approach to their development.


  9.  Recent Government initiatives relating to early years education and care have significant implications, with rapid expansion of all workers in this sector, and it is our continuing concern that we maintain our drive towards raising standards of achievement.

  10.  The Government's National Childcare Strategy presents a huge challenge to the childcare workforce, the vast majority of whom are unqualified and have some of the worst terms and conditions of any UK workforce. Whilst our Association has welcomed many of the Government's childcare and early years initiatives, we believe that, with the mass of expansion in childcare envisaged, there will be a shortage of skilled people to meet the Government's commitments. New minimum standards for early education and childcare are urgently needed in order to prevent the risk of childcare establishments being flooded by inexperienced, untrained people working alongside over-stretched professionals. The quality of staff is paramount to the quality of childcare. The setting up of the Early Years National Training Organisation (EYNTO) has been welcomed by PAT/PANN and we wish to be assured that central government funding will continue to be available to support this initiative. Our members view the launch of the QCA's national framework of accredited qualifications for the early years education, childcare and playwork sector as a positive step forward in developing a proper career structure for people working with children. The plans to offer childcare to every parent who wants it will fail unless childcare is promoted in status and its workers are better paid. We believe that one of the main reasons for keeping salaries low is the assumption by many that "anyone can do the job" with no need for training. Bright students leaving schools and colleges are often directed towards professions such as teaching, social work, nursing and so on. Those not expected to achieve academically are often steered towards childcare.

  11.  By increasing nursery provision for three and four year olds throughout the country, it has been recognised that early years and primary experiences are crucial to children's development, and therefore the need to increase the number of early years workers is imperative. Children must be taught by adults who will take the time to acknowledge and value each child as an individual, and understand that their progress in learning will develop from the child's own personal experiences, through a natural curiosity, interest and enthusiasm. These adults will have the knowledge and expertise to challenge children, and inspire them to develop with confidence, recognising that linguistic skills are key in promoting interaction and communication. The role of the adult will vary according to the setting in which they are deployed. However diverse these roles might be, commitment will be undertaken to fulfil a range of duties and responsibilities. These encompass planning for children's learning, organising and resourcing the appropriate activities, understanding and evaluating a child's individual development, and working competently alongside other adults.

  12.  Within the current system of early years education there exists a vast range of roles filled by adult workers, with an equally diverse background of training and qualification. These keyworkers should be led and co-ordinated by appropriately trained and experienced advisers with specific management responsibility for early years education. This responsibility often falls within the remit of an already over-burdened primary adviser, many of whom lack the relevant knowledge and skills to meet the professional needs of practitioners. A qualified early years teacher, having completed a four year training course to degree level, will work alongside nursery nurses in delivering a distinctive early years curriculum appropriate to children's needs and abilities.

  13.  The number of children in formal early years settings has risen steadily in recent years, and a nursery nurse is well placed to utilise his/her skills and experience acquired throughout a rigorous two year training course to achieve qualified nursery nurse status. A well trained nursery nurse is able to contribute to the early years team by sharing responsibility with the teacher for curriculum planning and carrying out observations and assessments, ensuring continuity through the child's early years experiences. Our Association is pleased to see the role of the nursery nurse being recognised in the Government's Green Paper "Meeting the Challenge of Change" and would urge that our "invisible professionals" not be overlooked in this inquiry. However, we remain doubtful that many employers with whom early years specialists work are fully aware of the training, knowledge, skills and responsibilities those specialists possess. It is essential that both head teachers and governors understand the role of early years workers, understand child development and appropriate curriculum relation to this specific age group. Lack of understanding can in turn lead to under-resourcing and limited professional development opportunities. All professionals working with nursery nurses should be aware of the key elements of their training, namely, a thorough knowledge and understanding of the all-round development of children, acquired through extensive observation, theoretical study and practical experience. Essential requirements for a nursery nurse are the ability to work with, and contribute to, the early years team, and to share the responsibility for the planning of an appropriate and stimulating curriculum.

  14.  As professionals, teachers and nursery nurses need to acknowledge each other's capabilities. Close and effective partnership develops with mutual understanding of roles, and striking the balance between these roles is challenging. In short, the tasks of working in partnership revolve around communication, co-operation and co-ordination. Professional development opportunities for all early years workers are a necessary ingredient in promoting this partnership. Professional requirements of staff have changed considerably in recent years, and are reflected in the demand for high quality training to meet these requirements. We also support the aim of developing a national framework to enhance career progression and to increase the percentage of the workforce who have a relevant qualification. We would like to see the development of this structure, meeting the needs of workers in the very early years to continue its focus on children as they progress through school. We need flexible methods of accredited training, together with appropriate renumeration representative of qualifications and experience. Early years education, where the curriculum is managed by qualified early years teachers in partnership with qualified nursery nurses, parents and other appropriately qualified early years workers, will go a long way to meet the needs of young children, preparing them for their future in formal education.


  15.  Our Association is of the view that the most important things in education cannot be measured. Education is not a race, but a lifelong journey of learning. Assessment is about making sound professional judgements about children's learning and is an integral part of monitoring the curriculum planning process. In order to make these judgements, practitioners must observe children's learning over a period of time, compiling evidence from a range of social and learning situations. A record of children's achievement is prepared, following observation, and by discussion with all partners in the children's learning—parents and other professionals—and by collecting samples of work produced by the children, such as paintings, drawings and models, and being recorded in the form of photographs and videos.

  16.  Since September 1998, it has been a statutory requirement that all primary schools conduct a baseline assessment using an accredited scheme identified in the national framework. The purpose of this baseline screening is to provide evidence that will inform future planning and measure pupil attainment that can be later used in value-added analyses of pupil progress. Ongoing (formative) assessment begins from the time the child enters school and continues throughout his/her reception year. However, the baseline assessment must take place within the first seven weeks of schooling, which demands that children are assessed before adapting to their new environment and gain confidence in demonstrating their true abilities. It takes time and involvement before staff know their children well, and those with relative inexperience in the early years may make uninformed judgements about progress and development. Our members believe there is a strong case for formal baseline assessment, used for value-added purposes, to be carried out at the end of the child's reception year, when practitioners are professionally confident and competent in their judgements.

  17.  Inspection has the potential to help practitioners improve the quality of provision for children's education. The current situation, however, reflects inconsistencies of provision for the under-fives age group, as these children are found in reception classes, nursery schools and classes, pre-school playgroups and day nurseries.

  18.  This Association's response to this Committee's inquiry into the work of OFSTED, September 1998, represented the views of our early years practitioners who had been inspected under the current system. Particularly in view of recent Government initiatives such as the introduction of the Early Learning Goals, Baseline Assessment and the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies, we feel concern that there are so few inspectors with specific knowledge or experience of early years education. There is also limited awareness by inspection teams of current thinking in the early years setting such as appropriate provision for three and four year olds; the nature of the curriculum at this formative stage and its implications for future developments. Early years staff reported a low occurrence of visits to nursery departments with subsequent assessments often made under the umbrella of a reception class.

  19.  The collaborative nature of early years department teams, with a high proportion of nursery nurses, students, classroom assistants and other adult helpers, can lead to confusion amongst inspectors about roles within the professional team. Ofsted inspectors appear poorly informed about the structure of early years teams. Little guidance is offered for nursery nurses as part of the inspection process, and members report great inconsistencies in approaches to assessments made of them. A successful inspection can enhance the self esteem of nursery nurses and go some way in promoting the value of nursery nurses in the workplace. It is unreasonable to judge less qualified staff by the same criteria, but feedback on performance may be offered to all members within an early years team.

  20.  It is this Association's hope that with the announcement that a new arm of OFSTED, the Early Years Directorate, will be given responsibility for inspecting childcare and early years education settings, we will see a consistent and integrated Inspection service, working towards a uniform set of national standards. Bringing together the best practice in education and care, and utilising existing expertise, particularly that of the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI), needs to be ensured at local level. We have questioned how the new arrangements would allow the continuation of the advisory and developmental functions of the SSI and who would carry out return visits to enforce standards. We understand that the issue of child protection will remain the responsibility of Social Services, together with the "fit person" check. However, we must be assured that all data will continue to be fed into local authority information services. We must be assured of a balance between both education and care, and not the creation of an increasingly formal early years education system. We recommend that, whatever the settings, inspectors must have both the early years expertise and the necessary skills of inspection. Association members expect that the new arm of OFSTED will build on and enhance early years and childcare expertise, and wish to see the fullest possible consultation on the preparation of any new regulation and guidance.


  21.  The term "formal" schooling is here defined as a model of education which is predominantly teacher-led, with children sitting down for long periods of time, being talked at and working their way through a series of paper exercises. Within the range of nursery settings, particularly in reception classes, there are very small numbers of staff who have an in-depth understanding of how children of this age learn most effectively. It is then less likely that suitable curriculum content will be identified to meet children's developmental needs, and many will spend their time on tasks which present little opportunity for experiencing valuable skills. If we accept this definition of "formal", then our Association cannot accept that this approach is appropriate for children under five years old. We recommend that children begin formal schooling no earlier than the age of five.

  22.  We remain concerned that giving children as young as three and four this type of formal education could damage, rather than improve, their future prospects, and are critical of any wish to create nursery places that will not result in high quality provision. The likely outcome of over-emphasis on prescriptive formal education which concentrates on abstract concepts for three and four year olds is a deep sense of failure in many children. Maintaining steady progress through the concrete and representational stages and leaving the abstract until six or seven would be more beneficial. The cumulative impact of early failure can lead to under-achievement, disaffection and even truancy.

  23.  The introduction of the Literacy Hour in primary schools has proved to be "too much, too soon" for children under five, and is inappropriate for them. Early years practitioners are concerned with preparing children for a lifetime of literacy, and limiting them to largely irrelevant experiences will not contribute to their current interests and knowledge. Of course we are wholeheartedly in favour of promoting high literacy standards, but the expectation of achievement by the end of reception year places pressure on teachers to introduce formal and prescriptive literacy experiences too soon. Pre-school children do not need a literacy hour, but immersion in a whole environment which promotes a literate society. Our members advocate a more positive approach by offering children frequent opportunities to represent experiences in a variety of ways. Knowledge of literacy is grounded in competent speaking and listening skills, a pre-requisite for reading and writing. Working with children in small groups, each with adult support, encourages maximum contribution and increases confidence.

  24.  The National Numeracy Strategy, operational in primary schools since September 1999, has many positive features. Of course the strategy is not intended for the under-fives, but our members would agree that developing an enthusiasm and understanding of early mathematical concepts is to be encouraged. Initial feedback suggests that our reception class practitioners have found the strategy framework to be both a helpful and supportive resource which they can use flexibly to focus on the teaching of mathematics. Guidance offered for children in reception classes emphasises the development of mathematical concepts, set in a practical context. Mathematical play helps children explore their own solutions and strategies for tackling mathematical investigations. We welcome the less prescriptive nature of the Numeracy Project and hope that by encouraging links between mathematics at home and at school, promoted by the Maths Year 2000 initiative, young children will have the opportunity to become confident and competent mathematicians.

  25.  Returning to our original definition of "formal schooling", we acknowledge that this can include the thorough and rigorous planning undertaken by practitioners, including observation, assessment and evaluation. This is an essential feature of sound preparation for a foundation stage curriculum with its essential element of play-based learning activity. Teachers and nursery nurses need to manage effectively young children's learning, and make available a wealth of resources to support this learning. There are similarities between formal and informal approaches, as previously described. Good staff in both settings will plan methodically, organise resources, teach children in whole class and small groups, assess progress and involve parents. The formal approach is narrowly focused and inflexible, rushing children through experiences far too quickly, taking little account of individual learning styles. Formality concentrates on the knowledge to be taught, rather than informally allowing children to play, experience real things and talk.


  Education and care go hand-in-hand. Parents play a key role in the care and education of their children, creating interactive experiences for them as they grow up, and early years practitioners abide by the principles of integrated practice to adopt a holistic approach to meeting each child's developmental needs, and encouraging learning. By emphasising divergent and creative thinking, practitioners focus on the process rather than on the end product. A child involved in sand activities is able to explore mathematical skills such as measuring quantities of sand in different sized containers or counting the number of cups of sand it takes to fill a lorry.


  Learning is a developmental process beginning before birth. All children learn through culturally and developmentally relevant experience which promotes learning, understanding, skills and knowledge. Children learn through play using their imagination and this is the foundation for future learning and must be available to children throughout a distinctive "foundation stage", from birth until statutory school age. This approach to learning will encourage children to engage more fully in the content of the curriculum once they reach Key Stage 1.


  It is essential that all children are supported and nurtured in their early years. Existing skills and knowledge and the basis for children's future learning, and will be enriched by practitioners with expertise and understanding of how children learn. A well planned, resourced environment will provide young children with experiences from which they learn. Within this environment, practitioners will assess children's needs, and begin the process of implementing additional support on identifying a child with special educational needs.


  Within the current system of early years education there exists a vast range of roles taken on by adults, with an equally diverse background of training and qualification. All workers involved in the care and education of young children must be suitably trained and qualified to fulfil their duties and responsibilities. The rigorous two-year training programme for nursery nursing is highly valued in aiding an early years specialist teacher. There must be a thorough review of career structure and the implementation of an early years training and qualification framework, with accredited levels of qualification, and appropriate pay structure.


  Inspection of all early years settings will be rigorous and consistent, working to agreed national standards for care and education. There will be a monitored and effective quality assurance system, conducted by inspectors with recent and relevant experience of the range of early years provision. A system of support is necessary to enable all early years practitioners to develop their professional practice. We hope that with the new arm of Ofsted, the Early Years Directorate, we will see a consistent and integrated Inspection service, working towards a uniform set of standards.


  Every child develops differently and research has proved there is a spread of intellectual, social, emotional and physical development at any chronological age. Therefore within a group of four-year-olds it is likely some will demonstrate the expected behaviour of a two-year-old, while others display the developmental skills of an older child. An individual approach to formal schooling is obviously impractical and in managing young children's learning effectively, teachers and nursery nurses recognise and utilise a combination of formal and informal approaches. The Association accepts a "formal" approach might be appropriate for children from five to six years old, where such a model is adult-led and supported by pencil and paper tasks. A non "formal" method adopted by early years experts will maximise the opportunities within any activity to communicate, explore, discover, remember, and so learn effectively.

Professional Association of Teachers

January 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 11 January 2001