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


Memorandum from NASUWT (EY 54)


  1.  NASUWT welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the Committee on this important issue. The Association's submission outlines its policy, addresses the issues specifically identified in the Committee's call for evidence and evaluates Government's strategies.

  2.  NASUWT has considerable expertise in early years education. The Association's process of policy development and review draws upon the practical knowledge, expertise and direct experiences of members who work in a wide range of early years settings such as classroom teachers, headteachers, advisers, nursery nurses and support assistants.

  3.  This advice and information is enhanced by the Association's active involvement in organisations which have a specific focus on early years. NASUWT is represented on the Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education (CACHE), the National Training Organisation for Early Years Qualifications and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority Early Years Forum.


  4.  NASUWT believes that national discussions of early years provision have often failed to emphasise the important distinction between early years education and care. Three to four year olds in nursery schools and classes are in an environment quite distinct from other pre-school provision.

  5.  The Association is committed to the provision of high quality nursery education for every child aged three and four whose parents require it.

  6.  To ensure high quality there must be:

  • qualified teachers supported by qualified nursery nurses:

  • a high ratio of staff to children;

  • a clear policy and management structure;

  • a broad and balanced curriculum which includes learning through first-hand experience with an emphasis on structured play and language development;

  • a structured assessment process;

  • planning, based upon observation and assessment;

  • record keeping;

  • a well-organised, well-equipped physical environment;

  • partnership with parents.

  7.  NASUWT strongly believes that a key factor in the quality of provision is ensuring that qualified teachers are always employed in the educational settings. The Association is concerned that in some authorities there has been an attempt to remove or reduce the numbers of qualified teachers employed and to replace them with qualified nursery nurses. NASUWT believes that this undermines the quality of the provision, fails to recognise the distinct role and skills of teachers and nursery nurses and leads to the exploitation of nursery nurses, who are neither qualified nor paid to undertake a teaching role. It is the combination of the skill and expertise of teachers and nursery nurses which results in high quality provision.

  8.  NASUWT recognises that not all parents wish their children to participate in nursery education. Children's pre-school experiences will therefore vary depending on parental choice and the nature of pre-school provision available in their area. Whatever the choice of provision, it is important to recognise that there is a considerable body of research which demonstrates that high quality pre-school experience can have both short and long-term benefits for children. Children with special educational needs particularly benefit. Studies have highlighted the importance of high quality provision. A quality service enhances a child's development whereas poor provision has been shown to exacerbate a child's problems of concentration and motivation.


  9.  The aim of early years education should be to provide a developmentally appropriate, flexible and exciting curriculum which lays the foundations for children's later learning but which also has regard to their present individual needs.

  10.  It should be developmentally stage related, build on children's prior experiences and encompass different approaches to learning, and should not underestimate their natural curiosity and capacity for critical thinking. It should encourage creativity and imagination, problem solving, curiosity and investigation and prepare children to be good members of society by promoting care and respect for themselves and each other.

  11.  It is important that the curriculum allows for the flexibility necessary to meet the needs of pupils with special educational needs and those for whom English is an additional language.

  12.  Best practice in nursery schools and classes recognises a rich curriculum of seven components:

    Aesthetic and Creative—Art, drama, dance, music, imagination.

    Personal, Social and Emotional—Relationship, self awareness, social interaction, diversity.

    Language and literacy—Listening, speaking, reading, writing.

    Mathematics—Shape, numeracy, measuring, sorting, assessing, recording.

    Physical—Bodily and spatial awareness, physical skills, health and safety.

    Science and technology—Life and its environment, materials and their properties, energy, force, time, space, weather, use of materials, tools, planning and construction.

    Spiritual and moral—Right and wrong, fairness, cultural diversity, tolerance, awe and wonder, responsibility.

  13.  The content outlined above is largely recognised in the QCA Early Learning Goals. Whilst these have been welcomed by NASUWT as guidelines for early years education, the Association also recognises that they are more relevant to those settings lacking qualified teachers and nursery nurses.

  14.  There is also a danger that the Early Learning Goals become an over-prescriptive statutory requirement, accompanied by a bureaucratic pupil assessment system. As guidelines they should provide a framework on which practitioners can build. A flexible curriculum is required so that teachers can use their professional judgements to determine the needs of children who will have differing pre-school experiences and rates of development.

  15.  Furthermore, early years education should not become a watered down version of the National Curriculum. NASUWT believes that the National Curriculum must remain distinct from an early years curriculum. Pressure which may lead to an over-concentration upon formal teaching, and upon the attainment of a specific set of targets, must be resisted. Early years education should assist development and equip children to cope with the transition to Key Stage 1.


  16.  NASUWT advocates a holistic, cross-curricular approach which should avoid practice that allows children to feel that they have failed.

  17.  The two main approaches adopted in high quality settings are theme and skills based. Both concentrate upon active and independent learning through structured play. Play is an important way to develop independence, confidence, self worth and valuing others. Growth in these areas is crucial to the development of skills and attitudes needed for future learning.

  18.  The use of the word structured when referring to play in this context is important. Critics of play often perceive it as aimless and non-educational. This is simply not so. Qualified teachers plan the activities in order to achieve specified learning outcomes. Their intervention during play activities focuses upon questioning and directing in the same way as that of teachers in other stages of education. Teachers use their professional judgement to develop children's learning.

  19.  Although structured play must be an essential focus for early years education there are times when a more formal approach to learning may be required. In nursery schools and classes this can be observed in the provision of set periods for story telling, rhymes, songs, discussion and in small group work. All of these elements provide an appropriate learning environment.


  20.  NASUWT believes that all providers of early years education should be subject to the same inspection standards which apply in other sectors of education. This does not, however, mean that the Association supports the extension of the remit of OFSTED into the care aspect of early years provision.

  21.  NASUWT has serious concerns about the OFSTED inspection regime. These concerns were identified in the Association's submission to the House of Commons Select Committee of Inquiry into OFSTED (December 1998). They included:

  • the stress, strain and pressure the process placed upon staff;

  • the mismatch between inspectors' qualifications and experience in the areas being inspected;

  • inconsistency of judgement;

  • lack of proven track record of competence by those making the judgements;

  • absence of external inspection of the OFSTED process itself.

  22.  At all stages of education the OFSTED inspection regime often has the effect of reducing teaching to a mechanical process in which enthusiasm and indeed, inspiration from teachers and children are taken out of the equation.

  23.  It is crucial that inspectors have the expertise and experience within the sector being inspected. This has not always been the case with regard to nursery schools and classes. The QCA Desirable Learning Outcomes, (recently revised and renamed Early Learning Goals), were, during some inspections, misinterpreted by OFSTED inspectors demonstrating both a lack of understanding and of training in new Government initiatives. NASUWT is also aware of the difficulties caused by some inspectors who have insisted on adopting the grading system in relation to nursery nurses.

  24.  The establishment of a new arm of OFSTED with responsibility for delivering regulation of early years provision, bringing together the two systems, could exacerbate the problems of inappropriately qualified inspectors, and will certainly extend the difficulties NASUWT has consistently highlighted in relation to OFSTED.


  25.  In the majority of countries in the European Union the start of formal schooling is later than in Great Britain with compulsory education beginning at the age of six. In others such as Luxembourg and Northern Ireland it begins earlier with education compulsory from the age of four. In contrast, in Denmark the age is set at seven.

  26.  There has been a great deal of discussion concerning the introduction of a distinct stage for the education of children aged three, four and five. NASUWT is concerned that the establishment of a distinct stage could lead to the devaluing of the role of teachers of this age group and diminish the status of this phase of education.

  27.  Taking all these factors into consideration, and in the absence of evidence to demonstrate any educational advantage to any specific age range of starting ages across the European Union, NASUWT believes that the status quo should apply.

  28.  However, it is therefore essential to acknowledge the distinct challenges teachers of reception children face and to address their specific needs with regard to staffing and other resources. Teaching reception pupils is probably one of the most demanding roles within the education service. Pupils enter reception with a variety of pre-school experiences ranging from having remained at home with a parent or other family member through to two years in a nursery school setting.

  29.  In some local authorities pupils are admitted to reception classes as rising fives, i.e. they will reach the age of five during the academic year but are four on admission. In these settings teachers may find that there can be up to 12 months difference in age between the oldest and youngest pupil, with a marked difference in maturity and development of pupils who reached their fourth birthday in, for example, the August prior to admission in September, and pupils who were five in August and admitted at the same time.

  30.  NASUWT is not opposed to the admission of rising fives and does not advocate any compulsion for parents to choose a particular type of provision pre-five. The Association does believe, however, that this situation must be addressed by distinct support being provided for reception classes, in terms of staffing levels and other resources, which recognise these key issues and to enable the provision of an appropriate curriculum and support in a suitable environment with adequate numbers of qualified staff for all the pupils.


  31.  NASUWT supports many of the principles which underpin the Government's Sure Start project and recognises the benefits of early intervention strategies, the need to support families in areas of deprivation and the need for a cross-departmental strategy to improve services.

  32.  The Association is aware of the benefits achieved by the Headstart programme adopted in the USA in the 1970s. This scheme targeted areas of need in the delivery of services for children under five and their families.

  33.  At the same time the establishment of combined nursery centres in some English Local Authorities brought together social services and education departments to provide care and education for children and support for parents/carers.

  34.  NASUWT welcomes the provision of additional funding associated with Sure Start but any impact in the area of early years education will be affected significantly by the quality and consistency of the provision, and the continuing provision of funding to support to sustain the project in the long term.

  35.  A key factor in this respect is the employment of qualified teachers and nursery nurses in all early years settings.

  36.  In addition, the partnership between parents/carers and staff is an important part of a support programme. NASUWT maintains that non-contact time must be made available for teachers and nursery nurses to promote parental involvement.



  37.  Class size and pupil teacher ratios are a major issue in the early years sector. NASUWT maintains that there is a need to recommend a minimum teacher/child ratio for all early years settings, particularly reception classes. This is distinctly different from an adult/pupil ratio and essential to the provision of high quality education and to ensure the health and safety of children and staff.


  38.  NASUWT welcomes the Government's commitment to the provision of access to early years settings for every three and four year old. The Association believes however that the emphasis on the provision of part-time places as opposed to full-time provision needs careful consideration.

  39.  NASUWT recognises that part-time placements have been adopted by Government as a cost-effective and pragmatic solution to the problem of providing opportunities for more children to participate by using existing full-time places without a vast increase in the provision of "new" places. However, the Government must also recognise that part-time places are not a simple, cheap option if they are properly utilised and resourced. Part-time places need additional resources to support them. They can double the workload of teachers and increase the organisational and administrative burden on the school. In a full-time setting a teacher supported by nursery nurses may have 30 pupils during the day. In a part-time setting a teacher with the same level of classroom support may deal with 60 children in one day, thus exacerbating the workload problems which teachers generally face, particularly with regard to record keeping, assessments, parental consultation and individual support.

  40.  The Government must recognise the implications for teachers' conditions of service, for funding and resources. The Association also believes that the Committee should recognise the educational benefits for some children provided by the continuity of a full-time placement.


  41.  NASUWT believes that nursery schools/classes and reception classes suffer from the same deficiencies of the current funding mechanism experienced by all schools. The Association submitted detailed written evidence in November 1999 to the House of Commons Education and Employment Committee Inquiry into the DfEE funding, and believes that the issues raised in that submission must be considered in the context of the Inquiry into Early Years Education.


  42.  High quality early years education must be supported by continuing professional development for teachers and nursery nurses. Adequate finance must be made available for both courses and supply cover so that staff can attend during their working time.

  43.  The allocation for early years training and development within the Standards Fund currently focusing on three year olds, is woefully inadequate and it is not possible to fund key provision such as supply cover, travel and subsistence.

  44.  Moreover, if the demand for qualified early years teachers is to be met, Initial Teacher Training Courses must include the opportunity to choose of an early years phase with an emphasis on child development.


  45.  The significant contribution made by high quality early years education to a child's development and educational progress cannot be challenged. It is therefore essential that all children have the opportunity to access such provision. The key factor influencing the nature of the early years setting a child experiences, should be parental choice not variation in provision depending on geographical location or the varying structures and funding policies of local authorities.

  46.  NASUWT acknowledges that the Government has attempted to introduce coherence and planning by the introduction of the Early Years Development Partnership. However, in the absence of a coherent national policy which ensures consistency of funding, staffing levels of both teachers and nursery nurses, and type of provision, many children will be denied the opportunity to experience the high quality nursery education which can make such a positive contribution to their long-term educational progress.


January 2000

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