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


Memorandum from the National Day Nurseries Association (EY 57)


  The National Day Nurseries Association is pleased to take this opportunity to highlight the views and opinions of its members regarding the issue of early education. The NDNA would be grateful of the opportunity to present their evidence orally before the committee.

  The NDNA is a charitable organisation, working on behalf of its members to promote quality care and education for all children within the early years, working on behalf of its members to promote quality care and education for all children within the early years. Its membership consists of day nurseries, nursery schools, EYDCPs and other interested bodies throughout the British Isles. It provides a network of support and information and is currently developing a Quality Assurance accreditation scheme, which will be accessed by all day nurseries. We enclose with this response some information about our organisation and the work e undertook in 1999 on behalf of our members (Annex 1) (not printed).

1.  The appropriate content of early years education, taking into account the recently published QCA, "Early Learning Goals".

  1.1  The NDNA welcomes the "early learning goals", and have wholeheartedly accepted them into the nursery settings. They provided a unique opportunity for day nurseries to be part of the process of early education and to be recognised for their expertise through the OFSTED inspection process. There is however an anomaly within the inspection process, separating young children in school settings from those in day care. Schools are inspected under a completely separate inspection scheme. With this more formal emphasis ELG's will develop in a different way to that which was intended. Owing to the separate inspection regimes, it is very difficult to find research that considers both, which is again an argument for operating a single system.

  1.2  In a setting where staff ratios are those of the Children Act (1:8), Early Learning Goals can be supported and developed in the way that they were intended, as stated in the Principles for Early Years Education in the foreword of the QCA document on Early Learning Goals. Our concern is that in a school setting where children do not enjoy easy access to an adult, the temptation will be to formalise teaching young children.

2.  The way in which it should be taught

  2.1  Young children learn best in small groups with adults that know them well (National Children's Bureau, October 1996). Research by the Thomas Coram Institute confirms this theory and describes the three main indicators of quality in early years provision—staff:child ratio, the qualifications of the staff and the availability of training. We still see in this country, dramatic differences in staffing ratios depending on the setting the child attends.

  2.2.1  Education and care are inseparable and it is essential that the environment and the curriculum reflect that principle. Young children learn through play and interaction with adults and the NDNA believes that the staffing ratios should be the same for every child receiving nursery education/care. The argument about staff ratios will continue to rage until the anomalies between the provider sectors is addressed.

  2.3  There needs to be a recognised philosophy for nursery education that is child led. We must not be led by funding.

  2.4  Schools were not designed as a vehicle for early years. It is wholly inappropriate for young children to be "taught" within this type of formal setting. In the same way we would not expect high school education to be taught in a nursery school setting. The setting itself, influences the agenda for learning. The Children Act (1989) imposes rigorous regulations for the appropriate care for this age group; this cannot be ignored once they go inside a school setting. Children are entering school at three plus without consideration being given to the appropriateness of the care they are receiving, (Annex 2) (Not printed).

  2.5  We must however not make the mistake and assume that if we adapt reception classes to look more like nurseries we are solving the problem. No matter how much we try, the fundamental problem will remain. A School environment will not provide the right environment for young children. We should look to our European counterparts, who regard kindergarten, from three-six years as a period of learning through play and separate it completely from school settings.

  2.6  We believe the early learning goals will only reach their full potential if taught in a setting that reflects both care and educational needs of young children. The Government, by trying to adapt traditional environments have created a "hotch potch" of provision and sadly missed a "golden opportunity" for real progress.

3.  The kind of staff that are needed to teach it and the qualifications they should have

  3.1  The NDNA has long argued for the enhancement of early years qualifications and the development of a ladder of progression. We do not, however, accept that the present focus on all early years qualifications should lead to qualified teacher status. This over emphasis is creating a pyramid approach where all progression can only lead to teacher status. The NDNA would like to see nursery staff accessing professional qualifications appropriate to their work and recognised for their expertise.

  3.2  The ladder of progression should enable early years staff to achieve qualifications that allows them to attain a status of equivalent value to that of a teacher. We would see this running parallel and complementing the work of an early years teacher. This would provide an ideal opportunity to develop a framework of qualifications specifically designed to meet the needs of this profession.

  3.3  We need an innovative approach to the whole early years arena, rather than adapting the education system downwards.

4.  The way quality of teaching and learning in the early years is assessed

  4.1  All early years settings should be assessed in the same way. Previous systems have been divisive, creating competition between sectors, with standards and regulations that are different and in many cases inappropriate. If we are to develop a cohesive early years strategy then it is essential that the regulation and inspection process address all settings that provide for children of this age group.

  4.2  The consultation paper on the regulation of early education and daycare carried out in 1998 by the DfEE and the Department of Health, led us to believe that this issue would be addressed. We are bitterly disappointed that the Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, excludes the maintained sector and the independent school sector, from the same regulation and inspection process that apply to other early years settings.

  4.3  The NDNA would welcome a national system that would regulate all early years settings, but are cautious about OFSTEDs ability to embrace the philosophies of care. This view is echoed throughout the early years and reflected in the media. (Annex 3) (Not printed).

  4.4  Many early years services are already within the Children Act inspection, combining education and care and we would wish that OFSTED would recognise the existing models of good practice around inspection regimes. We would hope the new Early Years inspections will be innovative and will use a holistic approach to inspecting child care and education as highlighted in our response to the consultation paper in 1998 (Annex 4) (Not printed).

5.  At what age formal schooling should start

  5.1  The major issue facing early years at the moment is when should formal schooling start and all the other issues are inextricably bound to that. Unless there is a firm decision made on the age at which formal schooling starts, it is not possible to consider any of the other issues. It is clear that according to law the compulsory school age remains at the term after children reach their fifth birthday. This however has little or no relation to the actual situation in schools today around the country, where children are frequently into formal school at age four and a few days.

  5.2  Nursery vouchers and nursery education grant has lead to an escalation of the number of very young children starting school for purely financial reasons. Schools are in the unfortunate position of being funded on the headcount and need to secure as much funding as possible. Parents will naturally choose free provision offered by schools, even when aware that this may not be the best scenario for their young children (Appendix 5) (Not printed).

  5.3  If we look at the evidence presented in the Rumbold Report (1989) and recent HMI findings, schools were never designed for the purpose of caring for and educating the very young. It is preposterious to suggest that we should develop a whole new nursery education based on a need to secure funding.

National Day Nurseries Association

January 2000

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