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Page 1, line 8, at end insert ("by a qualified teacher and other appropriately trained staff").

The noble Baroness said: The Title of the Bill refers to nursery education. All that the Government say with regard to the Bill is misleading unless it refers to a consistently high quality of provision.

This group of amendments deals with staff qualification and training. There is the appropriate training of staff as teachers and non-teaching staff. Those are complementary roles, and it is critically important that both sectors have had full benefit of the training.

We are dealing with educational provision for very young children, some of whom may have obvious, clearly defined, special educational needs. Others may have the more difficult to detect early signs of later difficulties; or they may have moderate learning difficulties. But help is needed if those learning difficulties are to be overcome and those children are to achieve the highest levels not only in their educational development but also in their social personal skills among their peer group. Amendment No. 10 refers to the importance of a qualified teacher. It is extremely important that this issue is taken seriously.

Among those who have had no contact with children with special needs, with very young children, or with different types of early years provision, there is a belief that any woman--usually the speaker is a man and the staff referred to are women--who has had children of her own can provide nursery education; after all, they

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are mothers. A great many mothers pride themselves on their ability to work with very young children. Few would have the temerity to claim that they equal those qualified in nursery education, or provide the same background and environment for a child.

In the DFE publications on good quality and early years education the Government recognise the importance of nursery education scoring higher in level of support and in the opportunities that it offers to children than do other forms of education.

Before I am accused again by the Minister of seeking rigid, imposed, central planning, or a lack of choice for parents, perhaps I may say that some parents choose not to place their children in nursery education. Some parents choose not to be concerned about qualifications. Many, like myself, have children who benefited from pre-school education, the quality of and training for which is often of a consistently very high standard. There are different aspects of nursery education. I for one welcome an approach to verifying qualifications that includes a recognition of the value of Montessori training, to cite just one example. There are many aspects to providing high quality nursery education.

I am interested to see whether the Minister is even prepared to consider adopting a target, a phasing-in of a move, towards ensuring that all nursery education funded through public money will be provided by staff who are properly trained. It is extremely important. Children are very vulnerable, and we want the best for our children.

A recurring theme of this group of amendments is the complementary nature of different forms of training. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will be prepared to support clearly, publicly and openly the need for staff working with young children to have the proper qualifications and training. The Minister may argue that it is not possible to achieve that immediately. There would be enormous popularity in the Government setting a target date and co-operating with all parties concerned to try to ensure that nursery education is provided by those who have had full training. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear: I strongly support the amendment. It follows on from my remark a few moments ago in relation to Amendment No. 12. I referred to the very real danger of skimping on provision through lack of money. If we are to have properly qualified teachers, it will cost more. We have to face that. Without properly qualified teachers, we run the risk of developing a whole grade of sub-standard nursery education. At its worst that can be very much less good than no education at all.

Baroness David: I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, is absent tonight. He spoke at Second Reading. If the Minister is listening, I want to give one quotation from a document from the National Commission on Education, Learning to Succeed. The commission states:

    "Teaching very young children is a complex task demanding a high level of skill and understanding. The committee supports graduate level training".

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I totally support all the requests for qualified teachers and a great deal of teaching knowledge for such children. It is said over and over again how important this is. The Government should be prepared to agree to this very straightforward amendment in the very first clause of the Bill.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: As someone who spent some years in the classroom, I wish to reinforce the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. One might think that the children who are really difficult to cope with are those at scholarship level. In my experience, they are the easy ones. They simply sail away. You can put anything in front of them and they can more or less do it. The further down the scale you go, the more difficult it gets. It is therefore of prime importance that, in the earliest years of all, children have the highest qualified teachers to lead them into the national curriculum at the age of five and try to make, if possible, a seamless transition between nursery and primary education. At that stage, contrary to popular myth, it is extremely important to have highly qualified staff. I support the amendment.

Lord Northbourne: I accept the importance of qualifications. I know about the deprived children and the seriously damaged and disadvantaged children. I hoped these amendments would not be used to squeeze out the participation and involvement of parents, or indeed what have been called "streetwise grannies", as supporters.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky: I urge my noble friend the Minister to resist this set of amendments. They strike me as being much too prescriptive and every permissive clause is turned into a prescriptive clause. Running through the debate is a conflict of opinion. On one side--and that is the side I am on--we support maximum choice and minimum regulation. The other side seems to support maximum regulation and minimum choice. We counter that all the way through and I hope that my noble friend sticks to his guns.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I wish to make a few comments in support of these amendments. First, to start with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, this is not a question of regulation. It is a question of ensuring that the most vulnerable children in school are being looked after and their studies directed by somebody who is qualified to do both those things. That is the main point of this series of amendments: to ensure that people who are qualified recognise the child who has particular needs--particular learning needs, personality needs or gifts, and so on.

So often our primary schools are taking children who already, at the age of five, are desocialised, with whom it is almost impossible to deal. As a school governor, I have frequently come across this difficulty. We must ensure that those who guide the people in charge of classes are qualified teachers who have been trained to recognise these difficulties or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, a child's special gifts. If that happened

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we would be making an important contribution to the quality of education of young children which, after all, as far as I am concerned, is the whole point of the Bill. We are talking about the prospects for young children. Experience and research in the United States showed that early years education made children higher achievers and better socialisers. That was one of the factors which was prayed in aid by the Minister when he introduced the Bill. So it is difficult to understand how that attitude ties in with a resistance to ensuring that there are qualified teachers. I do not think that anybody supporting these amendments has any wish to exclude parents from their proper role in this particular process.

I would like to emphasise the point about Montessori teachers. We are not talking necessarily of an identical qualification for every person who takes this lead role in a class. The Montessori Foundation has been involved in pre-school education for over 90 years, amd probably knows as much about it as anybody. I would certainly wish to ensure, through these amendments--and I rather hope the Minister will be able to respond on this matter--that its qualifications, which are very high and growing all the time, would be recognisable under the processes we are suggesting or even without those processes.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: I would like to comment on Amendments Nos. 38 and 45. Amendment No. 38 has been the subject of advice which we have received from the Special Education Consortium and which I find particularly persuasive. They have very special knowledge and understanding of the needs of children with special educational needs. It is at that stage of the whole process of formal education that they perhaps should command our greatest weight of respect. Amendment No. 38 is there to ensure that levels of qualification that are acceptable are set out in regulations and that those regulations are regularly reviewed.

In the Next Steps document and the debates that we have had so far on this matter, there has been repeated insistence from the Government that the current proposals are indeed intended to promote the development of high quality education for four year-olds. But one question to which we seldom seem to address ourselves is the question of what quality really means. I have said before in this Chamber that in many respects the English language is degenerating rapidly. One can point to particular words of which that is true and "quality" is one.

"Quality" is a noun which has become an adjective and quality has become synonymous with good quality--high quality. It has become a hooray word and not a boo word. That is imprecise thinking and dangerously imprecise thinking in what we do. People talk now about quality goods, without saying whether they are high quality or low quality goods. But I must confess that the height of absurdity came when the Welsh Rugby Football Union, which in recent years has not been notably successful in producing teams which win matches, held a debate in which one famous Welsh three-quarter said that the trouble lay with the forwards because, "We backs cannot win if we don't get quality

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ball." "Quality ball"--I invite the Committee to speculate on how that use of the language can possibly make sense. We know what it means but how can it make sense?

The Special Education Consortium believes that high quality education for young children with special educational needs means precisely this: it means being taught by staff who are themselves trained in curriculum, trained in child development, have an understanding of how children learn and can adapt curricula to meet those children's needs. A recent survey of provision in Wales compared provision for the under-fives in playgroups and in maintained schools. In schools, teachers observed, assessed and planned work for children in a way that matched the children's abilities and achievements; whereas playgroup staff, however willing they were, were not sufficiently well informed to recognise children's educational needs and abilities and make decisions about progression in learning. They themselves had not been taught that skill. They worked by instinct--flying by the seat of their pants. Without teachers, it is unlikely that young children with special educational needs could possibly receive an education appropriately matched to their needs.

The argument that the SEC has advanced to date is that significant additional money is going into playgroups, day nurseries and the private and voluntary sectors. The SEC feels that that money ought to be used to buy in trained teachers. However, it has become clear that the Government intend to proceed with the scheme without specifying qualifications and there would be a shortfall of teachers if all settings were to try to employ teachers.

I invite noble Lords opposite and the Minister in particular to speculate about a possible compromise, which, again, the SEC put forward. It is a pragmatic compromise. This amendment promotes an approach which would gradually increase the levels of training and qualifications expected within the voucher scheme. Ministers may say that it is not necessary to specify qualifications and that anyone who says that he can deliver the desirable outcomes in the SCAA document can be allowed to teach four year-olds. We profoundly doubt that. I need go no further than the reference that has been made to the Government's aim. Whereas we should not normally wish to suggest that one registered childminder would be capable of coming into this voucher scheme perfectly happily, if there were a small group of them who could get together and think out some kind of desirable scheme, we should certainly be willing to consider it. And then presumably we would accept what that group said on its self-assessment form without inspecting it before it began to accept vouchers--inspecting it any time up to one year after that. If that was a disastrous inspection result, we would give it nearly a year to mend its fences and its ways before it would be refused permission to continue. Where children with special educational needs are concerned that seems to us to be profoundly dangerous and undesirable.

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While the amendment does not achieve what the Special Education Consortium would wish in the here and now, it provides a mechanism for achieving a more skilled and better qualified workforce in the longer term. I hope therefore that it will be considered appropriate on those grounds. It is a compromise.

I hope that Members of the Committee will forgive my devotion to the Holy scriptures; it is simply that with a good Welsh Baptist upbringing phrases keep returning to mind. An appropriate one in regard to Amendment No. 45 is that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over 90 and nine just men that need no repentance. The Minister may recall that in previous education Bills I was not convinced of the virtue of the Teacher Training Agency. I confess that I was extremely sceptical about it. I thought that it was a bad thing; that we should not have it; and that, in so far as we had it, we would regret it. I was wrong.

I visited the Teacher Training Agency at its request. I was taken round for the best part of a day and was allowed to ask questions of any of the people I met without their superiors being present--and I did. My mind was changed. Although the TTA has a long way to go and a great deal to do, it certainly proved the case that, young as it is, it is making a valuable contribution to the training of teachers. I just wish people would leave it alone.

The idea of reforming the TTA and getting it to do something else--to teach teachers about discipline and all that kind of thing--seems to me to be piling Pelion on Ossa. It is a good little outfit doing a good job. It is hardly out of the nursery stage, but it is doing something that universities cannot do. Amendment No. 45 seems to me sensible in that it introduces a requirement for the Teacher Training Agency to assess the qualifications and training needs of institutions prior to initial registration under the arrangements. I hope that the agency has been asked and I hope that it feels that it comes within its remit. It obviously asks for vastly more resources and a huge new grant from wherever the grant comes from, but if it can be persuaded, it would be very apt.

The amendment links the TTA properly into the Government's new initiative. It also introduces a new stage, prior to initial registration under the voucher scheme, of requiring the qualifications and training needs of the providers to be assessed. That gives much greater quality assurance for parents, which we consider to be an important part of the whole scheme, and a better guarantee of value for public money.

At present the arrangements we have heard described suggest that an unsuitable provider (let us call it a "cowboy") could be registered and, failing an inspection, operate for two or, in some cases, three years--I shall be grateful if the Minister can say how long it is--before being necessarily struck off; and, of course, a lot of children can have an impoverished opportunity in that time.

The arrangements under the Bill are for the provision of funded nursery education; not simply care, not simply training, but education. Many new or existing providers may not necessarily have "education" as their focus.

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Under current arrangements providers have no guarantees that the experience and qualifications of their staff are sufficient to teach to the SCAA's "desirable outcomes", which to a lot of people sound rather like motherhood and apple pie and are very difficult to translate into any kind of practical application that can be described and quantified, let alone provide a broad and balanced curriculum appropriate to nursery age children. We think that providers should be required to take advice from the TTA both for their own benefit and for the security of parents.

In the absence of a requirement for new providers to be inspected prior to registration, this link with the TTA would at least provide a basic assurance for parents that the provision chosen for their child has had to take good, top, professional advice on this matter. Without such a guarantee, the claim of a new provider that it will be working towards the "desirable outcomes" is not very much more than a pious hope and a statement of faith and is not really worth the paper on which it might be written.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Hayman: I wish to say a few words on the issue of the training and qualification of staff and to support what has been said earlier about the challenge to trained and qualified staff of teaching the youngest children within the education system and the children with the greatest needs among that cohort of very young children. In making these remarks, I have no intention of undermining the contribution that can be made and the support that can be given by parents or grandparents within that set-up. My remarks come rather from the experience of having been a parent and of helping at all stages, through playgroup, nursery education and primary school, and seeing how much more difficult and skilful a task it is to make sure that high quality education is delivered to the youngest children than to the oldest children.

One of the mistakes we have made in education has been in not focusing enough on, and not giving enough attention to, the highly skilled task of teaching the youngest children. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, there is an important reason for doing that beyond the altruism of wanting to give the highest quality of education to those children. The reason is that more and more in our primary schools we see troubled and disadvantaged children in respect of whom, by the time they have reached a large reception class, we have lost our opportunity effectively to intervene to help them.

I saw in the primary school of which I was a governor for many years how effective that help could be if the nursery class had the resources in terms of teachers and skilled personnel to, if necessary, withdraw those children from the class in order to give them the special help and support they needed. The investment in those children, which starts with the identification of need and goes on to the meeting of that need, paid tremendous dividends throughout the rest of their primary school career. Therefore, I think it is of enormous importance that, in looking at the variety of settings in which

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nursery education is offered to children, we are equally firm in determining that training and qualifications are of the highest standard.

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