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Charity disputes research which claims qualified nursery teachers have 'tiny effect' on children's learning

17-Feb-17
Article By: Sue Learner, Editor

Save the Children has disputed research which found nurseries with a qualified nursery teacher have only a “tiny effect” on children’s attainment.

Earlier this week, researchers from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, the University of Surrey and University College London, found that children who attended a nursery that employed a graduate had an Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) score that was only around a third of a point higher than those whose nurseries did not employ a graduate. The total number of points available is 117.

'Tiny effect'

Lead author Dr Jo Blanden, senior lecturer in Economics at Surrey University, said: “Our research finding that having a member of staff qualified to graduate level working in the nursery has only a tiny effect on children's outcomes surprised us, given existing research that finds well-qualified staff have higher quality interactions with children.”

However, Save the Children has claimed that children without an early years teacher are almost 10 per cent less likely to meet the expected levels of development when they start school compared to children who do have a teacher. This comes from its ‘Untapped Potential’ report last November.

In its latest report ‘Early Development and Children's Later Educational Outcomes’, the charity repeats this assertion and states unless the Government takes action 800,000 children in England will be behind in their learning at age five by 2020.

It says that early years teachers can make all the difference as they’re experts at improving learning in nurseries and trained in how to raise standards in nurseries and help children who are struggling.

Lack of funding

But it added that a lack of funding means 40 per cent of independently run nurseries aren’t able to employ a single teacher.

Consequently Save the Children is calling for an early years teacher in every nursery in England focusing first on the poorest areas that need this support the most.

Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children said: “Nurseries do an incredible job nurturing our children, but financial constraints are leaving many of them struggling to hire the qualified early years teachers who help give children the skills and confidence they need to learn and grow.

“The evidence clearly shows the huge and transformational difference early years teachers can make for children. That’s why we’re calling on Government to ensure every nursery has a qualified teacher. It’s an investment we must make to help every child reach their full potential.”

Early years 'crucial for child's learning'

Clinical psychologist, Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, added: “The early years of a child’s life are without a doubt the most crucial for their learning and development, and likewise, where support for their learning makes the biggest difference.

“That’s why early years teachers are so important – it’s not about giving toddlers a formal education, but growing their minds through play and simple every day interactions that will give them the best start in life – and that’s something all parents want for their children.”

The charity also commissioned a new YouGov poll which showed that nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of parents want the Government to ensure all of England’s nurseries have qualified teachers and more than 70 per cent saying they would rather send their child to a nursery with an early years teacher than one without.

All qualified nursery practitioners have an impact

Claire Schofield, director of Membership, Policy and Communications at National Day Nurseries Association, is keen to emphasise that “all qualified nursery practitioners contribute to the early education of under 5s” but added that “lack of funding limits nurseries' abilities to employ more early years teachers. We agree that more Government investment is needed and have been leading the way in campaigning for this”.

She pointed out that “the main reason that nurseries cannot employ more teachers is the chronic underfunding of ‘free’ places for three and four-year-olds. The vast majority of nurseries currently make a loss on these places – an average of £900 per year, per child - and don’t have enough overall income to pay more graduate salaries”.

In the wake of the Save the Children report, Cheryl Hadland, founder of nursery chain Tops Day Nurseries, called for the Government to focus “not just on the number of early years practitioners, but the quality and skills of the workforce”.

Nurseries need 'broad spectrum of skills'

She would like to see an end to the requirement for nursery practitioners wanting to become Level 3 Early Years Educators (EYEs) to have at least a C grade in GCSE English and in GCSE maths to count in the ratios. Before this, Functional Skills had been accepted as an equivalent or alternative to GCSEs.

She said: “The skills required to care for and educate young children, and to communicate effectively with them and their parents or carers, cannot be simply predicated by having an English and Maths GCSE at C grades and it is disappointing that current requirements are blocking many people from entering the profession.

“This is why the Government must take a much broader spectrum of skills into account when setting out its plan for recruiting high-quality staff into early education.”

To view the Save the Children report go to http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/resources/online-library/early-development-and-childrens-later-educational-outcomes

The paper by the Centre for Economic Performance can be found at http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/dp1468.pdf

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