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London nursery group 'sick of qualifications snobbery' opts to call all staff nursery teachers

Article By: Sue Learner

The head of the UK’s largest social enterprise nursery group has said she is “tired of being held back by a system that divides us by the snobbery of qualifications” and has decided to give all her staff the title of nursery teacher.

June O' Sullivan, chief executive of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF)

June O’Sullivan, chief executive of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) which runs 38 nurseries in the capital, revealed she has been thinking about it for some time and says “it's about recognising what people do rather than the route to qualification.

“I am calling all my LEYF staff Nursery Teachers from August to celebrate the fact that this is what they do.”

LEYF carried out a consultation with staff and also asked parents what they thought in their annual parents’ questionnaire.

Eighty-seven per cent of 2,000 parents were in favour of the idea.

Ms O’ Sullivan believes the title nursery teacher will help parents to understand what nursery practitioners do.

'We need to take control of our destiny in this vacuum''

She is also doing it to “take control of our own destiny in this vacuum” as she feels the early years is not on any political agenda and the sector is having to cope with the introduction of the 30 hours ‘free’ childcare policy as well as recruitment and retention problems “in the middle of the political melee called Brexit”.

“We know that we matter to the infrastructure of the country. Parents need to work and we help that happen. We employ a lot of people and contribute about three per cent to the national GDP. Good nurseries make a big difference to children, especially disadvantaged children, a number growing in parallel to austerity. Last week another report from the OECD made a strong link between educational progress especially in Maths and Science with effective nursery education.

“Teacher is not a protected term so we can use it as we wish. I am sick of being held back by a system that divides us by the snobbery of qualifications. Of course, we want our staff to be highly educated but we also want them to be experienced and capable. It won’t affect their terms and conditions and the more qualified the staff the higher their remuneration packages,” she said.

'I believe we should describe the staff in terms of what they do

In addition, she pointed out Montessori nurseries have always called their staff teachers and in many private schools and academies, staff are called teachers to describe their work. “Therefore I believe we should describe the staff in terms of what they do and they teach in a way that is play based, woven with care and enriched with emotional intelligence.”

Ms O’Sullivan told that staff are “very delighted that they are going to be properly recognised in the title they have”.

She admits that they did have concerns that colleagues who were graduate qualified would mind. However, she says: “That has been the smallest worry especially as they know that teacher is not a protected term. LEYF staff are generally happy to accept the term and really buy in to the argument.”

The Government introduced Early Years Teacher Status back in 2013, which replaced Early Years Professional Status, in a drive to raise standards in the early years workforce.

Early years teachers are expected to be specialists in early childhood development, trained to work with babies and young children from birth to five. They have to meet the same entry requirements and pass the same skills test as trainee primary school teachers.

Early Years Teachers do not have Qualified Teacher Status

However, despite having to undergo the same skills tests as primary school teachers, Early Years Teachers do not have the all-important Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

Professor Cathy Nutbrown, who suggested introducing Early Years Teachers in her report ‘Foundations for Quality’ said at the time that because her “recommendation on QTS was not accepted, the hoped for parity with primary and secondary school teachers will not be realised”.

She felt it would create a “two-tier status for ‘teachers’” adding “so yet again, babies, toddlers, young children and their families, have to be content with something different, something that is ‘not quite’ the same in the status as that offered to older pupils and students in the education system, something confused and confusing.

“The question as to why those working with children in these challenging and complex years of early development and of learning, should be less well qualified and afforded a lower professional status than those teaching older children remains unanswered.”

Lack of parity

This lack of parity led to many education providers scrapping their early years teachers courses last year due to a lack of demand as lower salaries and more hours made the job less unappealing. Deborah Harris, senior lecturer in early childhood education and care at Birmingham’s Newman University, said early years teachers not being given QTS was “one of the major reasons for under-recruitment nationally to EYTS programmes”.

Credit: Jenkedco/

Northampton University revealed that many early years teachers on their courses were going straight onto an assessment-only short course where they could get QTS and work in a school instead of a nursery.

A report by Middlesex University London and TACTYC (the Association for Professional Development in Early Years), earlier this year, backed these findings, stating that the ‘lack of parity between both EYPS and EYTS and QTS has meant that those working in early years settings feel devalued and this is likely to have contributed to the growing shortage of trainee practitioners within the sector. Furthermore, the low pay often associated with early years roles and, in some cases, lack of embedded professional development opportunities paint an unjust and deeply problematic picture’.

Jayne Osgood, professor of education at Middlesex University, who led the study ‘Early Years Teacher and Early Years Educator: a scoping study of the impact, experiences and associated issues of recent early years qualifications and training in England’, said: “The early years sector is at breaking point. The workforce is demoralised by constant reform with little investment behind it. They do not share the same pay and conditions as their peers teaching in state primary and secondary schools and employers are struggling with recruitment and retention.

“There is a healthy scepticism among the workforce. They don’t want to waste their money and time on qualifications for them to be meaningless."

'So what's in a name? A lot when it describes what you do'

June O’Sullivan, who was named as the most influential person in Early Years by the sector last month at the NMT Awards, believes if change is not forthcoming from the Government, it will have to come from the early years sector itself. She would like to see other nurseries adopting a similar stance to LEYF.

“Let’s combine our influence as a sector and use it to effect change. So what’s in a name? A lot when it describes what you do,” she said.

click here for more details or to contact The London Early Years Foundation


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Andrew Matthews

01 Aug 2017 2:37 PM

In the drive to make a EYTS a recognised status, nurseries that financially support their staff doing the qualification, as well as the government must reinforce its value. It is quite defeatist to counter the government's lack of focus on the EYTS QTS divide, by devaluing the hard work put in by practitioners to achieve these graduate level qualifications. The learning on these courses teaches an analytical mindset, which simply cannot be learned on the job in a similar timeframe.

It was interesting that the Montessori naming convention is considered; are all staff really called teachers? Or do the trained achieve a title of Directress?

I would be more comfortable if we focussed on how people do their job and less on the title held. Titles should remain an internal mechanism for salary bands and responsibilities, not something that is advertised to parents to compare one staff member to another. Successful teams encourage and support each other, champion each other's achievements and skills and do not marginalise a minority or those with lower qualifications.