Charities call for graduate-led nurseries to boost children's early language

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A coalition of organisations concerned with early language are calling for every nursery in England to be led by a graduate by 2020.

Within its pre-election report, The power of reading, the 'Read on. Get on.' campaign group calls upon the next Government to make it a priority for all private, voluntary and independent nurseries in this country to employ a qualified early years teacher.

Without an early years teacher in place, it warns that children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, are at risk of falling behind in basic language and reading skills.

A key goal of the ‘Read on. Get on.’ campaign group, whose members include Save the Children and I CAN, is to ensure that every child achieves a good level of early language development by the age of five, by 2020.

The report says that a lack of priority given to early years investment and the quality of staff in particular, will mean that the gap in reading ability between England’s most and least advantaged children will remain one of the worst in Europe unless action is taken early in the next parliament.

It goes on to refer to research carried out for the Department for Education, 'Childcare and early years providers survey 2013', which found that only 13 per cent of staff in PVI nurseries in England hold a relevant early years degree.

Based on these figures, ‘Read on. Get on.’ says that 11,000 more graduates are needed, and that there should be a priority placed on getting early years teachers into nurseries serving disadvantaged areas in particular.

However, the campaign acknowledges that to deliver on the ambition of an early years graduate taking the lead in every nursery, more funding will be required from the Government to support training and to subsidise higher wages.

As an incentive to nurseries to employ an early years teacher, the campaign group recommends introducing an enhanced Early Years Pupil Premium rate of £1,300, only available to settings with staff qualified to this level.

The campaign group also wants to see every nursery employ at least one non-graduate member of staff with an ‘intermediate level’ qualification in young children’s speech, language and communication. As well as this, the appointment of a cross-departmental early years minister to co-ordinate Whitehall strategy and delivery on early years services across health, education and local government.

The power of reading also includes recommendations on what should be made a priority in primary education during the next parliament.

Dame Julia Cleverdon, chair of the 'Read On. Get On.' campaign, said, ‘It’s time to make nurseries the frontline in tackling social mobility in this country. Every child deserves a fair start in life – regardless of the wealth of their family. By providing quality and qualified teaching in every nursery, we can ensure every child arrives at school with the building blocks in place to learn to read and succeed.’

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) welcomed the report, but has urged the charities behind the campaign not to underestimate the ‘great educational work that nurseries already do, amid tight funding constraints.’

Chief executive Purnima Tanuku said, ‘The vast majority of NDNA member nurseries employ at least one graduate early years teacher and 86 per cent of English settings are currently rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, a higher proportion than for schools or colleges. That makes us a real standout sector.

‘To suggest that nurseries are lacking quality in terms of early years education is unfair. Despite a chronic funding shortfall, nurseries already make a huge educational difference - particularly for underprivileged children. Internationally respected research has underlined this.'

She added, ‘We think it is a great idea for the Early Years Pupil Premium to be raised and for more early years teachers to be employed as a result. NDNA campaigns constantly for more investment for nurseries and standards are rising steadily.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'Given that the vast majority of PVI settings deliver good or outstanding early years provision, we would reject any suggestion that these providers are failing to give children the best start in life as the result of a lack of graduate leaders. That said, research has highlighted the positive impact that a highly-qualified workforce can have on children’s outcomes, and so we support ambitions to increase the number of graduate-level practitioners in the PVI sector, though it is important that the value of experience, a nurturing approach and an in-depth understanding of child development are not overlooked.
 
'In terms of the campaign’s call for all settings to employ at least one trained graduate, while this is positive in theory, it is unclear how such an ambition can be achieved in the face of the ongoing lack of adequate funding. The early years sector is heavily reliant on dedicated staff willing to work incredibly hard on little more than minimum wage, and many PVI providers simply cannot afford to pay the salary levels necessary to recruit and retain graduate staff. Until the issues of sector underfunding are addressed, and providers are given the financial support needed to raise wage levels, it is difficult to see how the current situation will change.'

 

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