To the point: We must aim high

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'Narrowing the gap' has been a central focus of investment in early years, aimed at decreasing the divide in life chances between those children who are the haves and have-nots.

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But we will never see the quality of provision that can ensure all children and families receive the early years experiences that can help turn lives around until we narrow another yawning gap - the enormous divide between the role expected of early years practitioners and the ability of the workforce to fulfil it.

For an educator, supporting the learning and development of the youngest children is arguably the most intellectually demanding phase of all. Babies and young children cannot selectively focus their attention on what we might want to teach them, so we need to meet each child where they are and go with them.

The effective early years educator needs a deep understanding of how children learn and develop, sensitivity to tune into communication from these keenly intelligent but non-verbal young people, knowledge of the range of skills and cultural tools we need to pass on, a toolbox of engaging ways to share experiences with children, the ability to instantly analyse a situation and decide on strategies to respond, and evaluative skills to monitor their involvement and change tack as needed.

So hats off to Cathy Nutbrown for her recommendations to raise the bar for the workforce. We need highly trained, able people to take on this work. It is essential that we change the public perception of early years educators as well-meaning babysitters. Only then will there be a hope of arranging policy and funding to support the quality that is essential.

Moving to a qualified teacher leadership is an important part of raising the status of early years education. EYPs are understandably disturbed by any interpretation that EYP is second-rate compared to QTS. There will be an awkward transition period, but it is important to keep our eye on the end result - a new birth-to-seven specialist qualification that is not the existing QTS, but brings together the best of both to lead the sector in expert practice.

Nancy Stewart is an associate of Early Education.

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