Nutbrown Review: Not just a qualification!

Put young children first when responding to the final report from Nutbrown, says Chelle Davison, senior lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University, chair of SEFDEY North East Region, and member of the expert panel for the Nutbrown Review

The education of our youngest children, the correct methods of guaranteeing good outcomes and the theory that underpins policy; all comes around in a constant cycle. An ever-changing and constant moving entity; ambitiously pushed and pulled, with each change in Government.

When Margaret McMillan took on the Government in the very early 1900s, she didn’t take the stand and say, ‘We would quite like good childcare for young children but if it costs too much we will settle for satisfactory’. Margaret McMillan changed the course of early childcare forever.

Foundations for Quality: The independent review of early education and childcare qualifications is an ambitious and long overdue review that has considered numerous aspects of education and care qualifications, as shown in the evidence supporting the recommendations.

It appears that somewhere we as a sector have got lost in concerns over sustainability, childcare costs and who will win or lose following the publication of this review.

As it stands, we do not know which of the 19 recommendations that the Government might accept, if any. In addition, surely our priority is very young children, long before they reach school age, and their education, care and well-being? When did the sector forget that?

I would hope that most readers of the report will consider the original brief that Cathy Nutbrown was given, to consider "how best to strengthen qualifications and career pathways, for young people new to the early education and childcare sector and those already employed there". This review is about qualifications, not childcare costs. It is accepted the two are linked; however, it was not for this report to resolve.

Recommendation 8 states that English and mathematics should be entry requirements to level 3 early education and childcare courses. I have been sorely disappointed that anyone might see this recommendation as being problematic.

How are we to argue that we have the very best start for our young children and babies, the very best that this country can offer, the very best that we can use to support disadvantaged families with young children, if, we cannot write a report for parents at the end of the day without basic spelling
errors? How can we make this argument when seasons on noticeboards are incorrect, when EYFS reports are incoherent? We cannot.

Parents with young children attending care settings must feel confident that when a two-year-old's check is carried out, that the practitioner who undertakes the observations understands exactly how to carry out the observation, how to evaluate it and how to make recommendations for future planning. Practitioners must be able to communicate with parents, with other professionals and with the children they are caring for and educating.

I would contend that no parent would send their child to school where those around them were unable to communicate, read or write effectively; why would we want this in those precious early years before school.

In 1905, Margaret McMillan stated, 'Why start with the children? Too late. We must start with the babies', when she battled for better conditions for children.

In 2012, Cathy Nutbrown stated , 'There cannot be compromise on quality and we must be unrelenting in our insistence on improving experiences for all babies and young children'.

It appears we haven’t come that far in over 100 years; Why would anyone compromise on the standard to which children are cared for or educated?

Qualifications are by no means the sole solution to improving quality in our settings. However, it is a very good start. Poor practice breeds (or trains) poor practice. The majority of settings in disadvantaged areas have been rated satisfactory or worse; these are areas where we need to have the very highest quality and most knowledgeable practitioners.

For those who doubt the impact that qualifications can have on practice, I challenge you to spend some time with Foundation Degree students on early years and childcare level 4 or 5 courses. Without fail, an average practitioner with limited knowledge walks through the door; however, the professional who walks across the stage to receive their honours degree is not the same person, the same practitioner, the same individual.

Understanding how a child develops, how they think, how they feel; this knowledge is essential and might be gained through many years’ experience. Understanding how one’s own feelings and experiences might impact upon child development is rarely considered outside of a level 4 classroom. Realising that transition is not just about visiting another room is rarely understood without level 5 discussion. Becoming enlightened to the fact that a small tea stain on a vest is not important to parents who have spent the weekend outdoors with their children camping under a ‘roof made only from sky’; this is the quiet contemplation you experience inside the level 6 classroom.

I am sympathetic to the feelings of the thousands of Early Years Professionals who have worked so very hard. The creation of the Early Years Professional, while mis-handled, was something of genius, as Lumsden (2012 The Early Years Professional: A new professional or a missed opportunity?) states, 'A new professional space with flexible borders is developing at the intersection of education, health and social care, occupied by those with EYPS…[the Early Years Professional] draws on holistic knowledge and understanding of children to lead practice in a way that is improving quality in early years settings and consequently improving outcomes for children. They have become a catalyst for change.'

Whatever the future holds for Early Years Professionals, we cannot move back to the separatist model of the past.

Figure1 Separatist and Integrated Professions in Children’s Services.
Lumsden,E (2012:19)

I believe without hesitation that the degree which enabled Early Years Professionals to undertake the EYPS training is the driving force behind their ability to improve practice, and to make the greatest strides with families and children. No-one can remove that degree.

The learning, the personal journey and the huge difference made in practice came through practitioners asking ‘Why?’. We only ask why, when we are given the opportunity to do so. I believe that opportunity came in the hundreds of classrooms up and down the country.

Qualifications are not just a piece of paper; they are an experience in themselves. One that is necessary and essential to improving the practice of professionals we trust our future to.

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