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Professor Cathy Nutbrown speaks at the Early Years Conference

Professor Nutbrown shares her recommendations on education for the very young.

Please note that the speech below may not reflect the exact words of the speaker.

Good morning everyone. I am very pleased to be invited to speak at this event today and to be able to take this opportunity to launch my report and recommendations following my Review of Early Education and Childcare Qualifications

This has been an incredible experience that will stay with me for quite some time. Over the course of my Review I have been impressed by the sheer levels of commitment and passion shown by so many people in different roles working with our young children – from the Apprentice starting out in their career to the experienced teacher leading practice – all of who are determined to make a truly valuable contribution in the foundation years. Those of you I have met will know of my commitment to high quality early education. I felt, therefore, extremely privileged to be asked by the Minister of State to undertake such an important task. Even more so, I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have written to say how much they welcomed what has been seen as a much needed Review.

The focus of my report grew out of Dame Clare Tickell’s Review on the Early Years Foundation Stage which highlighted the importance of having qualifications that are of a high standard and meet the needs of all learners. It is very clear to me that we can’t achieve an excellent early years without effective qualification structures which ultimately gives us a highly qualified workforce. In thinking carefully about this I am led by my strong belief that we need a new long-term vision for the early years workforce. I also believe that this vision must offer the very best for babies and young children by having a professional and highly skilled workforce which leads to getting the best investment in early years.

All of this points clearly to the fact that quality matters in early years. Ultimately the biggest quality factor is staff who determine good quality. Which means staff having good skills, strong pedagogical knowledge, understanding and passion when working with children - these are all crucial factors. Underpinning these are robust qualifications and training that can have a powerful effect when they are taught well and ensure those training to enter the workforce can be supported to develop the right blend of theoretical knowledge and practical skills. This does not take away the importance of attunement and care which are hugely important in work with young children. I have heard many arguments that seem to polarise care and education of course we must have both – we can’t settle for less. Our babies and young children deserve the best start.

Some people question whether babies should be included in my Review. This leads me to the point I want to make absolutely clear today. Learning begins from birth - and our early years workforce does so much more than changing nappies and wiping noses – the responsibilities of all those working with young children are immense. High quality care and education meets all children’s learning and developmental needs from birth. The importance of early communication with babies during their early months of life is well known and this is essential for establishing social relationships as babies and young children begin to formulate, and play with language. High quality care and education means having the skills and experience to work with infant appropriate pedagogies, looking listening and loving alongside the capacity to stimulate and challenge children to ask questions, to explore, to play and to seek answers. All of which become hugely significant for children as they move through the foundation stage and into primary phase of education.

There is the growing body of evidence about how the quality of early years provision can support children’s brain development and make such a positive difference to children’s life chances – and their future participation in our society. In the last few years, it has become increasingly clear – although most of us never doubted it - that effective early years provision offer the foundations for children’s healthy all-round development. Studies such as the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) and other research have provided strong evidence to show the impact of highly qualified staff on children’s outcomes. In particular we know that better qualified staff teams offered higher quality support for children developing communication, language and literacy skills and their reasoning, thinking and mathematical skills, as providing well as higher overall curricular quality.

Almost one hundred years ago the Government of 1918 legislated for the establishment of nursery schools. Subsequently, nursery education which included concern for children’s health and well being were established around the country. We need to exploit our rich legacy of early childhood education as well as the current research of evidence which tells us that babies and young children are born with an immense capacity to learn.

I am very grateful to all those who participated in my Review – people who work on daily basis with young children, in a variety of settings – organisations representing providers – parents - and academics. All these contributions have been essential as I have developed my understanding of the issues, and shaped my recommendations.

The work leading up to the publication of my interim report provided some stark findings and I have to say I was shocked by some of the things I found. It is apparent that early years qualifications have changed markedly over the last two decades and there are literally hundreds of qualifications past and present creating a market that is over populated and confused. Add to this the variation in content and teaching of these qualifications and I am left with the inescapable conclusion that many are not ‘fit for purpose’. Put simply, I do not believe that many of the current qualifications are good enough to equip the workforce with the knowledge and skills necessary to offer children the best quality care and education, and to support professional development. This is of particular concern when we consider the very welcome investment being made by the Government in expanding the number of free places in the system. If qualifications are not equipping people with what they need, if we cannot be confident that staff are learning what they need to, how can we be confident in the quality of provision they offer?

Over the course of my Review I have focussed on three key areas:

  • What are people studying, and whether this they need to know?
  • In terms of quality, are the systems in place to ensure the quality of teaching and learning are effective?
  • And finally, how do we recruit people to take a qualification and into work? How do qualifications systems impact on the perceived status of those who work with young children?

My final recommendations seek to respond to these issues. And I am confident my findings and recommendations reflect and respond to what the early years workforce has told me is most important. They are rooted in putting quality at the top of the agenda. What is important is that we secure good value for money, spending on early education and care needs to bring about high quality, that is sound investment in the future.

So let me briefly summarise my key recommendations. These take account of a reformed system of qualifications; and a balance which must be struck between supporting existing good practice and challenging the sector to ensure provision is high quality in all settings.

Firstly we need a clear, rigorous system of qualifications in place to ensure a competent and confident workforce. As I have said there are far too many qualifications, they don’t equip students with the necessary skills and the system is confusing. In response I recommend the content of qualifications be changed to strengthen and include more on child development and play, special educational needs and disability, and inclusivity and diversity. More importantly the qualifications must focus on the birth to 7 age range. Level 3 must become the minimum standard for the workforce. This means all staff, who work to the EYFS framework, including childminders should be qualified at a minimum level 3 by September 2022, with some staging of posts in the interim.

It is crucial that we raise expectations of the workforce so that we attract the best people – quality staff make a difference. When I published my interim the press heavily focused on my view of literacy and numeracy skills amongst staff caring and educating our babies and young children. These skills are essential: to develop professional knowledge; to communicate effectively with parents; to carry out observations or assessments, to read stories to children and to support children’s early language development. This reinforces my argument for the importance of quality and why I am recommending students must have a level 2 in English and mathematics upon entry to a level 3 early education or childcare course.

I have also made recommendations on the quality of student placements and for tutors to remain up to date in their own Continuous Professional Development and to maintain relevant and current early years practice. I particularly want to emphasise the importance of Continuous Professional Development for new early years staff and setting managers and practitioners should actively prioritise this. I am therefore recommending all new staff are given mentoring support for at least their first six months of employment. I don’t see this as a Government-led bureaucratic approach – rather, I believe the sector has the maturity and drive to make this happen.

Lack of a clear career progression route featured highly in my Review. I received a number of comments from the sector about increasing the number of people with Qualified Teacher Status in the early years sector as a way of improving the quality and professionalism. The evidence backed up by views expressed during the Review so far is very clear on the importance of staff with higher level skills and the sector seems to be supporting the idea of strong leadership at all levels, but in particular recognises the impact that those with teaching qualifications can have.

The status of the profession is intrinsically linked to the qualifications market, so raising the bar on entry requirements and demanding higher levels of qualifications can help to demonstrate a commitment to a high status profession. I wholeheartedly agree with the arguments supporting this and therefore I am recommending an introduction of an early years specialist route to Qualified Teacher Status, (birth to seven years).

The Government’s drive to include more graduates through Early Years Professional Status programme was welcomed and made efforts to transform the quality of early years practice. In my Review concerns were made by many who hold Early Years Professional Status were being dissatisfied with their lack of parity with those holding Qualified Teacher Status. I have been impressed with the level of commitment and knowledge shown by many with Early Years Professional Status I have met. The subject knowledge imparted by Early Years Professional Status is valuable and I see the early years specialist initial teacher education route as building on the strengths of the Early Years Professional Status. I firmly believe having qualified teachers leading early years settings is the future. It will increase professionalism and raise the status of the profession, and those with EYPS can be part of this.

Finally, many have suggested I recommend the introduction of an early years licensing system. There has been consistent interest and I have heard convincing and thought provoking debates. Some have suggested a ‘Royal College of Early Education approach similar to other ‘Royal Colleges’ because they would give the sector recognition, help to boost public confidence as well as improving self esteem and expertise across the sector

However, when I think about why we should introduce licensing and I ultimately come to the question of what added value this would bring in light of the other recommendations I am proposing. The main intended benefits would be to improve quality and to raise the status of the profession. However, I believe my recommendations if accepted by Government would clearly address these. I certainly don’t think the time is right for the Government to mandate a new licensing system. I do feel, if the sector wants to come together with a unified approach, that Government should support this.

To conclude, then, my intention has always been to propose a set of recommendations that address the issues I have heard, based on the evidence brought out through my call for evidence and the many conversations I have had. My recommendations aim to move towards a long term vision for a better, higher qualified and more professional early years workforce.

It will be for the Government and the sector to decide how they want to take forward my recommendations, how to make this vision a reality. It will not happen over night and of course I don’t underestimate the practical and financial implications. I have endeavoured to make my recommendations practicable and affordable. However, what my report makes absolutely clear is that we cannot afford to compromise on the quality of provision. This means making sure those who are entrusted with the care and education of our babies and young children are equipped with the skills, knowledge and understanding they need. Poor quality provision will mean that young children pay a heavy price – they will miss out.

I want again to thank the Minister for asking me to lead this Review. I also want to thank the thousands in the early years sector who have contributed. The passion and dedication of so many who work with and for young children (in some instances without the recognition they deserve) has been palpable. Together, we can raise our sights and ensure that the Early Education and Care provision continues to progress and improve.

Young children need high quality experiences as they learn and develop in their first five years. I hope the Government acts on my recommendations and – in the interests of all young children – and their families.

Thank you.

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