Thank you very much for coming here today. I think these opportunities for colleagues to meet, network and share ideas and challenges across the early years and schools are essential in order that we keep the momentum up in this dynamic and fast changing world.
For 6 years I was the head of the Willows special school including First Steps nursery, which supported some of the most troubled children and families in west London.
And during my teaching career I managed to work in every school age group, so I know that teaching - from early years through primary and secondary, in mainstream and special schools - is both a challenging and rewarding job.
Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk about a self-improving, professional-led system and today I want to talk to you about that. My aim is for NCTL to support the development of an education system that is led by the best schools, early years providers, leaders and professionals working together for the benefit of our children.
It is important for NCTL and for ministers to continue to understand the context and circumstances in which early years providers and schools work.
I understand that things probably don’t feel easy at the moment. To some extent they never have and workers in the early years and schools are well accustomed to responding quickly and professionally to changes of government expectations, of funding, of inspection, of everything really.
But I know this probably feels particularly tricky given the challenging situation with public funding. I know that local authority services are much smaller than they once were. And government expectations are changing - with factors such as the removal of the role of the LA in early years quality assessment, and many schools opting to become academies.
But one thing stays the same - children and parents need high-quality education and care. That is an ambition shared by us all.
So how will a professional-led system help you?
It will mean that that the people who are the experts, doing the work on the ground, day after day, are the ones deciding on the content and focus of continuous professional development. They will be seeking out, recruiting and training the next generation of leaders and teachers to further professionalise and improve our schools and early years provision.
Locally run CPD programmes are a great example of how schools and early years providers are already leading the system. They are designed to give leaders what they require and ask for, in order to fulfil their roles and continue to improve their settings. I know that some of you in the room may already have adopted a self-improving approach in developing programmes to enable your best leaders and practitioners to support others to improve. Nottinghamshire and Northampton are 2 excellent examples of this, offering peer mentoring schemes across their early years settings.
The CPD programmes at the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) are another great example. These are the sector’s programmes - not what the government think is needed - and they’re already proving a huge success.
There has been quite a lot of thinking on how schools can be self-improving, holding one another to account and offering support. We now want to extend this into the early years. However, we recognise this is a different context, not least because of the major role played by the PVI sector. This is one of the reasons I am here today and want to hear from you - as leaders - about how we can make this work.
And make it work we must if we are to make all provision to be outstanding for all children. At the moment there is an 18-month vocabulary gap between children from low income and high income families when they arrive at school. Many children enter formal schooling already behind and we want to close this gap. Schools working alongside private and voluntary nurseries can help change this. We know that high-quality provision is particularly important for the most disadvantaged children.
So how can we make a self-improving, birth-to-18 system a reality?
First by helping leaders and providers to make the most of the reforms to improve the quality of the workforce. Ninety per cent of the success of any organisation is the quality of its workforce. The better the workforce, the better the outcomes for children.
So we have expanded Teach First in schools and introduced Teach First for the early years - bringing even more of the brightest young graduates to work with even more of our most disadvantaged young people.
And we have built on the early years professional programme to introduce the new status of early years teacher, equivalent to qualified teacher status, attracting even more high-quality graduates into a career in early education.
We have developed a set of robust early years teachers’ standards to operate in parallel with the new teachers’ standards - identifying the essential elements that make a good teachers for children from birth to 18.
The quality of graduates entering ITT has never been higher. And from this year the entry requirements for early years teacher training will be strengthened even further with the introduction of the skills tests and will be the same as for primary teacher training.
Early years ITT will be delivered by accredited ITT providers who currently deliver QTS. This approach will locate early years teacher training with good and outstanding providers of ITT pushing up training quality even further.
It is critical to continue to improve the quality of all staff in the early years workforce. So, from now on, Ofsted will include the qualifications of staff in their judgements of early years settings.
School Direct was introduced to give schools more control over the training and development of their own workforce. The appetite for schools to become involved in initial teacher training through School Direct has been quite staggering. In the first year we had bids for 1,000 places, last year it was over 9,000 and this year schools asked us for 17,700 places including an increase in primary bids from 3,400 to 6,900.
And now we want schools and nurseries to develop the next generation of early years teachers.
We are extending School Direct to the early years for the first time - meaning that nurseries can have more involvement in the training of early years teachers.
As a first stage, 59 School Direct (early years) places have been allocated for September 2014 to 6 early years teaching schools and the large nursery chain, Bright Horizons, so this is a shared project across the maintained and private sector.
If it works out as well as we hope - and School Direct is already working very well in schools - next year will be bigger, and more schools and nurseries will be able to get involved.
This is a fundamental part of the teacher-led, self-improving system - putting you in charge of developing the next generation of teachers.
Second, as well as helping you to improve the quality of your workforce, we want schools and early years providers to support quality improvement locally - and for early years providers and schools to work more closely with each other as part of a self-improving, birth-to-18 system.
Many early years providers will already have excellent relations with local schools making the transition to primary school a slick, well-organised process.
But I would also bet that for some, transition is not as smooth as it should be for such an important and challenging change. Communication is not clear, busy people cannot find time to meet and discuss more complex children. And I am afraid some schools simply do not understand the importance of transition and discount the essential work of early years providers.
In a system led by schools and early years providers, we must break down and challenge the divides that can exist between schools and early years. In addition to observing and visiting, there is more that can be done if these boundaries are broken down. In the future we should be seeking opportunities to share expertise, resources and knowledge to improve children’s learning and achievement. And I don’t mean just that schools should pass on their insight to early years providers, I mean both ways. The more schools and early years providers are able to collaborate and work together, the better the outcomes for children.
With the reduction in some LA services, early years providers and schools need to be looking elsewhere for support. I see this as a great opportunity to develop partnerships and put early years provision at the heart of local networks. A birth-to-18, self-improving system will use the best leaders and the best professionals to support others.
We want early years providers to fully embrace their role in children’s education and to play an important part in working with others towards achieving a world-class birth-to-18 system. The expertise and experience that exists in the early years sector means they have so much to give to this approach.
It makes sense, in particular for children and families, that the work of early years and schools is interconnected and treated accordingly. Parents want to see continuity, so do children.
I would love to hear examples of where this practice is already well-established so that we can help to share more widely.
But I also recognise that early years is a very different landscape from schools and we want to give professionals the freedom and flexibility to deploy a range of methods and to decide how best to structure children’s activities throughout the day. These include a combination of teacher-led group activities where children learn to interact with each other; such as using shape sorters, using bricks and Lego to build, story-time - and free play and exploration.
This is ultimately about trusting the profession - giving professionals more responsibility for quality improvement, and putting the profession at the heart of the system. This will contribute to greater motivation, better retention and higher standards across the workforce. We know from schools what a difference it makes for teacher motivation when they work beyond the boundaries of a single organisation on peer improvement.
There are already almost 300 (291) early years specialist leaders of education supporting quality improvement. There is a growing number of early years teaching schools and alliances where early years providers are key strategic partners. These teaching schools and alliances are already developing opportunities for joint CPD and practice development. For example Bristol early years teaching consortium have designated early years specialist leaders of education that can offer support across the birth to 7 age range, including family support workers.
Teaching schools are central to the delivery of the government’s vision for a self-improving, school-led system. Teaching schools are amongst the best schools in the country. They are outstanding in their own performance and have a track record of working with others to raise standards for children beyond their own school.
Maintained nursery schools are already engaged in this vision. Sixteen nursery schools are already designated as teaching schools and over 50 more are formally linked into teaching school alliances: many of which already have strong links with their local PVI settings and childminders. This number increases still further when we include schools with registered nursery provision to over 100 teaching schools and over 1,000 more formally linked into teaching. Everton Nursery School and Family Centre, who lead the North Liverpool Teaching School Partnership and St Edmunds Nursery School and Children’s Centre, who lead the Bradford birth to 19 teaching school alliance, are great examples of this, bringing together early years providers and schools through their alliance to support, encourage and drive quality improvement locally.
We want to strengthen this even further and encourage more early years engagement in a self-improving education system, so that quality improvement is driven locally by the best leaders. Through the teaching schools research and development network, 20 teaching schools are testing and developing models to build on their existing alliances and increase early years engagement. A final evaluation report is due by the end of this year.
But we need to do more. The affordability and availability of childcare is a major barrier to work amongst parents of the under 5s. There is a strong demand for a greater number and range of nurseries providing childcare. And without suitable provision it is difficult for young families to be able to find good quality places for their children that are convenient for their journeys to work.
The government wants to make it easier for nurseries and childminders to expand by extending the planning relaxations recently introduced for state-funded schools - such as using vacant office space - to nurseries. It also wants to encourage more schools to offer nursery places for 2-year-olds and to extend the availability of childcare. Schools offer a popular and convenient option for some parents.
We all want the norm to be high-quality opportunities for peer to peer learning and improvement and we know that much of the best learning is generated by the sector for the sector. In developing a self-improving birth to18 system we need to break down the barriers preventing great practice and expertise from being shared and reciprocated. This will benefit all children entering and progressing through our education system.
So we need to be listening to and learning from early years providers. What are the barriers stopping them leading improvement across settings within a birth-to-18 system? How can we realise the benefits of such a system for settings and the families they serve? What more can we do to support early years to become an integral element of it?
It is important for all providers to think about collaboration rather than isolation or competition. To seek out opportunities to work in local partnerships with schools to develop new approaches to supporting quality improvement and school readiness. We want to see early years leaders play a full role in local partnerships to improve quality and to recruit, train and assess early years teachers.
This is a real opportunity - building upon the great work you have already done and continue to do in improving children’s lives.
I hope you will come with us on this journey to help make this vision a reality.