Early years teachers: what do they offer?

Charlie Taylor's speech for Nursery World Business Summit on 12 November 2014.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Read Charlie Taylor's speech at the Nursery World conference

Thank you very much for inviting me today. I am delighted to be here. Staff working in the early years workforce do a remarkable and essential job educating and caring for babies and young children. I want to talk to you about the early years teacher training programme, why I think it has been successful, and to encourage you to work with us further to drive up standards within the sector.

Ninety per cent of the success of any business is a result of the quality of the staff, and nurseries and day care are no different. When I was a headteacher, the most effective part of my special school was the nursery. Not because of what I did, but because it was run by a brilliant practitioner, Helen Rees.

The progress of the early years teacher training programme

We have come a long way in a short time since the introduction of the Early Years Professional Status in 2006 and change has been rapid. Eight years ago there was no specialist graduate leadership in early years, no early years professionals and no early years teachers. I am delighted we now have over 15,000 graduates who have successfully completed their specialist training and are able to work as early years teachers, making a difference to young children.

This investment in graduate leadership in early years is a huge achievement by everyone involved – trainees, training providers and employers who encouraged their staff to undertake the training and who have also chosen to employ early years teachers. The early years workforce is becoming better qualified with an increasing number of graduates in the system. Forty-two per cent of providers now have teaching staff with either qualified teacher status (QTS) or Early Years Professional Status, working directly with 3 and 4 year-olds - up from 32% in 2009.

Graduate leadership in early years has developed rapidly. The introduction of early years teachers in 2013 built on the achievements of the Early Years Professional Status programme. We introduced new teachers’ standards for early years which lead to the award of early years teacher status. For September 2014, for the first time, the entry requirements are exactly the same as those required to enter primary teacher training. This includes successful completion of the professional skills tests in literacy and numeracy. From this September early years teacher training is being delivered exclusively by accredited providers who deliver initial teacher training leading to QTS.

We want more young children to have the support of an early years teacher, but we know that many providers find it challenging to find the money and the time to support their graduate staff to go onto this next level. To help employers to train an early years teacher, we have introduced funding of £14,000 for each trainee on the employment-based route. This funding is for the training course fees of up to £7,000, with the rest being used by the employer to contribute to supply cover, salary or other support.

For eligible trainees who are not currently employed there are also bursaries paid at the same rate as those for primary teacher training.

We also brought in School Direct to the early years for the first time this September. School Direct was introduced to give schools more control over the training and development of their workforce. We now want nurseries and schools to become more involved in training the next generation of early years teachers.

A nursery can become a lead organisation and partner with a university or other training provider to deliver early years teacher training. The nursery recruits the trainees, provides placements and can tailor the training to its own needs. This is a great opportunity for nurseries and schools to help train early years teachers of the future and I will say more about this later.

So what are the benefits of employing an early years teacher

I believe early years teachers bring huge benefits:

Firstly and most importantly early years teachers make a difference for young children. The evidence is clear that teacher-led provision leads to better outcomes for children. The Graduate Leader Fund research in 2011 showed nurseries with a leader with Early Years Professional Status made significant improvements in quality for pre-school children. More recently, research led by Sandra Mathers for the Nuffield Foundation looked at provision for disadvantaged 3 and 4 year olds and showed that where private, voluntary and independent providers (PVIs) employ graduates, quality is higher and the quality gap between settings in disadvantaged and more affluent areas is narrower. This research makes the case for increasing the number of early years teachers a compelling one.

High-quality pre-school is especially beneficial for the most disadvantaged children. There is a shocking vocabulary gap of up to 19 months between the most disadvantaged children and their better off peers by the time they arrive at school. This gap remains hard to close throughout their schooling. Ofsted reports the stark fact that more than one third of children start school without sufficient communication, language and literacy skills. This proportion can rise to almost half of children in poorer areas. Early years teachers are helping to change these statistics.

A couple of weeks ago I visited Pear Trees Day Nursery in Chelmsford, one of the Seymour House chain of nurseries which have all been rated Outstanding by Ofsted. The nursery employs an early years teacher and also a trainee teacher. The staff spoke passionately about the benefits of early years teachers for children. The trainee teacher, Natasha, had a law degree but chose to train as an early years teacher because she wants to inspire and encourage children to enjoy learning, give them the best start possible and move them successfully on to school.

This is not unusual, as we know that many trainees have changed careers as they know working with babies and young children is a rewarding and challenging career. Bright Horizons have recently recruited 5 graduate trainees from a wide range of backgrounds – the law, immigration and border control, elder care management and customer services for Marks and Spencer and Debenhams. What these career-changers all had in common was the desire to make a difference for young children.

Secondly, early years teachers make a difference to the nursery team. Carol Hedditch-Grey, the manager of Pear Trees, talked passionately about the impact of early years teachers and how they have inspired team members and acted as fantastic role models. Many other nurseries describe the enthusiasm, skills and expertise that early years teachers bring to their settings.

Thirdly, early years teachers make a difference for parents, who all want what is best for their child. Parents should expect the highest quality. They recognise and understand the title of teacher and are likely to have more confidence in a team of high-quality staff educating and caring for their children.

Finally, early years teachers help boost the status of the early years workforce. There is now one title of teacher across the early years and schools. Over time, this will influence the perception of parents, colleagues in the wider children’s workforce and society as a whole, and improve the professional identity of the workforce.

What then are the challenges?

These are strong benefits for employing an early years teacher. But I understand that this is not without its challenges and some of you will be thinking:

What about pay and conditions – if the entry requirements are the same as primary teacher training and the training and standards are as rigorous, why aren’t early years teachers paid the same as primary school teachers?

All the changes we have made are to raise quality and to promote the status of early years teacher in the education system. However the Government cannot set pay and conditions for all early years providers. I think it would go down very badly if we tried to tell private businesses in the PVI sector what to pay their staff and what conditions of service to offer.

Others will be thinking:

Why can’t early years teachers have QTS? – this is a well-rehearsed debate and I know not all of you will support our position on this. The simple answer is that QTS can only be given to those who can demonstrate they meet the Teachers’ Standards. Early years teacher training is the only teacher training focussed on the birth to 5 age range and the Teachers’ Standards for Early Years were specifically designed for this age group. These standards are just as rigorous as the Teachers’ Standards, but they focus on teaching and supporting childhood development in the early years foundation stage.

The Department for Education is not minded to change this position so the focus now must be on making the case for early years teachers as a profession, with robust standards, making a significant difference to the lives of children.

I also believe employers have a big role to play:

We want more young children to have the support of an early years teacher and I know many of you have been supportive of this approach. We have some way to go before all young children have access to a graduate teacher. So employers have a big role to play in improving the quality of the workforce – developing talent and growing their own staff. Almost 50% of the training places are for graduates who are already employed in early years settings and we would encourage employers to take advantage of the increased training funding available and support graduates to apply for the training.

We also want more nurseries and schools to become involved in School Direct and on 3 November 2014 we published a tender, for the second year, to select lead organisations who want to support this innovative new approach. I am really grateful to those of you here today who are advertising and promoting this opportunity. Please do take a look at the tender and respond by 1 December 2014 if you are interested.

Bright Horizons already have a number of early years professionals and early years teachers working in their organisation. We are very pleased that they are taking part in the first year of School Direct (early years), pioneering and testing the approach for the PVI sector. When they were asked if they would be interested in testing the School Direct approach and become involved in recruiting and training the best graduates to become the very best early years teachers, their response was, “why would we not?” In a short space of time they recruited 5 exceptional graduates. They developed a partnership with Kingston University, who embraced the idea of working with the private sector. For both parties it was a leap into the unknown that required a relationship of trust and openness. Training with Bright Horizons gives trainees the reassurance of a job on gaining their early years teacher status and a world of opportunity within the organisation; training with Kingston University gives them access to inspiring tutors, a world class university experience and a Master of Arts (MA) pathway.

I would now like to invite Kate Hobbs, Nursery Manager at Bright Horizons Acorns Nursery in Surrey to share her experience with you.
Kate talks for 5 minutes.
Thank you Kate

Early years in the self-improving school led system

As well as improving the quality of the workforce we also want early years providers and schools to work more closely together and support quality improvement locally. My aim is for the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) to support the development of a world-class birth to 18 education system that is led by the best schools and early years providers.

We must break down and challenge the divides that can exist. The more schools and early years providers are able to collaborate and work together, the better the outcomes for children. I know that many of you find it difficult to meet the costs of continuing professional development (CPD) for staff – partnerships both with schools and with other providers can help to increase purchasing power.

There are already 400 early years specialist leaders of education, along with a growing number of teaching schools and alliances where early years providers are strategic partners. These teaching schools and alliances are already developing opportunities for joint CPD and practice development. Teaching schools are central to the delivery of the government’s vision for a self-improving school led system. 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. Nineteen nursery schools are designated as teaching schools and over 100 more are formally linked into teaching school alliances, many have strong links with their local PVI settings and child-minders. 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 alliances. Last month I visited Tanglewood nursery and teaching school that has a specialism in language development. Tanglewood has been reaching out to local PVI settings and helping them to support children with low-level language skills.

School and PVI partnerships are already happening on the ground as professionals know that it makes sense to work together to support children in their community. But there is much more to do to strengthen this. Twenty teaching schools are testing and developing models to build on their existing alliances and increase early years engagement.

To accelerate this partnership approach, in September 2014, £5 million was announced to support early years quality improvement. This is a great opportunity for teaching schools and PVIs to work together to improve provision, particularly the quality of provision accessed by disadvantaged children. We have received over 140 expressions of interest for this money with some exciting ideas to overcome challenges in local areas.

The introduction of the early years pupil premium next April is another opportunity to consider innovative ways of working in partnership, perhaps by using this additional funding to employ an early years teacher or pooling funding to share an early years teacher between settings.

I am convinced that partnership and collaboration is the way forward to improve quality for children. We need to consider what more we can do to support early years providers to become an integral part of a birth to 18 education system with schools and nursery settings supporting and learning from each other.

We want early years teachers and leaders to be part of this vision as they will play an essential part in working with others towards achieving a world class, birth to 18 system.

I understand the challenges for PVIs and nurseries, but I am also in no doubt that we have the best workforce in the sector that we have ever had. And with your support, commitment and determination we will reach the highest possible standards for all young children in this country.

Published 12 November 2014