Elizabeth Truss speaks about 2-year-olds policy and practice

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss speaks about 2-year-olds policy and practice at the Nursery World Conference.

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

The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP

Please note that this text may not reflect the exact words of the speaker.

I am really pleased to be here, and to have the chance to outline the government’s policies in relation to 2-year-olds. I also want to speak about early years pedagogy, because it is the basis of everything that follows.

That is why our early learning programme will be open to 2-year-olds who are looked-after or whose background would make them eligible for free school meals. They will be offered 570 hours of early learning a year, which will typically be taken as 15 hours a week, but doesn’t have to be. So I want to start with a thank-you. There are promising signs that we are on track to deliver 130,000 places this September – in no small part due to the efforts of many of you in this room.

These children can then continue to benefit from early education at 3 and 4, when all children can get 15 hours of it. But we have more work to do to meet our commitment to ensure all eligible 2-year-olds get a high quality place.

This programme will be transformational. We know how important early education is. The Sutton Trust has found a 19-month vocabulary gap at age 5 between children from the poorest and most affluent families.

96% of parents already take up their child’s place for their 3- and 4-year-olds. But only 37% of 2-year-olds from the poorest 40% of families access any formal early education, compared to 78% of their richer peers.

So there is very much a social mobility imperative here. All of us recognise the unfairness of a young child’s background having a lasting impact on their life.

Scientific advances have shown us that the way a child’s brain develops in the first years of its life has a profound effect on their life chances. The gap in maths attainment between our country’s teenagers and those in Hong Kong and Singapore is already evident by the age of 5.

The MPs Andrea Leadsom, Frank Field and Graham Allen – along with George Hosking of the WAVE Trust - have all published exhaustive reports that showed how high-quality early years education makes a big difference, especially to disadvantaged children, and referred to research that shows the massive effect of a child’s experiences before they turn three – by which age the brain is 80% developed.

This is, of course, an opportunity for providers. It is a great chance for you to expand, to further support child development and improve outcomes.

We are putting funding in but we need to know that it is going to providers who will make a difference.

We are giving local authorities £525 million to fund 2-year-old places. There will be an average hourly rate of £5.09 across England. Every area will receive funding that equates to between £4.85 and £6.07 per hour. Nationally the funding compares favourably to the Daycare Trust Cost Survey 2013 which shows average hourly nursery fees in England are on average £4.26 across England. We have told local authorities to pass all available funding on to providers so that they can provide sustainable, high-quality places.

But they must be good providers.

The early education for 2-year-olds pilot showed that higher-quality settings have a positive impact on language ability at age three. In addition, across the scheme, parents typically felt that such settings had improved their parenting skills.

All of which is a reminder of how important it is that local authorities are expected to fund places in settings that are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.

Sue Gregory - Ofsted’s National Director of Early Years - has highlighted the fact that regional variations in the quality of early years provision are too wide. In some local authorities 80% of early years providers were judged good or outstanding at their last inspection, but in others it was less than 60%. I want standards to rise across the board, and not only be high in certain pockets of the country.

All the evidence shows that the No. 1 factor is people, and specifically the quality of engagement with children. The international evidence is clear. Andreas Schleicher of the OECD – who has welcomed our review into childcare practice - has said that “staff qualifications are the best predictor of the quality of early childhood education and care”.

We know that teacher-led settings with larger groups of children are widely seen as the gold standard in the system. At every age we have studied, there is a benefit to involving graduates in education, and particularly so for pre-school-age children. As last year’s NAO report on early education for 3- and 4-year-olds explained some 96% of maintained nursery schools were judged good or outstanding by Ofsted.

Settings that have a graduate leader have significantly improved outcomes, especially with language and literacy. And once again, these benefits are particularly acute for disadvantaged children.

Crucially, not only are trained teachers the most effective in their interactions with children, but their supervision of less well-qualified staff made those staff better as well.

Sue Gregory has said:

Entry requirements for teaching, particularly in English and mathematics, are being strengthened. If this level of qualification is essential for teachers, why not for the early years?

If we are serious about investing in the future, I believe that many more of those working with young children should be highly skilled and qualified to degree level. There are other countries where the majority of the early years workforce holds a degree-level qualification, unlike England where numbers are much lower. This just can’t be good enough.

She is right.

As you will be well aware, early years professionals are paid significantly less than primary school teachers, who earn £33,250 on average - a figure which compares favourably with France, where they earn £25,400, and Sweden, where they earn £23,250.

Yet childcare workers in formal settings earn £13,300, in contrast to £22,450 in Sweden and £22,100 in the Netherlands. Supervisors and managers earn only £16,850, whilst in France and the Netherlands the averages are £23,950 and £34,400 respectively.

This distance between the early years and primary schools is a mistake. It would be quite wrong to think that under-5s should have one sort of pedagogy and over-5s a completely different one. And it is wrong that early years staff are paid so much less than primary school teachers.

Increasing qualifications will meet with some resistance. This country went through the same trajectory with teaching a few decades ago. The mushrooming of teacher numbers in the 1950s and 1960s had seen a lot of inexperienced and under-qualified people enter the profession.

In the mid-80s Keith Joseph sought to improve training and development for teachers, insisting on higher standards in maths and English. His stance was not universally popular; but it was right.

Play and structured learning are not opposites and nor does one stop at age five and the other one start. Rather, they are complementary. And there are real-world examples of this.

At Woodberry Down School 9-year-olds learn fractions in a fun way in a programme known as ‘Go Fish’. I spent a good half-an-hour watching them, and they were engrossed and immensely engaged.

Elsewhere, a teacher prepared 3 water trays at differing levels, with only the top tray full. Having made guttering, hosepipes and various other objects available, the teacher challenged the children to move the water in the top tray down to the bottom tray – thus providing an excellent lesson in the theory and practice of gravity.

The best nurseries do similar, age-appropriate work for 3- and 4-year-olds. Alexandra Nursery School has a structured maths teaching programme that encourages counting at every opportunity – for example through songs and counting blocks when building a wall or ingredients when making a gingerbread man. Having got such a good head start, children are known to make significant progress when they leave the nursery.

It would also be wrong for people in schools to take the view that life doesn’t begin before the age of 5. In fact, what we have learned about the brain shows that this is very far from the truth. I think we have a lot to gain from seeing early education and primary school as a continuum rather than as 2 completely separate things.

This is the motivation behind our reforms on professional qualifications. We want to increase the number of trained teachers entering the early years. It is not a rebuke to those of you who have dedicated your lives to this profession and do not have these formal qualifications. And you are absolutely right to make the point that qualifications alone are inadequate – anyone working with children needs a whole range of other skills.

Early years teachers, who will specialise in early childhood development, will face the same entry requirements and need to pass the same skills tests as trainee school teachers.

I also want those working with children to have a good understanding of proven theories. Attachment theory would be one of these. It is well-established that secure bonds between children and adults provide safety, security and protection and also help children learn to socialise and form new relationships with their peers.

As part of raising standards among professionals below graduate level here, people will train at level 3 to become early years educators. The National College for Teaching and Leadership will set out which rigorous qualifications are needed to earn that title. Being an early years educator will require at least a C in maths and English GCSE and the qualification will be the contemporary equivalent of the highly respected Nursery Nurse Diploma (which was discontinued in the mid-1990s).

Just as there is no contradiction between structured, teacher-led learning and play, there is no contradiction between education and enjoyment! One of the great joys of young children is their sense of wonder and curiosity about the world.

It is still concerning that there are so few teachers employed in early years and that 70% of settings do not take advantage of the higher ratios and graduate leadership. Our analysis suggests that it is affordable for nurseries but sometimes there is a resistance to the idea of larger groups.

That is why I am pleased that Ofsted has confirmed today that qualifications will be a critical in how they judge a setting – with a view to getting many more qualified graduates into the sector. Ofsted has already adjusted the focus to be more heavily upon outcomes. Today Ofsted is announcing a greater focus in their inspection regime on qualifications, because it considers this a key to making it happen.

Settings will be judged against a new framework from September, including a ‘requires improvement’ category. Ofsted proposes to re-inspect them within 24 months if they are judged to fall into that category.

HMIs will be looking for highly qualified staff and Ofsted will clarify what it expects to see. It is also recruiting inspectors who can work across both primary and EY settings. Standards and requirements for HMIs will be as tough as for the settings themselves.

Since September Ofsted has started keeping records of qualifications held by staff, which will be updated at every inspection.

I welcome this new emphasis.

The independent charity Teach First has done great work in encouraging top graduates to become teachers and so I am very pleased that from September recruits will begin working with children as young as 3, with more trainees beginning in September 2014.

Over 2 years trainees will learn about teaching and leadership and undertake coursework and on-the-job training.

I am absolutely clear that – although we should have strong accountability – we should give high quality providers more autonomy. Just as we are doing in schools where academies and free schools have greater freedom, so I want to see the same for the best practitioners in the early years sector. After all, there are lots of good ways to do early education - and although poor settings quite often look the same, 2 outstanding settings rarely do.

In his report for the Department for Education on evidence-based learning, Dr Ben Goldacre wrote:

I think there is a huge prize waiting to be claimed by teachers. By collecting better evidence about what works best, and establishing a culture where this new evidence is used as a matter of routine, we can improve outcomes for children, and increase professional independence.

Too often moves by government or local authorities are interpreted as directions. I am clear that whereas government should set the ‘what’ and hold providers to account, it is for teachers and professionals to determine the ‘how’.

I want to see confident practitioners, availing themselves of the best available evidence to deliver the early years foundation stage (EYFS) in the way they see fit, so long as outcomes for children are good. I also want to see practitioners well-versed in the evidence.

This is very compatible with best practice that Sue Gregory outlined this week. We are seeking out good interaction between adults and children as well as encouragement for children to work with each other.

For example, Toad Hall Nursery Group has family rooms in their nurseries, similar to a model which is popular in Scandinavia. Children aged between 2 and 5 learn and play together. Not only is the development of younger children boosted, but the older children behave better.

I went to France this week to look again at how they do things there. There is a strong focus on structured learning, led by a qualified professional. I saw a teacher lead 8 2-year-olds in putting together a series of plastic discs for a good 20 minutes. I was captivated – and so were they. In fact, the 1 boy who had left to go and play with Lego came back because he felt he was missing out.

I also saw 26 3-year-olds all following the steps of a dance teacher.

There is a real culture in French nurseries of socialisation and interaction, rather than excessive tailoring to each child, which can mean that they miss out on the chance to take part in a purposeful activity together.

There is also a premium on manners.

In the best French nurseries that I saw, the children are recognisably happy and confident, and eager to learn. I saw teachers working very effectively on the kids’ vocabulary. They are even taught logic!

And there is a comparatively seamless experience between early education and formal schooling.

For their part, the French have also found much to like about nurseries in this country and also our regulatory structures through Ofsted. This exchange of ideas and best practice on an international level is thoroughly welcome.

There are various myths about practice which sometimes can prevent the development of different ways of doing things and inhibit professionals developing their knowledge. It can also prevent new providers entering the sector with new ideas.

So I want to clarify the position of the government. The EYFS is a framework that sets out the standards expected for children’s learning and development, and for their safety and wellbeing. It is not a straitjacket that requires professionals to operate in one particular way. And beyond the EYFS, there is no central guidance, because we expect professionals to take the lead – just as we do throughout the education system.

For example, Development Matters is not statutory – it just outlines one possible approach and helps underpin inspections, rather than dictating. And we are reforming the role of local authorities so that their focus is on the champions of children and parents, not on setting out methodologies that nurseries should follow. And local authorities will no longer be able to withhold funding for not following their way of doing things – it really is up to you.

From September Ofsted will have a revised framework for the early years. This framework will be more focused on child outcomes than any specific methodology. This will give early years professionals more freedom to tailor teaching to the specific needs of the children in their care.

Let me dispel a few other common myths. These are things I have heard visiting nurseries that they tell me they are expected to do. I want to point out that they are required by neither government nor Ofsted:

Free-flow play between outdoors and indoors is not a requirement and not something Ofsted is looking for.

There is not a requirement to have a certain amount of child-led activity. There is no reason why children should not be part of structured groups and be encouraged to interact with each other.

There is no requirement to fill in learning journeys. For each individual child there are just 2 pieces of writing: the 2-and-a-half year check and the EYFSP.

And Clare Tickell in her report on the EYFS made very clear her view that adult direction was not inconsistent with the requirement of the EYFS for planned, purposeful play. She said that:

Adults should be modelling, demonstrating and questioning. To exclude elements of teaching from the early years would increase the risk of children not being ready for the move to key stage 1.

Of course that also means exercising professional judgement according to the children’s stage of development, or about the time of day things happen, or about what group structures are appropriate, or where a child may need something else.

To this end, we’re working with Ofsted to make sure that all documents reflect this approach.

With an increase in quality will come increased freedom for professionals – backed up by an improved and clearer inspection regime in which Ofsted will take the lead and ensure better accountability.

The whole of government must be concerned about child development, and work together towards better outcomes. The Department for Education and the Department of Health are working together to implement an integrated review at age 2-and-a-half. The Healthy Child Programme already requires a health review at age 2, 2-and-a-half, and since September 2012 in the new EYFS there has been a requirement for parents to be provided with a written summary at age 2 of their children’s progress in the EYFS prime areas of learning. By 2015, we want to integrate these 2 processes.

Our drive for higher standards is a recognition of the fact that the area in which you work is of immense importance. The stakes could scarcely be higher when we are talking about 2-year-olds, all of whom are infinitely precious and all of whom – no matter where they come – deserve the very best start in life.

Thank you.

Published 19 April 2013