Elizabeth Truss speaks about early years teachers

Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss speaks at Policy Exchange about the quality of teaching in the early years.

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

Children reading

Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.

I felt I could only show my face at Policy Exchange if I had delivered on your excellent report last year - early years pupil premium and Teach First in early years - so phew!

To misquote Beatrice and Sidney Webb - I’ve seen the future and it is in Bolton.

Jack Hatch head of the St Bede’s Academy Group took me on a whirlwind tour of the operation. I visited both Little Rainbows in Leigh, a day nursery, and Baby Bede in Bolton - which operates in tandem with the St Bede’s school nursery. Jack who also has a nursery in Wigan, is opening a childminder agency in Bolton this September. There is also talk of expanding 1 of the nurseries up the age range to open a new primary.

There is comprehensive training and progression for all of the team - who burst with enthusiasm.

Parents have flexibility of slots between 7.30am in the morning and 6pm in the evening, from 15 hours a week to full time. All of the operations are Ofsted good or outstanding. And parents paying for extra hours pay less than two thirds of the cost of an average place in the North West.

This is a fantastic example of how a teacher-led operation, with no boundaries between different types of provision can mean great quality and value for children and parents.

Mind the gap

At a recent cross-government meeting, I was asked - what does success in the early years look like?

At the moment, there is an 18 month vocabulary gap between children on low incomes and children on high incomes when they arrive at school.

Success must be: there is no gap.

This is possible. And it’s what we’re working to achieve.

As Sir Michael Wilshaw said last week:

Many children enter formal schooling already behind. Once behind, their disadvantage often becomes entrenched….[but] there is nothing inevitable about the link between poverty and failure.

Focusing on quality

We have been getting rid of unnecessary red tape, prescription and bureaucratic box-ticking - because it is outcomes that matter.

And as Sir Michael says, for too long we have been stuck in an alphabet soup of terminology.

A child is a child - whether they come from wealth or poverty they need the same nurture, love and learning in the early years.

A teacher is a teacher - regardless of whether they are teaching a 14-year-old the cosine rule or helping a 3-year-old speak in full sentences.

Of course teaching in the early years needs to be age appropriate. Sir Michael Wilshaw has rightly highlighted that when parents count the stairs as they carry their child to bed, when they read a toddler stories and sing nursery rhymes, when they guide them so they can play well with other children, it is teaching.

And that is what happens in high quality nurseries. It’s not about starting school work at an early age. No one in this debate believes that. It’s about developing the language, communication and social skills so that children are ready to learn when they are at school.

And the way success is judged has to be the outcome. Previously different providers have been on different frameworks, school nurseries assessed in a different way from day nurseries and childminders. That isn’t right - and I am pleased there now will be a level playing field.

I say to nurseries and childminders whether you are in the state or private or voluntary sector, in a school or in a chain, in an agency or independent - what matters is that you provide safe and high quality childcare that meets the needs of all children - and doesn’t allow any to fall behind.

We value the important work you do equally.

In future you will be held to account on the same basis.

School nurseries

I agree with Sir Michael that some of the best quality early education can be found in schools. We know that teacher-led care leads to the best outcomes, and we know that in deprived areas, 41% of staff in school nurseries are teachers with support, which compares to only 10% in private nurseries.

That’s why we think schools should lead improvement in early years - working with all providers - and we are making it easier for school nurseries and high quality day nurseries to expand.

To listen to some of the debate last week you’d think that school nurseries were a new invention.

In fact, the first school nursery was open by 1823; the Butler Education Act in 1944, made it clear that local authorities should provide nursery schools, or, nursery classes for all children whose parents wanted them. So we have a long and proud history of good quality school nurseries.

A third of early years places are in schools - and in some London boroughs it’s over 80%.

But for too long, it’s been difficult for schools to open new nursery provision and to provide the flexibility modern families need.

Some local authorities have said “we already have enough places in our borough” and have blocked schools (and other providers) that want to open a nursery.

The vast majority of school nurseries offer only a standard 9 to 12 or 12 to 3 slot. Not easy for a parent who works 2 days a week or works shifts, trying to combine childcare with work and other commitments.

So we’ve made it the case that every school - local authority, academy or free school (independent schools can do this already) can now lower the age range to cater for 3- and 4-year-olds without having to go through a legal process or submit burdensome business cases; and can open a nursery for the whole day from 8am to 6pm.

Under this government, every school in the country has been given the power to open a nursery.

That means school nurseries can offer the free 15 hours of care flexibly for parents - for example, offering three 5 hour slots to suit a part time job.

I know that Jack Hatch from St Bede’s offers a deal to parents at his nursery, giving them the free hours plus lunch for just an extra £1.40 - an affordable proposition for many parents. And when that lunch involves homemade pasties with Lancashire cheese - obviously with healthy veg too - I know I’m up for it!

We have also enabled school nurseries to extend their provision to 2-year-olds, and they can allow parents to use their funded hours flexibly within that.

Like Evelyn Street School in Warrington, another nursery I visited in the North West, which offers top-quality provision from 8am to 6pm for children of 2-, 3- and 4-years-old - giving parents the flexibility to pick and choose the sessions that work best for their family.

Helping private nurseries too

We also want to see more great quality private and voluntary nurseries as well.

Purnima will rightly point out that quality is improving. I recognise the efforts of providers to increase the level of qualifications. There is huge passion and commitment from staff who are working towards early years teacher status - it is a very heartening part of my postbag.

We do want to see good quality private providers expand. Which is why we have removed the planning restrictions which are one of the biggest headaches facing providers who want to expand or set up from scratch.

As of yesterday, it will be quicker, simpler and cheaper for nurseries to open in buildings not currently used for childcare - making it possible to convert office without planning applications.

This is a huge opportunity to make childcare more accessible for parents and children - just think of the opportunities for businesses to offer onsite nurseries for their employees.

And if high-quality private providers want to expand by delivering more government funded early education places, we have made that easier too.

Before they would need to be approved by a separate local authority check. We’ve ended that.

A level playing field and a system that is ‘Better Together’

In its first separate early years report to Parliament, Ofsted included school nurseries, private nurseries childminders - this is good - previously seen as separate. I am very firmly of the view that early years are better together.

We want teachers and nurseries in the driving seat of improvement. As we see in schools, we want to see strong providers working with weaker providers to improve practice, and a school-led system.

We’ve already got a network of teaching schools - outstanding schools working with neighbouring schools to provide top-quality staff training and development - will be playing a much larger role in the early years and they will reach out to all providers.

Some are already doing this brilliantly - like St Bede’s, which I mentioned earlier. And Bristol, where in March last year, a consortium of 3 nursery schools with children’s centres were awarded teaching school designation, working closely with the primary teaching schools in the area with the local colleges and universities.

The lead teachers are drawn from the nursery schools and from private and voluntary sector providers. The consortium provides a vast array of proven training and support packages. Over 800 practitioners benefited last year, helping close the gap in early years outcomes in Bristol.

We now have over 100 teaching schools with nurseries and over 1,000 more schools with nurseries formally linked into teaching school alliances. We have 16 nursery schools that are teaching schools.

But we want to strengthen those links even further and make them more widely available.

So I’m delighted to announce that 20 teaching schools are establishing new links with early years providers in their area.

On a national level the NDNA and 4children have been sharing the best ways of deploying teachers whether or not the nursery is in a school or run by a private provider.

Working together, driving up standards together; building a self-improving system for children from birth right through to 18 - led by teaching schools and nurseries.

School Direct (early years)

And we don’t just want to schools and nurseries to lead training and support. We want you to develop the next generation of early years teachers. I can announce we are extending School Direct to the early years for the first time - meaning that nurseries will have the ability to train early years teachers at the “Play Doh–face”.

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, 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 better, and I want many more schools and nurseries 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 talent.

Early years teachers

But one of the most important ways to drive up standards is making sure that early years have more top-quality staff.

I want to say to those nurseries who don’t have high quality staff, and struggle to recruit - we want to help you get the staff and support you need.

So we’ve improved the specialised training for early years teachers; and introduced special Teachers’ Standards and the same rigorous entry requirements as primary teacher training. We have had a 25% increase in places this year because of high demand from students.

We are offering generous bursaries for trainees on the graduate entry route; and giving incentives of £14,000 per trainee to employers who support their graduate staff getting trained.

We are also offering bursaries of £3,000 for top quality apprentices to train as early years educators.

Teach First in the early years

The other way to bring the best graduates into early years is through Teach First, and I’m glad we’ve got an example here today.

Last year - 16 bright Teach First recruits started a 2-year training programme to give them an understanding of working with children from birth to 3. I can announce that from this summer, we are expanding the programme to around 50 more graduates. This will help provide early years with passionate, dedicated ambassadors and leaders for the future.

Max [Gregory, on the panel] will be able to tell us more about his experiences at Napier in a minute - so first, let me report that his headteacher called Max and his colleague “outstanding teachers who inspire and challenge children to achieve their best…[and] make a significant contribution to the school in raising standards”.

Last week, Sir Michael set out 4 challenges for government - about the 2-year-old offer, pupil premium, admissions, and streamlining regulation.

Tax free childcare is worth up to £2,000 per child and for working families on the lowest incomes up to 85% of childcare costs are to be met under universal credit.

More than 100,000 low income 2-year-olds are now in high-quality places thanks to the 2-year-old programme.

And our early years pupil premium - £50 million in 2015 to 2016 - will give providers extra money for disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds - this links the 2-year-old programme to the school pupil premium.

Finally, we are making the system much simpler, easier to understand for parents, and helping nurseries to invest in quality whilst keeping prices in line with what parents can afford.

Costs are stabilising. For the first time in 12 years - the costs of childcare in England are falling, after taking into account inflation. Compare for example the cost of nursery places for 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. Flat in England - rising by 8% in Scotland and 13% in Wales.

Quality is rising and an immense amount of effort is going in to improving practice by all providers and using funding more efficiently and effectively.

But there’s still further to go.

As Sir Michael said,

the most important measure of success for the early years sector is whether the poorest children are doing as well as their better off peers by the time they start school.

There should be no more gap. There should be no 5-year-olds already 18 months behind.

This is why we need a teacher-led, self-improving system which is judged on its outcomes.

By working together, we can achieve it - and eliminate that gap for good.

Published 7 April 2014