Transforming the early years workforce

Charlie Taylor's speech for National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) conference on 19 June 2014.

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

Charlie Taylor

Transforming the early years workforce: Leadership and improvement aspirations for the early years workforce of the future, the journey to get there and how to make early years a career of choice.

Thank you very much for inviting me here today. Last year I was due to speak at this conference but I was unfortunately in hospital so I am very pleased to fulfil my commitment to Purnima despite being a year late.

The first speech I made about our role at the National College for Teaching and Leadership, in supporting nurseries and day-care was at a NDNA event last September. It is great to be back to talk about the progress that has been made since then.

May I briefly pay tribute to the outstanding leadership of NDNA provided by Purnima. You travel the length and breadth of the country talking to providers, lobbying politicians and appearing in the media in order that the voice of the early years sector is heard loudly and clearly across the country. And you do it with great charm, patience and the utter determination that seems to be a hall mark of people who work in the early years.

We at NCTL look forward to continuing to work with Purnima and NDNA to achieve our shared vision of a dynamic childcare market, delivering high quality early education all over the country, for all types of families.

Events put on by NDNA provide opportunities for colleagues to meet, network and share ideas and they 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 in Hillingdon including First Steps, our nursery, which supported some of the most troubled children and families in West London.

I was enormously proud of our nursery, that did a staggering job under the leadership of the remarkable Helen Rees, one of the most dedicated, hard-working and brilliant teachers I have ever worked with. Helen has that restless search for improvement, the sense that however good things are they can always get better, and an absolute commitment to the children in her care.

It is people like Helen, people like you, the experts, who should take the lead in the development of a self-improving, professional-led 0 to 18 system.

Today I want to talk to you about how I believe early years providers and schools can work together to create a world class education system. I also want to talk about how we can make the early years a career of choice. My aim is for NCTL is 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 all our children.

The great privilege of this job as Chief Executive of the National College is the opportunity I have to visit nurseries and schools and hear from remarkable leaders across the country.

Yesterday I visited Everton Nursery School and Family Centre, that leads the North Liverpool Teaching School Partnership led by the remarkable head teacher Dr Lesley Curtis. At their Ofsted inspection in May 2014 the nursery was rated outstanding in all categories. The report puts the success of the school quite simply: “Children make an exceptional start to their school life because teaching is outstanding”.

But Everton is much more than an outstanding school and family centre. It is, I believe, a template for education in England in the future. In March 2013 Everton was granted Teaching School status along with its four partner primary schools, and since then it is quite remarkable what has been achieved.

It is a brilliant example of the impact early years leaders can have locally. It is offering a wide range of support including:

  • Initial teacher training through School Direct
  • School improvement through school-to-school support
  • Research and development
  • Continuous professional development and leadership

This year Everton has taken the opportunity to be one of the first to deliver School Direct (Early Years) with 15 places specifically for early years teachers.

They are also working on research programmes with the University of Cumbria.

On top of that they successfully deploy national and specialist leaders of education to support other nursery schools and schools in the EYFS. With this support, one particular school moved from special measures to good. Everton is breaking down the artificial boundaries that still continue between nurseries and mainstream schools. And constantly challenging the perception, that, I’m sorry to say, still exists, that says schools can’t learn anything from the early years.

Everton is also the national coordinator for 20 teaching schools alliances who are developing local hubs to bring together a range of early years providers jointly to develop and improve practice.

Finally, they offer a range of high quality early years CPD courses. In particular they are focussing on the essential interaction between members of staff and children. How they ask questions, how can they get their children talking, listening and responding, and how improving the quality of staff is the most important way to improve outcomes for children.

The focus on speaking and listening is a central component of the school where so many children, in this deprived area of Liverpool, come in with significant difficulties with language.

Now I understand that not all nurseries will have the capacity of Everton, but many of you have a huge amount of expertise to share, and any nursery from the private and voluntary sector and the maintained sector, can become involved in a teaching school alliance. And I would urge you to consider this as a way of sharing your expertise and receiving support from a wider network of colleagues.

At the Nursery Awards tonight you will see many examples of excellent practice being recognised from across the country.

The role of NCTL is not to tell you how to run a professional-led system, there is no way that the government can know what is needed or what must be done in different parts of the country. But we will continue to offer the support to help you to take more control and responsibility of the system and develop your workforce to become even better.

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 local authority in early years, quality assessment, and changes in the Ofsted inspection regime. I am sure also that many of you will be working hard in challenging timescales to deliver the new early education entitlement for disadvantaged 2-year-olds.

But one thing stays the same - children and parents need high quality early 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 two excellent examples of this, offering peer mentoring schemes across their early years settings.

The CPD programmes at the NDNA such as the maths champions are another great example.

Graduate early years professionals have been recruited as local maths champions to support other staff in developing both their own skills, and the maths skills of the children they work with. These maths champions have worked hard to gain the confidence of nursery staff needing support. The project has developed resources as well as signposting staff to further education colleges providing GCSE maths. The project has proved to be very popular and the confidence levels in maths, of the practitioners involved, have increased.

This project is now in its second year. And now English champions will also be introduced, building on the success of the maths champions and using a similar format. 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, I 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 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 must close this gap. Schools working alongside private and voluntary nurseries can help to 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 professional-led system a reality?

First by helping leaders and providers to make the most of the reforms to improve the quality of their staff in the early years. 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 at graduate level we have expanded Teach First in schools and introduced Teach First for the early years. This has brought even more of the brightest young graduates to work with our most disadvantaged children. There are already 16 top graduates on the programme and we recently announced an increase to 50 places for this July.

But this is not just about the numbers, it is about raising the profile of the early years. And saying this is a career that can and should appeal to the brightest and the best.

And we have built on the success of 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 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 making it 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, now OFSTED will include the qualifications of staff in their judgements of early years settings. They will also look at how staff knowledge, qualifications, training and expertise impacts on their practice and children’s learning and development.

We want more young children to have the support of an early years teacher. All the evidence suggests that graduate-led nurseries achieve the best outcomes for children. This is particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, as there is strong evidence to show they have the most to gain from good-quality early years provision. The recent research from the Nuffield Foundation (1) found that employing graduate teachers in PVI nurseries significantly raised quality in disadvantaged areas.

I know many of you have been very supportive of employing early years teachers. Therefore our aim is to attract more graduates into early years teacher training. Recruitment to the early years teacher programme was strong last year and I am delighted that over 600 trainees have already completed their training and achieved early years teacher status, and many more are nearing completion. These join over 13,300 who have already achieved Early Years Professional Status.

To support more employers to recruit and train an early years teacher we have introduced an employer incentive this year of £14,000 per trainee on the graduate employment based training route which can be used to support the £7,000 course fees, and a contribution to supply costs and salaries.

Latest data (2) shows that around a third of non-local-authority-run, full day care settings employ at least one graduate with early years professional status, so there is still a long way to go before all young children have access to a graduate teacher. I would encourage all employers to take advantage of this increased training funding.

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. This is a shared project across the maintained and the 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 early years teachers.

To improve qualifications at level 3 we have developed robust criteria for new early years educator qualifications. Work is progressing very well and NCTL and Ofqual have already approved the first seven qualifications submitted by awarding organisations. These I am delighted to say, are of a high standard and will be available for September 2014.

To increase the literacy and numeracy skills of the future workforce all entrants to early years educator training courses from September 2014 will be expected to have a GCSE at grade C or above in English and maths. Parents trust nurseries to help their children learn to speak and to add up.

A more skilled workforce will increase the quality of support for children particularly in developing communication, language, literacy, and mathematical skills. This will ensure that they are ready to learn and thrive at school. Those holding an early years qualification at level 3 can, under the EYFS, lead and manage nurseries, so it is especially important that they have good literacy and numeracy skills

I know this change is challenging, and some of you are concerned that this may reduce the number of learners on level 3 courses, and therefore those entering the workforce at this level. However, many of you have told us that you support this development, as it will increase the quality and status of your workforce, and improve the support for children. Some of you indeed already require these GCSEs.

The current workforce is not affected by this change, but there are opportunities to access funding to achieve English and maths GCSE, if current employees wish to do so. The government is committed to improving levels of literacy and numeracy. It has maintained entitlements to fully funded English and maths provision, that will support progression to the standard of a good GCSE for all adult learners.

I hope you will continue to encourage your existing workforce to improve their skills. Projects, such as the maths and English Champions are ideal vehicles for this. There are many brilliant practitioners in early years who, with the right support, can progress in their career and we must encourage them to do so.

Up until August 2014 we still have bursaries available to level 3 apprentices who have secured English and maths GCSEs at grade C or above.

We all want to make early years a career of choice. The first 5 years of life are critical and young children deserve the best possible support. These reforms have the potential to transform the workforce by attracting the best quality graduates as early years teachers. And high calibre level 3 recruits with the new early years educator qualifications.

Second , as well as helping you to improve the quality of your workforce, we want schools and early years providers to support improvement locally. 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 of you, transition is not as smooth as it should be, for such an important and challenging change. Communication is not clear and 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 that is done in the early years.

In a system led by early years providers and schools, we must break down and challenge the divides that still exist. In addition to observing and visiting, there is more that can be done if these walls come 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 just mean 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.

I know that the NDNA is doing work through a grant from the DfE to broker partnerships between PVI providers and schools. For example, providing practical examples of working together on delivering 8-6 nursery offers for parents, or on the use of graduates to deliver high-quality childcare at affordable cost. Events over the autumn and winter, open to PVI and schools, practitioners, and managers, will be looking at innovative and effective local models for this sort of joint working and learning.

With the reduction in some local authority 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 embrace fully 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.

And for parents and children it is essential that the early years and schools are working together providing seamless, co-ordinated services, particularly for the most disadvantaged families.

I would love to hear examples of where this practice is already well-established so that we can help to share more widely.

This is ultimately about trusting the profession – giving professionals more responsibility for improving quality, 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 who 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. They are some of the very 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 these already 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 teaching.

St Edmunds Nursery School and Children’s Centre, that leads the Bradford birth to 19 teaching school alliance, is a great examples of this, bringing together early years providers and schools through their alliance, to support, encourage and drive local improvements in quality.

We want to strengthen this even further and encourage more early years engagement in a self-improving education system, so that improvements are driven locally by the best leaders. To support this we have commissioned 20 teaching schools, through the research and development network, to test and develop local early years hubs. They will engage a range of early years providers in professional dialogue, practice sharing and development.

This will increase the transfer of knowledge across and between schools and early years providers. Some common research themes that have already emerged are: transitions, school readiness and effective practitioner networks – something I am sure early years providers can expertly contribute to.

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 child minders to expand by extending the planning relaxations recently introduced for state-funded schools - such as using vacant office space - to nurseries.

The government also wants to use our schools better and encourage more schools to offer nursery places for 2 year-olds as well as 3 and 4 year-olds. It has made it easier for every school to open a nursery for the whole day from 8am to 6pm, as the availability of childcare supports parents to balance childcare and work. Parents can choose the times they need flexibly. Schools offer a popular and convenient option for some parents, and schools’ facilities will be better used.

We also want to see more great quality private and voluntary nurseries, as Liz Truss said recently: we want ‘a system that is better together’.

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 to 18 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 all 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 improvements in quality 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.

If we continue to work together, we can make this vision a reality.

End notes

1) ‘Quality and Inequality: Do three and four year olds in deprived areas experience lower quality early years provision’. Sandra Mathers and Rebecca Smees, Nuffield Foundation, May 2014

2) Childcare and Provider Survey 2011

Published 19 June 2014