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Teachers Are Needed In Nurseries, Says Headteacher!

I was a bit dismayed to read today's TESS with the headline for one article screaming 'No 'Need' For Teachers In Nurseries, Council Says.' My heart sank. This is another example of how in times of fiscal restraint and pressures local authorities, or their finance departments, seem to look on the provision of teaching expertise in nurseries as an easy target for savings. Forgive me if I'm wrong but aren't we supposed to be delivering a curriculum and learning that is supposed to be a 'coherent, flexible and enriched' progressive whole from 3 to 18yrs? This is what we have been working towards since 2002 as we have engaged with the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland. I wonder why the necessity for trained, professional teaching staff in nursery classes is seen as any less important than the need for such expertise at every other stage of our pupils' learning journeys? By some people, I should add.

My point of view has always been that we need some of our best practitioners in the early years of education and learning. We have some fabulous nursery nurses operating in our nurseries and what they do and what they achieve is well in excess of what we should expect from staff who are paid such meagre amounts. This is a measure of their dedication and commitment to their charges and their roles. However, I really do believe that having professionally trained  and expert teachers available in our nurseries is essential if we are to give all our learners the solid start they need to their learning experiences and journey. We need teachers who deeply understand learning and deeply understand how to deconstruct this for their learners, and who are reflective and adaptive in their practice. They need to understand the full learning and developmental journey that their young pupils are embarking on. Only by having such an understanding are they truly able to plan and work collaboratively with their colleagues to give the pupils the solid base they will require to succeed and achieve their potential. They need a sound pedagogical understanding of how to develop learning through structured play and activity and they need to be clear about the 'big picture' of the child's learning. I have long argued that excellent teachers make teaching look easy, but we all know it is not easy and such practice requires high levels of expertise.

I think of various football managers of the most successful teams, like Bill Shankly at Liverpool, who long argued that successful football teams start at the back. That is, they start from soliddefence which concedes few goals and which then allows the midfield players and the attack to flourish. It is similar to learning in my view. I see nursery and the early years as the defence. This is the base upon which the rest of a child's learning is built. If this is not solid and informed, the future is uncertain, hindered and may not flourish as it could. Gaps in learning and experiences that emerge in  early years, can develop and grow, if not detected and addressed, as learners move through and they can blight their ability to make the most of future learning opportunities. To plan and deliver  practice that can deal with all these issues needs the professional input and knowledge of a teacher, in my view.

For some to look at our nursery provision and to think we don't have to have teachers as they are not a statutory requirement is being very short sighted, and is another example of how we expect our children to match the needs of systems we put in place, rather than changing the systems we have to match the needs of our children. We are short-changing our learners and short-changing our society by not letting them have the very best opportunity to succeed in their learning and become valuable contributing members of that society, as functioning productive adults. I applaud the Scottish Government's increasing to 600 hours the time all nursery age pupils will have in school from August of this year. But I would caution that we should be focused more on quality of experience rather than just quantity of hours. If we get both these aspects right just think what we might achieve as a society and as a nation!

In the current fiscal climate there is a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety out there in our schools. We know we face serious cuts in resourcing and will be continually asking if there are new or different ways of working that can produce the savings we will need to make. I think there is even more anxiety in our nurseries amongst our teaching staff who are feeling very threatened. Today's
headline won't help that situation in any way. With whatever savings and changes we need to make we all need to ensure that the impact on children and learning is minimised, and we don't sacrifice their futures on the altar of this generation's fiscal profligacy.

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