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Early childhood experts oppose removal of teachers from Edinburgh nursery schools

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Wednesday, 11 March, 2020

Leading experts in early childhood education have issued an open letter calling for the City of Edinburgh Council’s proposals to remove teachers and head teachers from Edinburgh’s nursery schools to be dropped.  The signatories, including Professor Iram Siraj, author of the 2015 Independent review of Scotland's early learning and out of school care workforces, stress the evidence that teachers play an important role in maintaining quality within the early years workforce.

They question the logic of moving teachers out of the early years workforce to plug gaps in primary teacher recruitment at a time when recruitment issues in the early years sector are even greater.  The proposal is also seen as short-sighted, cutting costs in the short-term but leading to poorer outcomes and a loss of early years expertise in the longer term.

The Edinburgh Local Association of the teachers' union the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) have organised a hustings for Thursday 19 March, for councillors to hear from Edinburgh citizens as to why the cuts to nursery teachers and headteachers will be very damaging for the city's youngest pupils.

Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive of the British Association for Early Childhood Education said

“Teachers are an important part of the early learning and childcare workforce, with a distinct set of knowledge and skills.  To remove all teachers and headteachers from Edinburgh’s nursery schools would represent a huge loss of expertise.  It would impact on the children and families at the nurseries, but also on the wider workforce who benefit from professional learning opportunities that these staff provide, often in their own time.  Edinburgh has a proud tradition of keeping its nursery teachers when other authorities did not.  We urge the Council to maintain the high quality of its nurseries by keeping teachers and headteachers in post.”

Their concerns echo those of a range of other experts – for example Naomi Eisenstadt (former independent Advisor on Poverty to the First Minister) said

“The pending decision of Edinburgh Council is indeed very disappointing.  It is contrary to years of accumulating evidence on the importance of qualified staff to achieve better educational outcomes, especially for the poorest children.  This decision may help the council solve a short term problem but will reduce the chances in the longer term of improving the life chances for children from low income families.  I do urge City of Edinburgh to reconsider.”

The campaign against the cut to nursery teachers, is part of wider efforts by the Edinburgh branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) to get the City of Edinburgh to reverse its budget decision of 20th February.  Local Association Secretary Alison Murphy said: 

“The cuts to school budgets, the removal of nursery teachers from classes, and the loss of free instrumental music tuition, are further attacks on an educational system that has been suffering from years of underfunding.  City of Edinburgh Council is making more and more demands of staff in its schools, and it is setting us incredibly challenging targets around closing the attainment gap, promoting inclusion, and helping all children achieve their full potential.  Every teacher wants to be able to do the very best for their pupils, but they can’t do that unless their employers give them the resources and support they need.  If these cuts go ahead, some schools will be left with less than 10p to spend on everything a child needs for a day in school.  That cannot be right.” 

The EIS is organising a hustings for 7pm on Thursday 19th March, in the Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace EH1 2JL, so that councillors can hear the views of parents and other Edinburgh citizens about the cuts.  However, the potential impact of the coronavirus means it is also ramping up its online campaigning, with nearly 5,000 so far signing a petition to the council, and many parents emailing councillors to register their objections.”

The text of the letter is as follows:

We are deeply concerned by the City of Edinburgh Council’s proposals to remove teachers and headteachers from the Edinburgh nursery schools, to cut costs and plug gaps in primary recruitment.  Up until now Edinburgh has a commendable record of keeping its nursery teachers in schools when other councils have not, and we hope they will continue this commitment to children’s best interests and rethink this proposal.

The Edinburgh nursery schools are not only providing outstanding early learning to children attending the nurseries, they are also centres of excellent practice in the early years, providing outstanding professional learning opportunities to colleagues from Edinburgh and across Scotland. Their expertise is internationally recognised and many of the Edinburgh nursery heads are involved, in their own time, in developing the Froebel approach across Scotland.  At a time when staff shortages in the early years are expected to increase to meet the challenge of delivering the 1140 hours it makes no sense to remove experienced early years teachers who can help support the growth of a highly qualified workforce.

We are dismayed to see this proposal, which was made last year and abandoned, being revived so soon. We would strongly urge the Council to reconsider this move, which might save money in the short term, but is likely to have high costs in the long term in relation to poorer outcomes for children, especially the most disadvantaged, and loss of expertise for training and professional development for the wider sector.

We query the premise that Care Inspectorate data does not show a difference between settings with teachers on site and those without – inspection data of that nature is not designed to provide fine-grained analysis of quality which would correlate with children’s later outcomes, and it would not be sound use of data to base such a decision on those grounds.

The importance of qualified teachers with an early years specialism who work directly with children was explicitly recognised in Professor Iram Siraj’s 2015 review of the Early Learning and Childcare Workforce in Scotland, which noted that “In ECEC centres where there is a culture of integrated working, there needs to be a strong teacher presence to provide a pedagogical lead and support for other practitioners (Whalley, 2009, House of Commons 130-11: 11). The Childhood Practitioner role, although important in Scotland, does not replace the teacher role. Although they learn about Curriculum for Excellence, the focus of their qualification is more on aspects of leadership, management, collaborative working and the skills necessary to support quality improvement processes - rather than on the curriculum and the pedagogy and practice of teaching and learning. This appears to be well recognised within Scotland.” (Siraj, 2015)

By moving nursery teachers and headteachers into primary schools this unique pool of expertise will be lost, and will be near impossible to replace. 

We appreciate that tough financial decision are having to be made, but would urge the Council to re-consider this proposal and ensure that this small group of highly qualified staff are retained for the benefit of the early years sector across Edinburgh, as well as for the children and families they support.

Yours faithfully

Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive, The British Association for Early Childhood Education
Dr Verity Campbell-Barr, Chair of Trustees, The British Association for Early Childhood Education
Professor Cathy Nutbrown, University of Sheffield
Professor Emeritus Aline-Wendy Dunlop, University of Strathclyde
Professor Emeritus Colwyn Trevarthen, University of Edinburgh
Professor Iram Siraj, Professor of Child Development and Education, University of Oxford
Professor Tina Bruce
Professor Kathy Sylva, Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Oxford
Sacha Powell, Chief Executive Officer, The Froebel Trust
Professors Chris Pascal and Tony Bertram, Centre for Research in Early Childhood
Professor Julie Fisher, Early Education Associate
Di Chilvers, Early Education Associate, consultant, author and trainer
Helen Moylett, Early Years Consultant, Trainer and Writer
Dr Pat Broadhead. Retired Professor of Playful Learning
Dr. David Whitebread, Retired Senior Member, Homerton College, University of Cambridge
Dr Peter Elfer, Principal Lecturer, Early Childhood Research Centre, University of Roehampton
Nancy Stewart, Chair, TACTYC: the Association for Professional Development in Early Years
Dr Julian Grenier, Headteacher, Sheringham Nursery School and Children's Centre
Bernadette Duffy, Vice-President, Early Education

Notes to editors: 

Early Education (The British Association for Early Childhood Education) is the leading independent national charity for early years practitioners and parents, campaigning for the right of all children to education of the highest quality. Founded in 1923, it has members in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and provides a national voice on matters that relate to effective early childhood education and care of young children from birth to eight. The organisation supports the professional development of practitioners through publications, training, conferences, seminars and access to a national and regional branch network. For more information on the work of Early Education visit www.early-education.org.uk