Early Years provision is an area I am interested in and have some personal but no professional experience of. I want to have a better understanding of the complexity of being a GTCS registered teacher in the Early Years especially in the current climate of austerity and the policy drivers of ‘closing the gap’. My thinking is moving to a position of prevention rather than cure, what can we do to prevent the ‘gap’ from forming? rather than trying to ‘close the gap’ once it is established. This week I was reading the EIS report ‘Sustain the Ambition’ which highlights some of the key messages from research commissioned by the EIS, on teachers in the Early Years and the final report which was published in January 2016, entitled “Sustaining the Ambition: the Contribution of GTCS Registered Teachers In Early Years”.
The report suggests, at present, that there is an inequality of provision for young children. The statutory position of Schools Scotland Code (2002), where a ratio of one teacher to twenty children per nursery class was laid out, has been replaced with legislation in which the local authority have to provide ‘access to a teacher’ for nursery children. This research states that only 12 out of 32 local authorities continues to employ full time teachers in each of their establishments. This reduces the impact teachers can have in helping to close the attainment gap at the earliest stage.
Children come into nursery from a wide range of family life experiences, there will be the most advantaged children who have had “language-rich and experience-rich environments”, to the most disadvantaged children from a background of poverty and vulnerability, who have parents who are themselves in need of support, encouragement and structure. The role of the nursery teacher and team then becomes crucial in the ‘closing the gap’ agenda because as the report states “for children to succeed, the family must have some success too”. So, teachers within the nursery sector have a “unique position to engage families and support” and they often work both formally and informally in educative ways to supporting parents as well as teaching the children.
Children now encounter many transition points in their lives, and their experience of the earliest transition points can have a considerable impact upon how they cope with change in the future. Nursery schools can make a strong contribution to transitions, from home to nursery and from nursery to primary school. The nursery teacher has a unique role to play in supporting this transition to support the children to develop skills to manage change and continue their learning journey.
While these pastoral transitions are important for children and families, the focus on learning and development is central. For the children, the learning that takes place in nursery establishments occur across many domains such as emotional, social, physical, creative, linguistic, spiritual and intellectual. These are the educational experiences on which future learning is based to build learning capacity, learning dispositions and build knowledge. Early levels cover the 3 to 6 years age range and provides the architecture for support, for children’s well-being and learning in a continuous way across the nursery and Early Years and early primary school settings. Nursery teachers work is informed by understanding the importance of, and undertaking ongoing professional learning to keep abreast of current educational thinking, understanding children’s thinking and holistic development, which enables them to provide appropriate educational challenges and individual support.
Curriculum for Excellence builds on Pre-birth to Three Guidance and aligns with ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’. Nursery teachers are responsible for observation, peer discussion, reading and self-reflection about teaching practice, and they bring a valuable knowledge of relevant learning and teaching theories and research to their work with children. Their pedagogy is informed by understanding that children need to explore, experiment, ponder and enquire, through play, and they have a critical role in observing, evaluating, recording, interpreting and then acting upon all they recognise to be significant to children’s learning, well-being and development.
The education system alone will not close the gap in attainment and outcomes that exist in too many of our children. Investing in high quality GTCS registered teachers in Early years is one solution to aligning the desire of CfE that learning through doing, like in nursery, should percolate into early primary, as this is perceived to be effective and produces independence and self-reliant learners.
So what now? For me, more reading to continue to improve my understanding, and more thinking and professional dialogue to find other solutions to help ‘close the attainment gap’.