I received a call yesterday asking me to go on the Victoria Derbyshire Show to discuss a new report from Save the Children. I was unable to attend, but once we began discussing the contents of the report, I found that I actually had quite a lot to say about it.

do nurseries need teachers?

Today’s report says that every nursery should have a qualified early years teacher to help toddlers develop speech and language skills.

Apparently our children are being “set back decades” by a lack of adequate stimulation before they start formal schooling. The report is entitled Lighting up Young Brains, states in its executive summary:

The science is clear. In the first few years of life, a child’s brain develops rapidly, driven by a mix of experience, environment and genes. Children will continue to develop throughout childhood and into adulthood, but in the early years their brains are particularly sensitive. By contrast, the science shows that as a child grows older it becomes much more difficult to influence the way their brain processes information. 

It goes on to say that parents and carers have the biggest influence on a child’s early learning, and that childcare is playing an increasingly significant role in children’s development. Save the Children are calling on the government to invest much more in good quality childcare to support children’s early development. So far, no argumen from me. I think people who work in childcare should be among the highest paid in our society, since the job they do is arguably one of the most important.

Save the Children want the government to ensure there is an early years teacher in ever nursery in england by 2020. This is where I begin to disagree with the report.

Firstly, isn’t there a shortage of teachers, and people who want to go into teaching, thanks in no small part to this government and their battering of the education system? Now suddenly we’re going to find however many more thousand teachers who having gone through their training decide no, actually I’d quite like to work in a nursery.

Secondly, I find it incredibly insulting to people already working in nurseries and doing an amazing job, to say “well you’re not quite up to scratch, and you need a real teacher in here to help you.” I am aware that I seem to have hit something of a jackpot when choosing my child’s nursery, and I’ve heard some horror stories about others – but I don’t think insulting the abilities of existing staff is the way to improve any situation. Why not invest heavily in the people who have already decided to work in nurseries? Why not give them a better salary, better training, better working environment, less pointless paperwork to fill in on their breaks and in evenings?

Thirdly, what about the children who don’t attend formal childcare, despite the constant efforts of this government to force both parents into full time work? It seems that if your child goes to nursery or a childminder, they must tick boxes all day long; they must be able to do this by this age, and this by this age, and they should be doing this and they should have learned that. People working in childcare are crippled by the endless paperwork and taking of photographs, not to show parents that their child is having fun, but to satisfy a regulatory need to prove a child can climb the stairs unaided by a certain age. Children who don’t go to nursery don’t have that; they’re allowed to just get on with growing up normally… or are we also going to start sending qualified teachers round on home visits?

The report states that last year six children in every reception class in England  struggled with early language skills. I agree, that is a lot and those children need help – but I don’t think the answer is to stick a teacher into every nursery to look over people’s shoulders. The answer surely is to work hard with the people already in nurseries, to improve the environment as a whole. More to the point, I see it as my job to teach my child to speak. Yes, being at nursery helps her – but ultimately the responsibility is mine. I don’t think we can patch over problems by shoving more qualified teachers into nurseries. If there’s a problem at home, let’s try and help with that instead.

hooray for nursery

As far as I know, nobody at S’s nursery is a qualified teacher. There are NVQs and diplomas coming out of their ears, but I don’t think any of them are actual teachers. What they do have is years upon years of experience. Some of the people working in that nursery have been there for ten or more years. All of the staff know all of the children by name, and all of the children love being there. They play outside, they have people come in to do special classes and activities with them, they go on trips. My daughter is now in the preschool room, and she has football lessons, French lessons and drama lessons. She loves her keyworker so much, she gives her a cuddle before coming home and wanted to invite her to her birthday party. Yesterday she showed me how to add 5 and 4, and her keyworker reckons she’ll be reading within the year.

I cannot see how parachuting a qualified teacher into this setting will improve anything. In fact, if I worked there and the government sent in a teacher to make sure we were doing things properly, it might make me somewhat resentful of the situation.

I know there are nurseries that are not like this. I’ve heard horror stories from friends about children who’ve come home with a serious rash that wasn’t noticed by staff, or almost weekly changing of keyworkers. I know people whose nurseries have put up fees with a week’s notice, as a way of retaining some form of income when the next increase in free hours comes in. I still don’t think sending in a qualified teacher is the answer. 

Why not improve the NVQ and diploma training, or provide extra funding to nurseries so that they can increase wages and invest in equipment? Why not make it so that if an early years teacher would rather work in a nursery, there’s little difference in pay between the two positions? Why not provide help and support rather than endless Ofsteds and box ticking exercises? You could even make it a requirement that every nursery has some form of external activity provider come in at least once a month – and then you’d be supporting the legions of self employed people who work with children for the love, not the money. 

The report makes some excellent points, but all of them seem to be made in order to back up this ludicrous idea that we need an early years teacher in every nursery. The agenda behind every paragraph seems to be “and this is why we want a teacher sent into every nursery.” – it doesn’t explore any other options for making all childcare settings of the highest possible quality.

I don’t disagree that it’s crucial that every child has access to a high quality childcare setting if their parents want to use it – all childcare settings should be high quality. This report seems to suggest though that the only thing that makes a childcare setting high quality is the presence of an early years teacher. I have nothing against early years teachers; they perform a vital role in education. But in education – in a school! 

A nursery is not a school. Nurseries play an incredibly important part in the lives of children who attend them, and the introduction of free hours has been instrumental in allowing children from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend these settings. Evidence does show that high quality childcare has great benefits for children from disadvantaged areas.  I agree with all of this, and I agree that all child care should be of a high quality. 

But let’s improve the nurseries we already have; let’s send people in, not to inspect but to visit. To see how the children interact with staff, to see if they’re engaged and stimulated and happy. Let’s work with what we have and make it great. 


Thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed this, you might also like my rant about how we expect too much from nurseries.

Vicky Charles

Vicky is a single mother, writer and card reader.


Love From Clueless Mum · 31/03/2016 at 23:53

I (a teacher) completely agree that requiring childcare settings to employ a qualified teacher isn’t the way forward. Firstly, if it actually would make a difference to children’s speech and language development, surely it would only serve to disadvantage children whose parents stay home with them or choose other childcare options. Secondly, qualifications aren’t necessarily better than experience. I’ve been lucky to find two very different but brilliant nurseries for my daughter – I don’t think this is experience would be changed by a qualified teacher. What would help is better pay and fairly increasing pay scales for early years staff as well as teachers – why not value and develop the amazing, dedicated staff already working in childcare rather than force them out? There are also many teachers who have chosen to specialise in early years, but there are currently few incentives for them to work in a nursery rather than a school.

Monica Gilbert · 02/04/2016 at 11:04

If they really want qualified teachers at nurseries, they should offer government funded teacher training to existing qualified staff. That way those with the passion and experience can increase their knowledge and skill set while continuing to work. Most nurseries do encourage their staff to continue learning and training in ways that will meet the needs of the children (including language development strategies). It almost seems as if the government doesn’t want to admit that nursery staff are professionals because they don’t have a degree. Snobbery at its finest.
In addition, the government should provide more funding for the free places so that nurseries have more to offer in staff pay and materials for the children. The proposed increase to 30 hours (with no signs of funding improving) terrifies me.

Siobhan · 02/04/2016 at 20:09

Personally, I think you hit the nail on the head with highlighting that it is, actually, our responsibility as parents to ensure our children develop effective language skills.

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