The report seeks to examine the relative impact of staff in nurseries depending on the level and type of qualification they hold. If this sounds complicated it is because it is, but it not a new endeavour (indeed HMIe have released reports with very similar messages within the last ten years). For some years now there has been a study ongoing in England which looks at the impact of a range of factors on the cognitive and behavioural outcomes for children in different pre-school settings. These children have been followed into primary school and beyond in an effort to evidence whether or not early advantage derived from being in particular settings is sustained in its impact. This work is commonly known as EPPE or EPPSE and its published findings can be found on-line, again there is a link in the latest news section on the AHDS homepage.

The EPPE and Education Scotland reports are different in focus and in scale but they are, as you might expect, very similar in their conclusions. What the Education Scotland report does is reinforce the validity of the EPPE research in the Scottish context. It also examines the Scottish policy landscape.

So, what does it say?

In short, establishments with higher qualified staff, particularly teachers trained in nursery methodology, provide better outcomes for children than those staffed with less qualified staff. It is important to nod to the similar conclusions in EPPE at this point and to stress that this is not a criticism of lower qualified staff, it is the result of interrogation of the data. Data which makes clear that this is normally the case but is not a universal rule. It also makes clear that those staff with lower qualifications have an increased impact on pupils when working alongside more qualified colleagues and a mixed, complementary, team provides the highest quality setting.

The report also makes clear the emerging positive impact of those with the BA in Childhood Practice on children’s learning and endorses efforts to increase the qualification level of all staff in the sector.

What does this mean for policy in Scotland?

The report is an endorsement of the Scottish Government’s stated policy in this area – namely that every nursery age child should have access to a nursery teacher. However, it is apparent that, around Scotland, Local Authorities are bowing to budgetary pressures by making cuts in nursery schools and classes. While the number of children with ‘access to a nursery teacher’ has increased, the number of nursery teachers in employment has continued to fall. This means that the overall impact of teachers in nursery settings has been reduced – surely not a policy intention?

The report appears to seek to put pressure on the Government on the issue of access to nursery teachers. It makes very clear that qualified teachers with training in nursery methodology have a big impact on pupil learning – an endorsement of the Government policy and the AHDS position – but adds at the end of the text:

“There has never been a time where the early years sector has had so much invested in its potential. We naturally want the very best for our youngest children and what this publication is beginning to show is that particular higher level qualifications do make the difference to young children’s learning.”

Education Scotland notes that the Scottish Government, when making its commitment to access to a nursery teacher for all nursery age children, had no evidence on the relative impact of different amounts and models of teacher access. As such the Government position was expressed in loose terms – ‘access should be meaningful and sustained rather than ad hoc’. The result has been that there are a myriad of different interpretations around the country of what ‘access’ might mean on the ground. Without singling out any specific local authority it would be fair to say there has been a range of response from our members from ‘the best solution with the resources available’ to ‘an active structured attempt to remove teachers from nurseries’. This report starts to provide an analysis of the impact of different types and levels of teacher access (and other staffing arrangements) and should take the Government a step closer to being able to more closely define ‘access to a nursery teacher’ and to set about delivering it.

Is it too much to suggest that Education Scotland is challenging the Government to make good on its promise of access to a nursery teacher for all nursery age children? If they are..welcome on board!