Leave early years status alone

Government must consult before changing early years qualifications

Public pressure forced a u-turn on government plans to reduce childcare ratios in early years settings this summer, but Prospect still has concerns about the status of professionals working in this area, writes negotiator Claire Dent

The government's climb-down over increasing child ratios has been welcomed by early years professionals.

Sense has prevailed as politicians have recognised the importance of high-quality professionals and the impact they have on the lives of children.

Every parent wants the best for their child. Early years professionals also want the best for children and that means the quality of the childcare provided.

Quality would be undermined by increasing the number of children they are responsible for by the ratios in More Great Childcare.

Children need to form a secure attachment, have a safe, stimulating environment and the opportunity to play. Let's not forget that the smaller ratios are also in place to protect the safety of children.

They take into account the stage of development that children are at for each age group and allow their individual needs to be catered for, while recognising the capabilities of any one adult to supervise the children; keeping them safe from potentially harmful situations and giving each child the attention he or she requires.

This is not the end of our struggles, though. The Aspect group of Prospect remains concerned about the continued march towards changes in qualifications from Early Years Professional Status to Early Years Teacher without any evidence that this will benefit service users (children and parents) or increase the status of the profession.

Even the government's own expert, Cathy Nutbrown, has opposed re-badging the profession, saying that improved status cannot be achieved simply by changing 'the name on the tin'.

At a recent meeting with Prospect early years representatives, Department for Education officials suggested that the education landscape had changed in relation to the academy agenda within schools, and therefore Nutbrown's comments were irrelevant.

We disagree and are worried that that the focus in early years will be all about education rather than nurture and building secure attachments.

Existing EYPs will not have to do any further training. EYTs will meet the new EY teaching standards, which are similar to the existing ones but focus more on 'teaching' as opposed to early years pedagogy.

A GCSE in science will be required for new applicants to early years teacher courses, in line with other teacher training. However, graduates in early years will not hold Qualified Teacher Status and will not have access to pay scales enjoyed by other graduate professions such as teaching and nursing.

Early years does not need to be subject to further 'schoolification'. It is the most precious time for building relationships and learning about the world, without any pressure to meet targets or goals.

You can't 'teach' the under threes – it should be about a deep understanding of child development and how to scaffold learning. There's no point turning up at work and setting a target for all your one-year-olds to learn to walk in the first half term!

Recent history has shown that if politicians consulted the experts – those who actually work at the coalface – before any change is implemented, the need for policy u-turns may be avoided.

Never underestimate the power of the collective voice. Changes in policy across every section of society have come about because people have come together and voiced their concerns.

That's why we encourage early years professionals, parents and others who are concerned to write to their MP and tell them why they think EYPS should continue and what an important job these professionals do.

Early years settings could also invite their local newspaper or radio journalist to come and see the difference a highly trained professional makes to the lives of children. Raising the profile of the profession is not just about changing the name, it's about letting everyone know how valuable EYPs are and how children benefit from their input.

There is strength in numbers and joining a professional union enables EYPs to gain access to decision-makers.

Prospect's early years committee will continue to be outspoken. We know how theory relates to practice because our members work on the ground with babies and children, and understand first-hand what is needed.

Proposals set on paper may look achievable but we would challenge ministers to spend a day in an early years setting to really understand the needs of these children.

Claire Dent is a negotiator at Prospect union, and leads the early years committee of its Aspect group.