It takes skill and experience to know where to go with a child to extend their learning; a teaching background can prove particularly beneficial in this regard
What role do those with Qualified Teaching Status have to play in early years settings? Against the back-drop of Foundations for Quality, Clare Cane offers an insight into her life as a nursery teacher…
The Nutbrown Report has recommended the creation of a new, specialist early years route to Qualified Teaching Status, and that EYPs should be supported to go on to gain QTS should they so wish. But would it be beneficial to have more qualified teachers working in the nursery sector? My current position is working as an early years teacher in a large private day nursery, specifically with the children in their last academic year before primary school. I think that I am in quite an unusual position and it feels like a good time to reflect on my situation.
The reason for my being employed was that my nursery proprietor recognised that the childcare provided by her team of nursery nurses did not extend to the educational side of the children’s development. And why would it? The majority of the nursery nurses have a Level 3 NVQ qualification in Childcare but, as Cathy Nutbrown has highlighted, this does not give them enough relevant expertise in the early years age range, and the course does not prepare staff for the pedagogical aspect of working in a nursery school.
I could tell as soon as I arrived that I would need to tread very sensitively with my colleagues. Who was this person who was coming in, doing teaching hours and term times only, and where did I fit in to the management structure? I still feel a little bit in no-man’s-land, not included in the management of the nursery but also not quite accepted amongst the nursery nurses (probably mostly due to the age difference!). I have worked hard to be accepted by all, making sure that I introduce improvements gradually, seeking management approval first, and being sensitive to the longer hours and lower pay of my colleagues.
Making a difference
So what difference do I and my teaching experience make to the nursery? First of all, I try to lead by example. Holding conversations with the children, using open questions and really trying to engage with each child has been particularly important. I try to demonstrate that times of ‘child-led’ learning provide the perfect opportunity to make observations on key children and see just what they can do without an adult intervening. It is also about recognising when adult intervention can extend a child’s learning – by challenging the child to do more or asking them to explain what they have done. Coming from a teaching background, it is a real privilege to have the time and space to spend engaging with individual children without the pressures of a school timetable or targets to contend with. I have always enjoyed planning adult-led activities, particularly using natural resources, and working creatively both inside and out. I feel this models good practice to my colleagues, especially when they see these activities enthusing and inspiring the children. I try to include professional development at some staff meetings, too, so that they are more than just exchanges about day-to-day practicalities. Pitching this at the right level can be a challenge. I have focused on developing speech and language with the children, introducing treasure baskets and improving our use of the outside environment, and have found that keeping input short, simple and practical is the most successful way of engaging staff.
Planning and observing
Another important part of my role has been to help the nursery develop its planning and record keeping. With the introduction of the revised EYFS, I have been able to liaise with our Early Years Advisory Teacher, to come up with new planning and assessment formats. This has taken pressure off my nursery nurse colleagues, but the challenge is to work with them so that they ‘own’ the planning too and feel comfortable with using it. I am very aware that our assessments of the children are only as good as the observations we make.
One of the most challenging aspects of the EYFS is, I think, its dependence on highquality observations of the children and the use of Next Steps. It takes skill and experience to know where to go with a child to extend their learning, and this is a key area in which a teaching background can prove beneficial in a nursery setting. Again, I try to lead by example, showing colleagues what I have observed and so what we could do next to support a child. This has particular implications with the new two-year-old progress check. It is important to bring an experienced and professional judgement about whether a child needs extra support at this age and how to approach any development issues with parents.
Liaising with parents is itself an area in which I have tried to make a difference. I have encouraged higher quality feedback to mums and dads at pick up time, giving them more than just a run-through of what their child has done and eaten. I have supported my colleagues in the writing of progress summaries for parents, helping them to make their comments more professional and meaningful, as well as improving grammar and spellings. Parents have particularly appreciated being able to talk with me about their child’s transition to primary school, and my recent experience as a Reception teacher helps me with this.
I am very pleased that the Nutbrown Report has highlighted the need to raise the level of qualifications for those working in Early Years. I feel very privileged to be working in the nursery sector where I can make a real difference, and I hope more teachers have the opportunity to join me in this worthwhile and rewarding role. Of course, employing a teacher in a nursery is a big financial commitment and one which many settings may struggle to afford. For those that can, it will be very important to ensure that managers do not use a teacher as an excuse to cut down on overall staffing levels. There may be an Ofsted requirement of one to 13 children where a teacher is in the room but one to eight is, I believe, the very minimum necessary to enable worthwhile engagement with three- and four-year-olds.