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Nutbrown Review: Nursery staff skills questioned

A review of qualifications for nursery staff and childminders in England has highlighted concerns about literacy and numeracy skills among workers.

The Nutbrown Review looked at the standards of qualifications needed to work with young children.

It points out students do not need to demonstrate competence in English and Maths to complete their qualification.

The report was commissioned by the government and carried out by Professor Cathy Nutbrown.

It was published by the Department for Education.

The report says that it was a "potential weakness" that those training to work with children were not asked to show they reached a competent level in English and Maths.

It also says concerns have been expressed about whether students are equipped to work with children with special educational needs and disabilities.

'Passion and professionalism'

Professor Nutbrown also has concerns about whether qualifications that can be completed in a year give what she describes as "sufficient time to develop proper understanding of child development".

“Clearly there are some areas that show up some real gaps, some areas that need urgently addressing, one of those being about entry level qualifications”
Anne Longfield, 4Children

She quotes one academic who says higher standards are demanded of people working on their own with animals, than of those left alone with a baby.

Professor Nutbrown said: "Getting qualifications right will help to ensure that women and men enter the profession with the skills and experiences they need to do the best work with young children and their families.

"Well-taught courses and learning routes which lead to reliable qualifications can help early-years practitioners to improve their skills, knowledge and personal qualities, constantly developing in their roles.

"This can only benefit young children, both in terms of their day-to-day experiences in the Early Years Foundation Stage and future learning outcomes."

Children's Minister Sarah Teather said Professor Nutbrown's interim report "recognises the passion and professionalism of those working with our youngest children".

She added: "We know the earliest years of a child's life are so important to their development so it's vital we have a workforce with the right knowledge and skills. I look forward to receiving Professor Nutbrown's recommendations in the summer."

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg accused the government of trying to bury the report's recommendations.

"Parents of young children will be concerned if their childminders or nursery workers do not have sufficient skills," he said.

"The worry is that the government's plans to reduce standards and regulations could make the situation worse."

Children and family charity 4Children said the industry was "changing dramatically" regarding the importance of early education on children's development, so it was "fit and proper" that qualifications be reviewed.

'Changes the dynamics'

Chief executive Anne Longfield said: "Clearly there are some areas that show up some real gaps, some areas that need urgently addressing, one of those being about entry level qualifications."

She described qualifications as very swift, with students unable to work in childcare centres with skilled professionals.

She said literacy skills made a big difference to children's learning experiences.

"If you're trying to read a story and you just kind of say, or make it up in a very kind of pedestrian way, it's one thing. If you actually bring it to life then that just changes the dynamics of that whole learning experience.

"To do that you need confidence, you need to be able to actually read what you're looking at in the first place, but also have the confidence to translate that to children."

Conservative MP Elizabeth Truss, who wants deregulation in childcare, said quality needed to be improved in the sector.

She cited the example of the Netherlands where quality had improved and there was "better regulation". There was also on-the-job training in the Netherlands, with more frequent inspections than in the UK.

One company which provides early years teaching qualifications, Pearson, said it agreed with the Nutbrown review that "the quality of care our children receive in their early years can have a dramatic impact on a child's start in life."

Pearson said a new vocational qualification in Children's Play, Learning and Development, for teaching from September, aimed to raise standards in the sector.

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