As more parents of young children work longer hours, the role of nursery teachers is under new scrutiny.
The demand for nurseries to be open longer raises the question of whether the main role is to provide care for young children or begin their education in preparation for school.
The issue has been brought into focus because a move by Glasgow City Council to fill 11 vacant posts in city nurseries with managers rather than qualified teachers has resulted in the Educational Institute of Scotland, the teaching union, seeking a judicial review.
One of the boasts of the Curriculum for Excellence on Scottish schools is that it starts at the age of three and progresses to the age of 18. More specifically, the early level is designed to meet the needs of most children from the age of three until the end of primary one.
This focus on a continuity of learning spanning the transition from nursery to school suggests that it should be led by qualified teachers who have specialised in early years. That would be the ideal situation but the increasing range of qualifications for working with pre-school children must also be taken into account. That nursery nurses are now child development officers is one indication that their role is recognised as developing children's abilities rather than simply caring for them. In some cases, nursery staff have a specialist, degree level qualification but have not trained as teachers.
It might be appropriate for such a person to run a nursery, provided the children were benefiting from educational provision that met all the curriculum requirements.
The council argues that running a nursery is an administrative rather than a teaching role. As in schools, however, the ethos will be determined by the head, who must lead by example. Although learning will be through play at the pre-school stage, it is vital for ensuring that children develop the communication and social skills they need to move on to more formal lessons at school. If that is not done by teachers, they must be involved in training other staff.
Glasgow is not the only authority to replace teachers with lower-paid child development officers. This is partly to save costs but also because they work longer hours. In today's 24/7 society, with jobs scarce, many parents need extended childcare. To provide that and ensure that it is focused on learning may require new flexibility on the part of teachers.
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