Chasing the shadows away on ‘Lighting up Young Brains’

An interesting and sensible report was issued this week by Save the Children, entitled ‘Lighting up Young Brains’.

In this report the authors state one clear and unequivocal priority for Government: For every nursery in England to be led by an early years teacher by 2020.

This is based on previous research (EPPE) and on newly completed research (most notably Goswami’s work on children’s cognitive development). The tone of the report is measured and written in accessible language. There are only 3 sections: Children’s early brain development; the role of parents, the HLE and childcare in supporting brain development; and their priority for government.

My personal view is that is a document that invites discussion, based on research, with a clearly stated recommendation at the end.

However, it has caused an amount of debate on something that is not even contained in the report. For example, the BBC website states that children ‘can be “set back decades” if their brains are not adequately stimulated’ (an interesting time travelling trick if you are only three years old!). There has been much talk about ‘school readiness’ and how having an Early Years Teacher means that children will be sat at desks, completing worksheets, before the age of three.

More realistically, there has been debate on whether an Early Years Teacher guarantees ‘quality’ in a setting or whether this can be successfully achieved without the qualification, but with the right knowledge, care and dedication of a ‘quality’ practitioner. On top of all that – how can you define quality in a setting, in a home learning environment or in a practitioner? (something Dahlberg, Moss and Pence have been grappling with since 2007).

Although this has made for some lively debate, great headlines and sofa filling interviews, I feel it misses the point of the report.

There are two distinct and very separate issues here:

  1. The recommendation of the Save the Children report, how they have reached this conclusion and whether the government are likely to take any notice.
  2. How the media have chosen to make this an issue about formal education and how ‘childcare’ (which appears to assume that all types of childcare, including nurseries, childminders, nannies and informal care are all the same) needs to be of better quality.

I am going to focus on the first issue, partly because I feel there are enough voices and media interpretations already for the second issue, and partly because it is actually an interesting report.

The first section on children’s brain development gives the report its name – as neuroscience and the results from brain scanning techniques are said to ‘light up’ when blood is distributed around the brain during children’s thought processes. It is fascinating that there are so many different techniques, and how these can be used to interpret the going-ons inside the brain itself.

The second section moves onto the role of the environment in children’s development – including parents, home learning environment and childcare settings. It is noted that more and more children are accessing childcare, therefore these needed to be of a high quality.

However, they then go onto to equate a high quality setting with one that has an ‘Early Years Teacher’ – quoting the EPPE research (which pre-dates Early Years Teachers) and a review of the Graduate Leader Fund as evidence. This started the creeping doubt in my mind.

The one sentence that really sent a shiver down my spine was “In particular, children are much less likely to attend a setting with an early years teacher if they are attending a private, voluntary or independent setting (PVI)”. Factually, possibly correct. You are more likely to get teachers (QTS sort) in a maintained nursery school. BUT (and it is a big but) these may be teachers who have had no training in the birth to three age range, who may not have a particular interest in this age range and who may have little or no experience in birth to three.

As I interpret this report – and this is only my perception – they are asking for every setting in England to be led by an Early Years Teacher by 2020 AND saying that this can’t be achieved by keeping childcare in the current PVI sector.

Is the implication that the PVI sector needs to be reduced and maintained nursery schools increased?

Or the government needs to increase the number of Early Years Teachers in the PVI sector? (if so, who pays and how?)

Or maybe the ‘new approaches’ (page 13) being identified for parents is to retrain as Early Years Teachers?

These are questions we should be debating.

Find the report here.

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1 Comment
  • Kim Benham Jul 31,2016 at 12:55 pm

    So interesting, the interpretation of the report, and is it with a specific political aim. I am far more confident with EYPS, and I run 2 PVI’s, but if I didn’t have it I would still have the same ethos. 3 of my staff working towards it at the moment and would like to think I have some influence on that. Great to watch them develop and change their way of thinking.

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