Union warns Edinburgh council’s plans to remove nursery teachers will hit gradings

LATEST official figures contradict Edinburgh City Council’s claims that its plan to take qualified teachers out of nursery classes will make no difference to the children, a union has claimed.

Monday, 18th February 2019, 1:35 pm
Updated Monday, 18th February 2019, 1:36 pm
The EIS says important expertise will be lost if teachers are withdrawn from nurseries.

As part of its budget cuts, the council proposes to save £1 million over two years by replacing nursery teachers with early years practitioners and removing headteachers from stand-alone nursery schools.

A council report says: “Analysis of Care Inspectorate findings indicates no difference in quality between nurseries which have qualified teaching staff on site permanently and those who are supported in other ways.”

But teachers’ union the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said the council claims were based on figures from 2010.

It quotes latest data showing stark differences in Care Inspectorate ratings between councils which have teachers in their nurseries and those which do not.

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Edinburgh, with teachers in class, scored 81 per cent for care and support and West Lothian, which had teachers until August, scored 75 per cent. Meanwhile, four councils without teachers in nursery – West Dunbartonshire, Moray, Borders and Highland – were rated at 32 per cent, 55 per cent, 
58 per cent and 70 per cent.

The EIS said: “West Dunbartonshire removed teachers from nurseries several years ago. However, they are now recognising this as a mistake, as is evidenced by their CI gradings which are up to 39 per cent lower than the national average. They have also found that the impact has been a real disconnect between nursery and primary, which has manifested as disruption caused by P1 pupils in many of their schools.

And it added: “Dundee is currently increasing its complement of nursery teachers, with the explicit aim of closing the poverty-related attainment gap.”

The union argues the specialist knowledge of nursery teachers, including their overview of Curriculum for Excellence, is central to ensuring children can make a good start when they move to P1.

The EIS also said 14.7 per cent of Care Inspectorate gradings in Edinburgh resulted in the top Grade 6 –”outstanding or sector-leading” – compared with 3.4 per cent in Moray, 1.3 per cent in West Dunbartonshire, 0.8 per cent in Highland and 0.55 per cent in Borders.

EIS Edinburgh secretary Alison Murphy said: “The level of complexity of what nursery teachers do is much more than people realise.”

She said the union had met council education convener Ian Perry to explain its opposition to the proposals and hopes there could be a rethink.

“He said these were the proposals they had been given by the officers, but if we gave him the evidence to back up what we were arguing they would consider it. He said they didn’t want to go ahead with any cut that was going to damage children’s education.”

The first nursery in Scotland opened in Edinburgh in 1903 and Ms Murphy said: “Edinburgh has been at the forefront of nursery education in Scotland for over 100 years but we could lose all that in a year. You also lose all that expertise and you cannot rebuild it.”

She said the council was already struggling to recruit early years staff to cope with the Scottish Government commitment to 1140 free hours of early learning and it would be impossible to replace 80 nursery teachers by August as well.

The council said under the proposal a nursery teacher team would be set up in each of the city’s four localities to support early years practitioners.

A spokeswoman said: “Proposals aim to balance the budget whilst maximising investment in priority services and targeting our support for residents most in need.

“This process poses a significant financial challenge and councillors will fully consider all feedback received up until our budget meeting on February 21.”