They were responding to “Lighting Up Young Brains”, a new scientific briefing from Save the Children and the Institute of Child Health at University College London.
In the briefing, key figures in child development and neuroscience urged the government to make play time “brain time” under the guidance of a qualified early years teacher and described these years as a “lightbulb moment” for children.
Prospect’s early years committee highlighted the importance of the early years with regard to a child’s life chances; and the necessity as a nation to invest heavily in these crucial years.
Committee member and nursery owner Alexandra Skvortsov said: “Prospect was the first union to recognise the crucial role played by highly qualified early years professionals and early years teachers and has been supporting the profession since the government’s initial call for a graduate-led workforce in 2008.
“Trained early years specialists are already well versed in the importance of attachment, bonding and eye contact as they often work with infants as young as a few months old.
“They skilfully build on a child’s development, frequently working with parents to help them understand the vital importance of play and interactions and involving all of a child’s senses to build and strengthen connections in the child’s developing brain.”
Learning through play
Skvortsov pointed out that early years specialists spend many hours planning and delivering carefully thought-out activities designed to provide the experiences each individual child needs.
“Early years specialists know that children learn through play, that play time is brain time, and that high-quality play is the most important thing that they can provide. Whether degree qualified or not, many practitioners spend much of their own time improving their knowledge and understanding of child development, keeping up to date with the latest research and attending training.”
But she warned: “With the government’s expanding childcare agenda there is a real risk that the quality improvements made across the sector, both by graduates and other hard-working early years practitioners, could be lost.
“Issues of funding and pressures to maximise efficiency by working to higher adult to child ratios could have a hugely detrimental impact on the support that childcare professionals are able to give children and families from all backgrounds.
“We would join Save the Children in their call for highly qualified experts in every nursery, but we would also add that this needs proper support. Too many experts are leaving the sector.”
Skvortsov explained that after studying for many years and developing specialist knowledge, settings where these specialists work are unable to offer them the financial rewards that their expertise warrants.
“We would assume that this is why children attending private, voluntary and independent settings, and those in deprived areas, are much less likely to attend a setting with an early years teacher.
“After all, would you put in several years of study, often alongside full-time work, develop specialist expertise and knowledge, gain a post-graduate qualification, and then continue to work in an industry that cannot afford to pay more than minimum wage?”