Early years proposals are ‘learning on the cheap’ says former principal

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A FORMER Larne principal fears the Education Minister’s latest proposals to improve early years education may be fundamentally flawed.

“We believe the Education Minister’s proposals offer early years education on the cheap for our children,” said Audrey Stewart, a past president of the Ulster Teachers’ Union and formerly head of Olderfleet Primary.

She was responding the consultation period launched this week on ‘Learning to Learn – A Framework for Early Years Education and Learning’.

“Whilst we welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement of the crucial role played by early years education in the lives of our children and the spirit of the framework, we fear his proposals will not offer the best outcomes for pupils,” said Mrs Stewart.

“We have always believed that this important time in a child’s education should be led by a qualified teacher. The Minister makes much in his proposals of the doubling of the Surestart funding – could this funding not have gone to the primary school sector to help newly qualified teachers get onto their career ladders, while at the same time giving our children the best possible start to their education with highly qualified individuals in classes of a manageable size.

“We are shocked at the Minister’s proposals within this new framework to allow up to 30 children in a class as the UTU has long campaigned for class sizes to be reduced. This cannot be a forward step.

“The Minister also talks of ‘sharing expertise’ within the sector, but if early years teachers are to spend time ‘sharing expertise’ I wonder will the funding and support be there to ensure their schools and pupils do not suffer while they are involved in this proposed attempt to fast-track unqualified and under-qualified personnel.

“Many would argue that the first two years of a baby’s learning are crucial with experts telling us that 75 per cent of brain development occurs between birth and the age of two.

“It is imperative then that children’s education before Year One is handled by qualified teachers as this is such a vital time for a child’s learning development and such a specialised area in teaching.

“We believe the needs of younger pupils are best met by qualified teachers who can identify potential problems in language development and other learning difficulties at an early stage.

“In short, early childhood education is key to nurturing successful children and communities.”