THOUSANDS of nursery school children do not have regular contact with a trained teacher despite a government commitment to improve the quality of early learning throughout Scotland.
Official statistics reveal disparities across the country, with as few as one in five children having access to a registered teacher in some areas.
While areas such as Argyll & Bute, East Ayrshire and West Lothian have a 100 per cent record, in the Western Isles less than 20 per cent of children have any exposure to a qualified teacher. Clackmannanshire, Moray and Stirling have teachers working in less than half of their nurseries.
The figures follow a report by inspectors last month which found that children benefit from being taught by teachers with early-years experience, rather than relying solely on trained nursery staff.
According to statistics for schools published this month, 75.4 per cent of pre-school children have access to a qualified teacher, up from 74.9 per cent last year.
However, there is concern about the patchy nature of the access, with only two-thirds of nurseries having a regular arrangement in place.
And while some councils have support from external teachers at all of their pre-school centres, the picture varies across the country.
The situation has led to a call from the country’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), to introduce better regulation of the sector in the hope of ending the current “patchwork quilt” of provision.
The EIS is taking legal action in a bid to block Glasgow City Council appointing non-teachers to run ten nurseries in the city.
“Far too many children are not receiving adequate access to the high-quality teacher-led nursery education that they deserve,” said general secretary Larry Flanagan.
“Despite the Scottish Government commitment to improve access to teachers in the nursery sector, the lack of legislation to enshrine the right of nursery-aged children to be taught by a qualified teacher in law is leading to a postcode lottery of provision.”
Flanagan said the Scottish Government had ruled out any new legislation compelling local authorities to increase teacher numbers. However, he said he remained hopeful that some form of regulation would be introduced.
“If we can get some sort of regulation that’s a bit more explicit, that would be a huge step forwards in terms of stabilising the sector,” he added.
Last month, a report published by Education Scotland found pre-school children with access to a qualified teacher progressed better than those under the guidance of trained nursery staff alone.
But the number of trained teachers in nursery schools has fallen dramatically in recent years as councils look to cut costs. According to figures gathered by teaching unions this year, the number of nursery teachers in Scotland has fallen from 1,702 in 2005 to 1,496 this year.
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said that even in areas where access to a teacher was good, the figures failed to tell the whole story.
“Contact has to be meaningful,” she said. “If it’s to have any value, it has to go beyond a teacher wafting in and being in the room half a day once a month. From a parent’s perspective, you want to be sure someone is there that is able to identify issues and address them. These figures don’t tell the whole story, but it’s not in the government’s gift to do anything about it. It’s down to local authorities and how they are managing pre-school provision. It comes down to different local authorities adopting different strategies and the term ‘contact’ is really meaningless.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The most recent figures show that access to a registered teacher in nurseries has increased. This is welcome, as teachers play a vital role in early learning provision. It is for local authorities to take decisions on how best to deploy teachers across early learning and childcare provision as part of the wider team of professionals working in early years.
“We are taking steps to increase the skills of the early years workforce to make sure all working in the sector have the skills and qualifications that have been shown to make a difference in children’s early learning, and we are delighted that they are also having a positive impact on the quality of early learning and childcare.”