The Unique Contribution of Teachers in Early Years and their importance in delivering positive outcomes for children and bridging the poverty related attainment gap

Internal practice



Reason it was developed

This campaign was developed to address the sustained decline in the number of qualified teachers in early years settings in Scotland over the last decade and to work for legislative change to provide a statutory minimum level of access to a qualified teacher for all nursery children. Prior to 2002, the Schools (Scotland) Code had stipulated a ratio of one teacher to twenty children per nursery class in Scotland. However, this statutory provision was replaced with legislation, removing the child: teacher ratio and requiring local authorities only to provide ‘access to a teacher’ in the nursery setting. Since then, the consequences of this flexibility have resulted in the removal of teachers from many early years’ settings or the adoption of a model of provision, whereby teachers deliver the role on a peripatetic basis across a number of settings, thereby removing opportunities for genuinely meaningful interaction between teachers and children. With teacher numbers in early years dropping by 39% over a ten year period in 2016, it was clear that differing and ambiguous interpretations of ‘teacher presence’ and ‘teacher access’ both within and across local authorities was resulting in inequality of children’s experiences. Action was needed to reverse this trend and ensure that children were not subject to the ‘postcode lottery’ which would result in inequality of outcomes for our youngest, and for some of our most disadvantaged, learners. In 2016, the EIS funded research by the Child’s Curriculum Group into the contribution of qualified teachers in nursery education. The results, published in the document, ‘Sustaining the Ambition: the contribution of GTCS Registered Teachers in Early Years’, highlight that the Scottish Government’s ambitions for positive life outcomes for all its children, including the initiatives to address the poverty related attainment gap, are much less likely to be fully achieved unless teachers, including those with a specialism in early childhood, are included and supported as part of the Early Learning and Childcare workforce. The results of this research and the importance of investment in early years have been echoed in the findings of the OECD Early Learning and Child Well-Being Report (March 2020). The OECD report highlights that early intervention measures, which seek to develop the holistic needs of the child and address the gaps resulting from poverty and socio-economic disadvantage, are crucial in the strive for equity and in improving outcomes for all learners.


Following the publication of ‘Sustain the Ambition: the Contribution of GTCS Registered Teachers in Early Years’ in 2016, the EIS re-affirmed its commitment to campaign for the reversal of the erosion in nursery teacher numbers and so, to enhance the quality of nursery provision and to promote the inclusion of all early years learners. As part of an over-arching organising strategy, the EIS submitted, and was successful, in its application for funding from the Union Modernisation Fund (‘UMF’) to recruit a dedicated member of staff to support the campaign in early years. Work was undertaken at institutional level to engage with members, teaching in nurseries, to gather data nationally on the provision of early learning and to facilitate local organising activities to promote the value of teachers in this setting. With less than 800 (FTE) teachers working in nurseries across Scotland in 2019, the Early Years organiser worked with members to build a culture of engagement, to develop authentic relationships through informal networks within and across Local Associations and to facilitate discussions to foster greater confidence around their distinct professional identity, teacher empowerment, agency and professional voice. The response from teachers in the sector was positive. Many of them talked of feeling isolated and welcomed the opportunity to come together as a collective and re-engage with professional values which underpin early years pedagogy. This local engagement then led to the creation of an informal national network, to allow nursery teachers from across the country to share practice, ideology and their ambitions for their sector. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EIS has facilitated this engagement by hosting two webinars for early years teachers in 2020, with a third planned for the end of November. As the number of early years teachers joining the sessions increases, so too is the confidence of members to assert their unique professional identity and the contribution which they bring to tackling child poverty, promoting inclusion and narrowing the gap that disadvantage brings to educational outcomes. With the development of this collective voice, a national EIS network will now be established for early years teachers, to influence national Early Learning and Childcare policy and to campaign for the necessary legislative change to ensure that every child can have meaningful engagement with a qualified nursery teacher in Scotland.


• Greater engagement of nursery teacher members at a local level to foster the organising agenda; • Formation of an informal network at a national level to promote professional learning opportunities and develop coherence in a collective national voice for nursery teachers; • Creation of a National Occupational Network of Nursery Teachers to campaign for legislative and policy reform at a national level and to support local organising agendas.




United Kingdom
Trade Union members
Share this page