Today’s report released by Save the Children entitled Light up Children, provides evidence of the importance of highly qualified and expert teachers working with our nations’ youngest children. Dr Catherine Meehan, Faculty Director of the Early Childhood Directorate at Canterbury Christ Church University, explains why early years teachers are vital.

Children’s growing brains need to be stimulated by adults who will talk, listen, read and support the development of the child’s identity so that the aspirations for them to have a good life can be achieved.

In the first five years of life babies go from being totally reliant on carers to being independent, able to communicate their needs and feelings, beginning to decode the complexities of language and being able to read and write. Young children grow more rapidly during this period than any other. They learn to move their bodies in order to gain full control and co-ordination, and at the heart of their development is their brain. The brain is a complex control centre that continues to transform as children learn and master new skills, for example, children’s developing language, thinking and reasoning abilities, memory, personality and temperament. Early experiences and how people in their environment respond to children does have an impact on how children learn. The example of the Romanian orphans who were neglected is an extreme case, but demonstrates the necessity for children to be loved, cared for and nurtured during this critical period of development.

The aim of the report and recommendation to the Government is that by 2020 every nursery has a qualified teacher. In order to support this aspiration, the University has a number of programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, which can lead to Early Years Teacher Status. The PGCE in Early Childhood Education, which trains specialist teachers for children from birth to 5 years, is a postgraduate route. This one-year programme gives trainee teachers the requisite knowledge and skills to make a difference for children. The National College for Teaching and Leadership is currently funding this programme.