ANY move to raise the school starting age will be “utterly shambolic” unless it is properly funded, the leader of Scotland’s biggest teaching union has warned.

Andrea Bradley said that while the EIS supported the concept of an extended kindergarten experience, it was not feasible under current funding. She added that the union would not want to see any “opportunistic” move to deliver savings by raising the school age in terms of cuts to teacher numbers.

“An extended kindergarten experience would require significant additional funding in order for it to be high quality and would have to be designed, delivered and supported by qualified people,” she said.

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“We believe teachers need to be part of that and as we are already significantly under-represented in the early education offer, we would not wish to see that eroded any further.”

Last week, SNP MSP Kaukab Stewart (below) put forward a motion to raise the school starting age, which gained cross-party support.

The National:

However, Bradley cast doubt over whether a quality extended kindergarten stage was possible in the light of existing cuts in early years education which she warned was going to be “incredibly costly” in the longer term.

“We would not like to see the same cost-cutting approach as has been taken to early years education so far in any future composition of any kindergarten stage,” she said.

Current legislation only states that early learners should have “access” to a teacher – and how this is interpreted varies widely across Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

It means that some children rarely see a qualified teacher during their entire nursery experience, according to Bradley, who argues there should be a minimum guarantee of the amount of time a teacher spends with nursery children.

“Play-based learning does not happen by accident,” she said. “There is pedagogy inherent in all of it and you need professionals to consider what type of play is going to result in the type of learning that you want – you can’t have that by accident.

“The EIS is not suggesting that contributions can’t be made by others to the early learning experience but what we are seeing is that teachers have been significantly sidelined out of that experience over the last 10 years and we see it as being entirely about cost-cutting. Cuts should not be setting education policy.”

Bradley said an extended kindergarten stage and later school entry age would be “very costly” if it were to be done properly.

“There would have to be a big discussion about the extent to which Scotland is prepared to fund something like this in order for it to work well, otherwise it will be utterly shambolic,” she said.

“We are in support of play-based learning but that is accompanied by heavy caution around how this might be organised, given the current state of finance and how the cuts agenda rather than education principle has been driving early years provision in recent years.”

Bradley added that there would have to be a significant shift in political will – not only to fund an extended kindergarten stage but to invest properly in all stages of education in Scotland.

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“I don’t think it looks to be feasible as things stand,” she said. “For example, we currently have chronic underfunding of Additional Support Needs (ASN) provision and an unmet promise to teachers that their class contact time is going to be reduced to 21 hours per week.

“We also have the promise of 3500 additional teachers but for the second year in a row, teacher numbers have declined, so the sums are far from close to adding up.”

“These are all big-ticket items that we are still waiting to be delivered so while there is definite merit in the exploration of play-based learning, it is really difficult to see how this can delivered when these manifesto promises remain unmet.”