Pre-school teacher qualifications and the quality of daycare environments

This article was first published in Danish on the website of the Danish Centre for Social Science Research, VIVE.

The quality of a children's daycare environment is related to the level of training of the teachers who work there. This is the conclusion of a research review from the Campbell Collaboration. However, the systematic review cannot clearly determine how important a role teacher qualifications play in the quality of learning environments, says Jens Dietrichson, a researcher at VIVE – the Danish Centre for Social Science Research.

Tchildren outdoorshere is an on-going and active debate on the quality of daycare facilities in Denmark. A recent research paper, a systematic review from the international Campbell Collaboration, of which VIVE is part, provides a new perspective in this debate.

The review includes 48 studies on kindergarten children's learning environment and the head teacher’s level of qualification. The researchers conclude that there is a clear relationship between the two: teachers’ qualification levels correlate with the learning environment that the institution can offer the children.

Score high on the ECERS scale

Common to the studies is that they have all used the tool ECERS to measure the quality of the environment in the institution. ECERS – or the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale – is one of the oldest and most used tools in the field.

In ECERS, the learning environment is assessed using forms completed by certified consultants visiting the institution. They assess the physical surroundings, daily routines, activities available and the interaction between children and adults, including training of the children's language. The review shows that institutions with highly trained teachers score higher on virtually all the conditions that are measured in ECERS than do other institutions.

The research review includes studies carried out between 1980 and 2014 that deal with children in "pre-kindergarten" or "kindergarten", i.e. children between approximately three and six years of age. Most of the studies were conducted in the US, while the review was carried out by Australian researchers led by Dr Matthew Manning from the Australian National University.

Perspectives – and reservations

Researcher Jens Dietrichson from VIVE works with quality in schools and institutions, and he has read the research review with great interest – although he points out that the result is not surprising:

“One could argue that it would have been alarming if these studies showed no signs whatsoever that pre-school teachers with higher qualifications and good environments for children are connected. In this light, the review is not surprising, but it contains some interesting perspectives.”

ECERS can measure the quality of the children's learning environment, but it cannot say anything about the effect of this environment on children's learning and development. According to Jens Dietrichson, however, there is good reason to expect the two to be connected:

"Although none of the studies included here have looked at the children's competencies or school careers, we know from other research that when an institution scores high on the ECERS scale and thus provides an environment of a certain quality, we often see a positive connection to the children's learning and development.”

Other factors

However, Jens Dietrichson also points out – as do the authors of the review – that a relationship between teacher qualifications and good quality in day care is not the same as a direct causal connection. Many other factors may be at play in the institution's everyday life – factors that are difficult to identify in an analysis:

“For example, it’s not unreasonable to presume that more highly qualified pre-school teachers may – to a greater extent than others – get jobs in prosperous areas, and if this is true, this can also contribute to the environment in the institution, in which case teacher qualification is a less important factor than we might imagine. On the other hand, it may also be the case that highly qualified teachers are able to handle larger groups of children, in which case teacher training makes a bigger difference than we imagine.”

However, the connection between teachers' qualifications and children's learning is generally difficult to identify analytically, says Jens Dietrichson. For many reasons, it is difficult to design a study that takes into account the many other factors that can affect the outcome. In light of this, the research review is an important contribution to the area.

“The review confirms that there is a clear relationship between the quality of pre-school teachers’ training and the learning environment they provide for children in daycare. And since the review draws on surveys over several years and in several countries, it is a general point that seems to be independent of cultural context. This is important knowledge."

The full review and a two-page plain language summary (with translations into Spanish, Norwegian and Turkish) are available here.


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