The Education Policy Institute today (Wednesday 14 March) publish a new analysis of the early years workforce, ‘A Fragmented Picture’. Responding, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:
“There is plenty to worry about in this report. It paints a picture of a fragmented early years workforce, with a high turnover of under-paid and under-valued staff.
“Early years is the most crucial phase of education. If children fall behind at this stage it can prove difficult, often impossible, for them to catch up later, even with additional help. It is therefore obvious that the most cost effective way to improve educational outcomes for all children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is by investing in early years education.
“But we know that it is not just any early years experience that matters. Early years provision needs to be of high quality to have a positive and lasting impact on children’s outcomes. So it is worrying that EPI’s data shows a downward trend in qualification levels. Less than half of eligible two-year-olds take up their free hours entitlement at an early years provider with QTS/EYTS/EYPS qualified staff, and it’s not much better for three to four-year-olds.
“The funding pressures facing early years providers are at serious risk of decreasing early years quality and reducing access to qualified teachers further. Not only are providers struggling to meet the 30 hours free childcare offer, increased staffing costs resulting from changes to pensions and the living wage could result in providers having to make cuts and hire younger and less-qualified staff. It’s also worth noting that the cost of qualifying has itself increased sharply over the last few years, with level 3 courses rising from £250 in 2012 to £1,900 in 2015.
“We want to see extra money for education, including early education before children start school, and renewed investment in critical services for families. Without proper investment, the youngest and most vulnerable in our society will be starting off behind, with uncertain chances of catching up.”
Judy Shaw, Headteacher of Tuel Lane Infant School and the chair of NAHT’s Early Years Council said: “We are absolutely convinced that early years education is the critical point for intervention to improve the life chances of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and that the quality of provision makes all the difference in whether that intervention is successful.
“Competition between qualified teachers, graduates and good practitioners to work in the early years sector should be fierce. It should be an attractive career offering good professional development and remuneration. That is certainly not the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.
“Recruitment and retention of well qualified early years staff is becoming harder and harder. High quality early years education makes a difference and changes lives. It can narrow the gaps between groups of pupils that we speak about so often. It can raise expectations and aspirations in families and communities and have a long lasting impact on life chances.”
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