By Deborah Lawson, General Secretary
For some time, Voice has warned of a potential early years recruitment and retention crisis of a size likely to rival that currently experienced in teaching. Regrettably, little heed was taken of our warning which, it appears from recent reports from early education and childcare providers, has become a reality.
While there is no guarantee that the Government’s decision to reverse the grade C requirement for early years career progression will have the desired effect, the decision cannot achieve an immediate reversal of current trends.
Most worrying is the loss of the highly qualified and experienced professionals from the workforce, proving that recruitment alone is not the solution. As with teaching, retention of qualified and experienced early years practitioners is essential.
Recognising that career progression within the early years was slowing down, along with evidence of a decline of further qualification training, at a time when the sector was losing talented, experienced Early Years Teachers (EYTs), Voice joined with PACEY to undertake comprehensive research to understand better how many graduate level teachers are leaving the workforce, why fewer people are training as EYTs and look at solutions to reverse the trend.
We surveyed Early Years Teachers, Early Years Initial Teacher (EYITT) training course leaders, and current and former students. Issues surveyed included barriers to recruitment and retention, availability of graduate-level early years teaching courses, the different routes to training, and graduates’ career aspirations and prospects.
The results of our research provided evidence to support our understanding that the sector is losing talented Early Years Teachers who understand the uniqueness of a child’s early development and are key to helping to close the gap for disadvantaged children.
We know that the early years workforce has become more highly qualified in recent decades. However, recent research indicates a downward trend in qualification levels, as settings experience high staff turnover because they cannot afford to retain their experienced staff, invest in their training and development – or even recruit them in the first place. Our findings echo this trend.
They also found that the majority of EYTs have difficulty finding graduate-level employment, with schools remaining most EYTs’ employer of choice, although only a minority are employed by them. Most existing EYTs surveyed have not gone on to further courses to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), but interestingly half of current EYT trainees think they will.
The majority of course leaders are also in favour of granting QTS to EYS and all respondents reported that they believed improved recognition, status, pay and conditions are crucial to recruiting and retaining specialist early years graduates and improving the EYT qualification.
The report of our findings, Improving early years graduates’ prospects, career progression and reward, recommends that to stem this exodus of specialist early years graduates, government needs to take urgent action.
We recognise that improvement can only be achieved if the early years sector, in particular private, voluntary and independent childcare providers, receive fair and sustainable funding to deliver the funded early education that three and four-year-olds receive as well as some disadvantaged two-year-olds. Without sustained investment, the loss to the sector of highly qualified, experienced and dedicated professionals will have far greater consequences for the Government’s aspirations for the future of education and social mobility.
Nearly all respondents expressed concern that an Early Years Teacher does not earn the same or have the same recognition as a teacher with QTS, even though they receive training of a comparable rigour, and are delivering the same curriculum. Until this inequality is resolved, most EYTs will view primary teaching as the only way they can secure a reasonable salary and future career progression.
We believe this inequality must end and have made recommendations that could resolve the issue and avert the worsening of early years recruitment and retention.
- Early Years Teachers should be allowed to lead nursery and reception classes in maintained schools.
- The target that every setting in England should benefit from graduate pedagogical leadership should be reinstated.
- Sustainable funding for the nursery education entitlement to be able to pay graduate-level wages to at least one member of staff should be provided.
- Guidance and support for settings about graduate qualifications should be better and more accessible.
- EYITT course structures and outcomes should be more transparent.
- Statistical data used for reporting and planning for EYITT qualifications requires improvement.
By taking this action, we believe that it is possible for government to fulfil its plans to attract, retain and develop the early years workforce and fulfil its aspirations and commitment to early years professionals.