A report published today by Middlesex University London and TACTYC (the Association for Professional Development in Early Years), which evaluates the impact of Government policies over the last 20 years to develop the early years workforce, calls for all early years teachers to be awarded Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) to ‘erase the qualifications divide between schools and nurseries’.
Based on research conducted with more than 120 participants from across the sector, it claims that ‘relentless’ changes to early years training and qualifications over the past two decades have resulted in a ‘confused and inequitable landscape’.
The report finds that the introduction of Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) and the absence of QTS is a source of great frustration and resentment for the sector, while the former NNEB qualification is still hailed as the ‘gold standard’.
At worst, the report says, the EYTS is viewed as a deliberate strategy by Government to undermine and devalue the pursuit of Level 7 qualifications by early years staff, as it rests upon economic imperatives that would provide continued justification for low salaries. At best, it adds, the qualification is considered ‘disastrous, badly thought-through and inequitable’.
The report's authors claim that the 'lack of parity' between sectors has also contributed to a growing shortage of trainee practitioners, and retention issues within the sector, as well as low pay, and, in some cases, lack of professional development opportunities.
They quote the National Day Nurseries Association’s 2016 survey, which found that since 2015,the proportion of staff qualified at Level 3 has dropped from 83 per cent to 75 per cent.
The authors claim that had Professor Nutbrown’s recommendations in 2012 been implemented in their entirety by the Government, the workforce would, by now, have a clear sense of the training and qualifications pathways available, feel assured of rigour and relevance of provision, and recognise themselves as valuable professionals, equal to those working with older children.
Instead they say that the ‘piecemeal and reactionary unfolding’ of Government reform over the past four years has created a ‘confusing, inconsistent, in places unregulated, and unsustainable framework’ destined for further reform.
They go on to call for greater focus on children from birth to three in the Early Years Educator (EYE) Level 3 qualification.
The report also found evidence that a key barrier to staff progression has been the requirement for all Level 3 staff to have GCSE maths and English at grades A-C. However, since the research was carried out, the Government announced it would be reinstating functional skills as alternatives to GCSEs as part of the Workforce Strategy, which also includes plans to boost numbers and career prospects of graduates.
A DfE spokesperson said, 'We want to boost the status of our dedicated early years professionals and encourage the brightest talent into this already thriving industry – that’s why we are investing a record £6 billion per year in the sector by 2020 to help deliver affordable, high-quality childcare.
'We have already broadened the English and maths requirements for Level 3 staff, and our Workforce Strategy sets out plans to allow early years teachers to lead nursery and reception classes in maintained schools. We are also considering how wider work on strengthening QTS could offer positive opportunities for staff.'
While the research is critical of many Government policies to up-skill the workforce, it does highlight measures being taken by childcare providers to improve training and support for the sector. This includes the move by nursery groups LEYF and Bright Horizons to bring some of its training and accreditation in-house.
Jayne Osgood, professor of education at Middlesex University, who led the research, said, ‘The early years sector is at breaking point. The workforce is demoralised by constant reform with little investment behind it. They do not share the same pay and conditions as their peers teaching in state primary and secondary schools and employers are struggling with recruitment and retention.
'Without a supported workforce children will be unable to get the most from these vital early years, quality of provision will be affected, and working parents will face an even bigger struggle to find the childcare they need.’
She added, ‘There is a healthy scepticism among the workforce. They don’t want to waste their money and time on qualifications for them to be meaningless.’
‘However, if the sector can come together and shout loud enough, the Government could do a u-turn on QTS for EYTS as they did with functional skills.’