Shortage of 11,000 early years teachers, warns Save the Children

The children's charity is warning of an acute shortage of graduate early years teachers in private and voluntary settings.

A Freedom of Information request by the charity reveals that 325,000 two-, three-, and four-year-olds in funded places in private and voluntary sector settings do not have access to a qualified early years teacher or a teacher with QTS.

According to the charity’s analysis, there are nearly 11,000 too few early years teachers in PVI settings in England.

The figures are based on data obtained by a FOI request made by the charity on the number of private, voluntary and independent (PVI) childcare providers in England employing an early years teacher or equivalent.

It concludes that 10,731 early years settings - out of a total of 21,041 - do not have staff with qualified teacher status (QTS), early years teacher status (EYTS) or early years professional status (EYPS). (This data does not take into account other graduate-level early years qualifications.)

According to Save the Children, its analysis reveals that there is a shortage of around 2,000 graduate early years teachers in the most disadvantaged areas, where they are most needed, which it says should be the Government’s first priority.

Save the Children’s FOI request asked the Department for Education for:

  • the number and proportion of childcare settings in the private, voluntary and independent sector who employ an Early Years Teacher (EYT), Early Years Professional (EYP) or someone with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), and;
  • the number of children accessing funded hours who go to a setting with an EYT or equivalent.

The data obtained by Save the Children through the FOI request is based on analysis of the DfE’s statistics ‘Provision for children under 5 years of age, January 2018’.

The charity then used this information to work out the number of PVI providers who do not employ an early years teacher or equivalent, and the number of children in funded early education places who do not have access to one.

The analysis was has also been broken down by local authority area, revealing wide disparities across the country. According to the analysis, pre-school children in Sunderland are five times as likely to go to a nursery with a graduate early years teacher as those in Shropshire.

The East Midlands is the region where the lowest percentage of pre-school children have access to graduate teachers. The East of England is the second lowest. The North East is the best performing region, followed by inner London.

Ranked by the percentage of children in private, voluntary and independent childcare settings without a qualified early years teacher or equivalent: 


Source: Save the Children

The local authorities where the lowest proportion of pre-school children have access to a graduate early years teacher are Shropshire, Swindon and Rotherham, while the highest percentages of children with graduate teachers are in Sunderland, Kensington and Chelsea and Islington.

Steven McIntosh, Save the Children director of UK Poverty, said, ‘Children who start behind, stay behind. But high-quality childcare, led by graduate early years teachers, can ensure children are ready for school. So instead of lowering ambitions for childcare quality, the Government should keep its promise to address the crisis in training, recruiting and retaining these underpaid and undervalued teachers. All of our little ones should have access to nursery care led by an early years teacher. Without action, we’ll be letting down our next generation.’

Last week the education secretary Damian Hinds pledged to halve the number of pupils starting school behind in talking and reading skills by 2028. The charity is warning that the government is already undermining this target by failing to get the grips with this staffing crisis and lowering its ambitions for childcare quality.

The research follows the Government’s decision last month to scrap a commitment in the early years workforce strategy to address the early years teacher shortage, a move which has been roundly criticised by the early years sector, charities, school and teaching unions.

In an open letter to the children's minister Nadhim Zahawi, Save the Children joined leading academics, union leaders and education bodies, including the National Association of Head Teachers, Ark academies and the National Day Nurseries Association, calling on the Government to keep its promise to address the early years teacher shortage, and set out a strategy to recruit and retain these vital early years teachers.

Mr McIntosh added, 'The education secretary has set out a major new ambition to improve social mobility, starting in the early years. Addressing this chronic shortage of skilled early years teachers must be at the forefront of this. But many early years teachers are leaving the profession or are close to retirement and the numbers starting training are plummeting.’

Sector response

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA, said, 'These findings are not surprising but should be a real wake-up call for the Government. Our own Workforce Survey this year showed that around half of the graduate level early years staff are leaving the sector due to pay concerns. We know from our research that practitioners who complete Early Years Teachers qualifications use these as a stepping stone to move into maintained sector schools where pay and conditions is much more attractive. 

'If the Government is committed to closing the early development gap and boosting social mobility, it should be raising its level of ambition for early years education and ensuring the sector is adequately funded to enable them to retain Early Years Teachers within nursery settings.

'Our members show passion and commitment to providing excellent early education and care, they are struggling to recruit and retain practitioners, especially at the higher level of qualification. The fact that fewer people are enrolling in graduate training courses should tell the Government that this needs immediate attention to avert a future crisis.'

Some early years organisations said that higher qualifications were not the only answer however.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘No one would argue that a child’s background should prevent them from realising their potential, and it’s right that recent ministerial pledges to get children school-ready are tested - particularly at a time when the early years sector faces a funding crisis.

‘But it’s vital that, in looking for ways to improve quality across early education, we do not reduce the a complex issue to a simple solution and a call for higher qualifications. Parents, and providers who do not employ degree-level staff, know quality is about more than staff’s academic achievements - and that degree is not the sole marker of the the experience, passion and in-depth knowledge high quality practitioners need.’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said, '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, led by qualified early years professionals, to have a positive and lasting impact on children’s outcomes. Children at settings without an early years teacher could be missing out, and may struggle when they start school.

'Without proper investment, the youngest and most vulnerable in our society will be starting off behind, with uncertain chances of catching up.’

Susanna Kalitowskil, PACEY’s research and policy Manager said, 'Research from PACEY and Voice recently found that the low pay and status of Early Years Teachers – and lack of parity with teachers of older children – is leading to a decline in specialist graduates. Many practitioners wish to pursue a degree, but there is little support for them to do so – and little or no reward or recognition when they do. The sector urgently needs better graduate qualifications and career pathways to improve the pay and opportunities available to the whole workforce.'

Judy Shaw, headteacher of Tuel Lane Infant School and the chair of NAHT’s Early Years Council said, ‘The wealth of evidence is clear 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.’

Commenting on the analysis, children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said, ‘Save the Children’s claim is misleading, university study is just one route into the early years workforce. There are over 250,000 dedicated professionals in the private or voluntary early years workforce, with many coming from apprenticeship or on the job training routes.

‘Most recently the secretary of state announced a £20 million fund to provide training and professional development for early years staff in disadvantaged areas to increase their ability to support children’s early speech and language development.'

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