Early Years Professionals improve practice for pre-school children

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Early years settings that employ an Early Years Professional make 'significant improvements' in the quality of learning for children from two-and-a-half to five, a four-year study has concluded.

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Improvements related most strongly with direct work with pre-school children, particularly around supporting children’s communication, language and literacy, the quality of the interaction between staff and children, and reasoning and thinking skills.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, the National Centre for Social Research and the Institute of Education were commissioned by the previous Government to carry out the National Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund to assess the impact of Early Years Professional Status in private, voluntary and independent settings.

EYPs interviewed as part of the study said that the EYFS acted as a catalyst for improvements, particularly child-led learning and meeting the needs of the individual child.

Researchers found that EYPs had the most influence on the quality of practice in their own rooms, particularly around support for learning, communication, and children’s individual needs, rather than across the whole setting. The more time that EYPs spent in rooms with children, the greater their impact on the quality of provision in that room.

However, the report found that there was little evidence of the impact of EYPs on the quality of provision for babies and toddlers under 30 months.

The report suggests that this could be because EYPs are less likely to work in infant and toddler rooms in nurseries.

While 91 per cent of the 35 EYPs in the survey spent time working in the pre-school rooms, only 44 per cent spent time supporting practice in the infant and toddler rooms.
On average EYPs spent 18.4 hours a week in pre-school rooms but only 4.7 hours with babies and toddlers.

The report recommends that based on evidence that EYPs are not working with the youngest children, ‘settings should be encouraged to consider whether graduate leaders are leading practice across the birth to five age range.
Coupled with this, research is required to establish the most effective ways of raising quality for our youngest children through workforce development.’

EYPs as ‘leaders of practice’

Principal investigator Sandra Mathers from the Department for Education at Oxford University, said, ‘We found clear evidence that EYPs were effective in leading quality improvement for pre-school children. Settings which gained an EYP made significant improvements related most strongly to direct work with children and the quality of support for learning, reflecting the role of EYPs as "leaders of practice’.’

EYPs had the most impact on developing children’s communication, language and literacy, ‘by encouraging children to communicate, extending children’s language, reading and discussing books with them more regularly,’ she added.

There was also a higher quality of interaction between staff and children. The quality of support for children’s problem-solving and reasoning, understanding the world around them and scientific understanding was also higher in settings with EYPs.

Other benefits were ‘developmentally appropriate’ schedules for children, meeting the individual needs of the children and child-initiated learning through play.

The benefit of having an EYP in a setting was felt less in the areas of policies and procedures, care routines, health and safety, the quality of the physical environment, facilities and training for staff, and communication with parents.

The report suggests that this could be because these issues are more likely to fall within the remit of a nursery manager.

The study began in 2007 with visits to 238 PVI settings that expressed an interest in employing a graduate or an EYP.

Follow-up visits took place two years later to assess improvements in quality by comparing settings with an EYP with those that did not.

Researchers compared 32 settings (35 EYPs) which had since employed an EYP who had held Early Years Professional Status for at least six months. The research team matched up EYP and non-EYP settings to ensure that they were as similar as possible in terms of characteristics, such as qualifications of the other staff, sector and size of the settings. Practice was observed in baby, toddler and pre-school rooms.

Ms Mathers said, ‘We used non-EYP settings as a pool from which to draw a carefully matched comparison group. This meant we could compare settings which gained an EYP with settings that had similar characteristics but which did not gain an EYP. Accounting for these other possible influences on quality meant that we could really put a magnifying glass onto the impact of EYPS.’

Threat to funding

There are now more than 7,500 EYPs.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘We welcome the findings of this report, although we have concerns about whether the early years sector can afford to retain these skilled professionals.

'The Government has invested some £30m so far in helping more than 7,000 early years practitioners achieve Early Years Professional Status. However, we are increasingly being made aware that some local authorities across England are intending to withdraw Graduate Leadership funding. Should this happen, many early years settings may find themselves in a position where they are unable to afford to retain them.

‘While the Government is serious about giving all children the best start in life, there must be serious thought about how daycare providers can afford to invest in employing graduates without passing on the additional cost to parents, who are already stretched financially.’
Judith Thompson, assistant director of the Children’s Workforce Development Council, said, ‘We welcome this seminal research highlighting the positive impact  EYPs have on children’s learning and development. This research reinforce the importance of investing in graduate leadership across the early years workforce and recognises the pivotal role EYPs play.’
  • For more on the evaluation see the next issue of Nursery World, published on 9 August.

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