Government scraps early years workforce strategy's graduate plans

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DfE drops commitment to boosting graduates and allowing Early Years Teachers to teach in schools from the early years workforce strategy.


The Government had proposed changing regualations to enable those with Early Years Teacher Status to teach nursery classes in schools

Government proposals to grow the early years graduate workforce in poorer areas and to change the rules to allow those with Early Years Teacher Status or Early Years Professional Status to lead nursery classes in maintained settings have been abandoned.

The Department for Education’s decision not to go ahead with the plans was revealed in a letter from the children and  families minister Nadhim Zahawi to the chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon, following his appearance before the committee on 10 July as part of the Life Chances Inquiry.

Mr Zahawi said that the DfE would not now go ahead with its plan to carry out a a feasibility study into developing a programme to grow the graduate workforce in disadvantaged areas, to narrow the quality gap between settings in disadvantaged and more affluent areas.

Explaining the decision not to go ahead with the plans, the minister said that Ofsted data shows that the proportion of providers rated Good or Outstanding is now almost identical in the least and most deprived areas and that evidence from the SEED study shows that children in disadvantaged areas are now just as likely to be able to access high quality education as children more affluent areas. 

He added, ‘As I outlined at the hearing, it is clear that recruiting graduates into the PVI sector remains very challenging, despite significant investment by successive governments since 2006. In response, it is important we consider alternative but complementary approaches to continuing to improve professional development across the wider workforce to lead to rapid improvements in quality and children’s attainment.

‘With this in mind, I can confirm that after careful consideration we have decided not to proceed with the graduate feasibility study. Instead, as announced in the social mobility action plan, we will be investing £20 million in professional development activity focused on disadvantaged areas.’

Further details would be announced in due course and the Government remained committed to ensuring there were routes to graduate level qualifications in the early years sector.

Secondly, following consultation last year with Ofsted, unions, and school and college leaders, Mr Zahawi said that the DfE has decided not to amend the regulations to enable those with EYPS and EYTS to lead nursery classes in maintained settings.

While he said he realised this might cause disappointment for some in the sector amid concerns about the lack of parity between EYPS/EYTS and QTS, ‘amending the regulations would not in itself address this issue, as those with EYPS/EYTS would still not be subject to teacher pay and conditions.’

Sector response

Early years organisations expressed their disappointment with the DfE’s decisions, citing the need to bring pay and conditions for early years graduates in line with teachers in schools, and invest more funding overall in the sector.

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said, ‘We regret that Government has made a U-turn on this important commitment. We know that Ofsted ratings are a not a measure of quality which correlates well with the kind of high quality provision which improves children’s outcomes in the early years.

'The SEED findings are also of limited comfort - in order to close the gap there need to be more children in disadvantaged areas than in advantaged ones who are accessing high quality provision if they are to close the gap with their better-off peers. To boost the number of graduates working in PVIs, it is clear that we need to improve funding in a strategic and targeted way to incentivise and enable PVIs to attract graduates by paying salaries commensurate with what teachers earn in schools.’

On abandoning the plans to allow practitioners with EYTS and EYPS to teach in schools, she said, ‘We agree it would be quite wrong to allow EYTs and EYPs to teach in schools as second class citizens. Instead Government needs to bring EYT status within QTS to ensure parity of training, induction, pay and conditions. Clearly this needs to be done in such a way as to ensure this does not pull teachers away from working in PVIs, but that can only be done if - as indicated above - PVIs are enabled and incentivised to pay teachers comparably to the maintained sector.

‘We call on Government to be more ambitious in relation to both of these issues and not to abandon these important commitments.’

Susanna Kalitowski, policy and research manager, said, ‘PACEY is extremely disappointed to learn that the Department for Education has reneged on the two main commitments in its Early Years Workforce Strategy vis-à-vis Early Years Teachers.

‘The Government has acknowledged there is a major problem recruiting specialist early years graduates, but has done little to consider why this is, or take steps to improve the situation. Although we welcome increased funding for CPD in disadvantaged areas, this will not address the problem of declining numbers of specialist graduates, who have been found to have a particularly strong impact on the outcomes of disadvantaged children. 

‘The underlining issue is that Early Years Teachers do 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. If the pay and conditions of Early Years Teachers do not improve, the sector will lose talented and dedicated teachers who understand the uniqueness of a child’s early development.’

The Pre-school Learning Alliance said that until the early years workforce was given proper recognition and funding, issues of low status and pay would prevent the best graduates from choosing a career in childcare.
Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement, said, ‘Few will be surprised that the graduate feasibility study has been quietly abandoned. For many in the sector the calibre of an early years education has never been dependent on practitioners’ having the highest level of qualifications – a view supported by the fact that the quality of early years education has risen at the same time as differences between more and less affluent areas have narrowed. 

‘Nevertheless, it’s revealing that no explanation is put forward as to why so few graduates are considering a career in childcare. The simple fact is that until the professionalism and importance of the early years workforce is recognised then the low pay and status associated with the sector will continue to be a barrier to attracting the brightest and best graduates to a career in childcare. 

‘That is something ministers must address. The £20 million now put aside as a result of abandoning this feasibility study joins a patchwork of similarly small pots of money - none of which are enough to cover the true cost of delivering quality childcare, let alone ease the recruitment and retention crisis the sector faces. If ministers are serious about maintaining high levels of quality and improving the status of childcare professionals then they must look at the overall funding. Until they do, strategies and studies will continue to come and go without ever really addressing the needs of the workforce or our youngest children.’

Steven McIntosh, director of UK Poverty Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at Save the Children, said the Government’s decision to drop this commitment was a huge setback for disadvantaged children in England.

‘After years of inaction, this represents a failure of ambition for improving support in the early years,' he said.

‘Graduate early years teachers are the strongest indicator of quality childcare for England’s preschool children. They play a decisive role in boosting early development and closing the early learning gap for disadvantaged children. We are already facing a critical and worsening shortage of early years teachers across the country. The government has acknowledged the problem, but abandoned its commitment to address it. 

‘Unless we see urgent investment in quality early education and increasing the number of skilled early years teachers, the Government will be letting down thousands of children falling behind in their pre-school years.’

  • Read the minister’s letter in full here 
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