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The Education Policy Institute is launching a new study on the early years workforce and how it can improve children’s outcomes

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Natalie Perera, executive director and head of research at the EPI

I’m very excited to be able to announce that the Education Policy Institute will be carrying out a new, two-year programme of research to study the early years workforce and its impact on children’s outcomes. This research is supported by the Nuffield Foundation.

The existing evidence is clear that the quality of early years provision matters and that it can have a positive and lasting impact on children’s outcomes. That is particularly the case for disadvantaged children, where we know that 40 per cent of the disadvantage gap at age 16 is already apparent by age five.

What we don’t really know is which features of quality are most effective, especially in closing the disadvantage gap. We know that having a graduate in a setting can make a difference, but the evidence is limited as to what type of graduate is most important and what role they should play within the setting.

We also don’t know much about the rest of the workforce – how it should best be structured and whether that differs depending on whether a child is in a maintained nursery or in a PVI setting. While we know that continuing professional development (CPD) plays a key role in increasing the workforce’s professionalism, there is very little documented about how best to deliver systematic, sustainable and transformative CPD to the whole sector.

Being able to answer these questions really matters if we are serious about improving children’s outcomes through high-quality early education. The Government has gone quiet about its plans to professionalise the early years workforce, and so our research will provide a timely source of evidence to support and champion better policy-making in this area.

We will undertake an assessment of the current state of the workforce, the incentives and barriers to recruiting and retaining qualified staff, the strategies available to improve the provision of better-qualified staff, the role of CPD and the link between staff qualification and child outcomes.

We will publish a series of reports over the two years, setting out our findings and generating discussion about how these findings can be used to make better policy.

If we want to make real progress in narrowing the gap in the early years and ensuring that public investment is as focused as it can be, we need a better understanding of the mechanisms that drive high-quality early years provision and, ultimately, an improvement in children’s outcomes.

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