Last week, Save the Children published a report to much fanfare, highlighting the importance of employing qualified teachers in early years settings to ensure young children develop the language skills they need to thrive when they begin more formal education at the age of four or five.
The report was covered extensively across the media and rightly highlighted the importance of early years education and the value of having specially trained staff in place to deliver appropriate learning opportunities for children.
This is not news to those of us already working in the sector. The Department for Education’s own website highlights the fact that ‘Research demonstrates that the quality of early education and childcare provision is higher when practice is led by specially-trained early years graduate teachers’ as part of its recruitment spiel to attract more applicants into early years teaching.
However, both the DfE and the Save the Children report are ambiguous about what the terms ‘specially-qualified’ and ‘qualified teachers’ means in practice.
Early Years Teacher Status was introduced in 2013, building on the Early Years Professional Status programme introduced in 2007, to provide professionally-recognised status for graduates working in early years settings.
The idea was to raise the status of early years educators to attract more graduates into the sector and drive up standards by employing graduate-level teachers in every early years setting.
However, while the aspirations are welcome, the fact that EYTS graduates are not recognised with full Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) means attracting graduates into early years careers is a real challenge and is one of the major reasons for under-recruitment nationally on EYTS programmes.
The entry requirements and course content for ETYS courses are equivalent to those required of applicants for courses resulting in full QTS but the pay, conditions and career development prospects for teachers with full QTS are currently far better than for their EYTS counterparts.
For example, there is no standardised pay scale for EYTS teachers, and no Government funding to support early years settings in providing appropriate graduate salaries for these crucial employees. This means that, in practice, EYTS qualified teachers working in early years settings earn just a pound or two more an hour than they did before obtaining their status.
The EYTS qualification is not a lightweight option: at Newman University, undergraduates study for EYTS alongside a full undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education and Care or, for those who already hold a degree, there are full and part-time postgraduate routes. Students study child development for children aged between nought and eight years; the content and delivery of the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum; professional practice; safeguarding; inclusion; developing positive behaviours; pedagogical leadership; effective communication; and working effectively with colleagues, other professionals and families, as well as undertaking lengthy work placements.
On graduation, Early Years Teachers are expected to lead and manage the delivery of age and developmentally-appropriate learning activities, drive change and work effectively with colleagues, other professionals and families, but they are not rewarded with the more widely-recognised QTS status, are more poorly remunerated than their QTS colleagues and can only work in free schools, academies, independent or private nursery settings.
Is it any wonder then that recruitment to the sector is difficult and that many of these highly-qualified practitioners are quickly lost to other roles?
Last December, Childcare Minister Sam Gyimah confirmed Government plans to establish a Workforce Strategy. He highlighted that the Government wanted to clarify routes into the sector, make sure people stay and develop in the sector, and reiterated the importance of having the right skills in the right places.
The rhetoric is good, but what the industry needs now is action that reflects these worthy words and reports.
As a first step, the Workforce Strategy should address the current inequality between EYTS and QTS by either recognising the expertise of EYTS with full QTS or provide a clear, viable pathway for EYTS-qualified teachers to ‘top up’ their status.
Alternatively, we need to establish a nationally-recognised payscale, terms and conditions for EYTS-qualified practitioners that helps these highly-skilled teachers justify their commitment to early years education and maps out clear career development routes and opportunities.
Of course, the fly in the ointment continues to be funding. If the Government is serious about the importance of employing graduate-level teachers in every early years setting, there needs to be appropriate funding to support this. What is the point of providing funding to help teachers obtain qualifications if we don’t then pay them sufficiently to retain those skills in the sector?
The cost of employing and properly remunerating graduates to deliver consistently high-quality early years education can not be borne out of existing nursery budgets but, with parents under ever-increasing financial pressure, neither can it be carried wholly by families.
The Government’s aim to provide every child with 30 hours a week of free childcare is already pushing the system to breaking point so, if they’re to deliver against both pledges, additional funds have to come from somewhere.
The forced academisation of schools across England may offer potential benefits to EYTS-qualified teachers as the move will open up job opportunities in settings previously closed to non-QTS applicants.
However, it’s crucial that this is taken as an opportunity to enhance the quality of provision at nurseries attached to previously maintained schools – attracting and retaining talented teachers with appropriate salaries, benefits and career progression opportunities – not simply used as an excuse to replace ‘expensive’ QTS teachers with ‘more affordable’ EYTS roles. That’s a subject for a separate blog!