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The importance and impact of the early education and care workforce

Teach First

Research is consistent in finding that the quality of the early education and care (EEC) workforce is inextricably linked to improved outcomes in early childhood education and care.

As a charity with an explicit focus on improving educational outcomes for learners who experience socio-economic disadvantage, at Teach First we spend a lot of time considering how we can support the sector in developing and retaining a ‘well-educated, well qualified’ early education and care workforce.

However, there are numerous barriers to the recruitment, training and retention of skilled, committed early years professionals.

Whilst many organisations across the sector are working together to tackle the complex web of factors related to the support, training, and retention of qualified EEC staff, at Teach First we have two particular approaches that we believe contribute to the ongoing retention and training of excellent EEC practitioners.

Placing graduate trainee teachers in Early Years settings is an impactful and lasting way to support high quality, new entrants to the EEC workforce. There are proportionally less degree-qualified staff in EEC than any other education sector. The Nuffield Foundation found that a small but positive association between degree-qualifed early years workers in an Early Years setting and the children’s learning outcomes. Additionally, The Nutbrown Review demonstrated that degree-qualified staff are retained in EEC settings more consistently than their colleagues with fewer qualifications (e.g. Level 3), reducing turnover and supporting lasting and consistent relationships with the children within their care.

We intentionally recruit and train high potential graduates, recruiting as diverse a cohort as possible. This is impactful for two reasons. First, it helps us to tackle the under-representation of some groups – particularly people from ethnic minorities and men – in  EEC, which allows children to ‘experience different cultures and beliefs, boosts their awareness of diversity and increases their sense of inclusion and belonging’ (Early Childhood Education and Childcare Coalition, 2023)._

Our leadership development programme then supports our high potential trainees, once qualified, to progress into leadership within their setting or even within their schools, putting them into contact with peers, networks and mentors to support their journey. This in turn leads to more teachers with early years experience in senior leadership spaces, supporting appropriate and informed decision making for Early Years settings.

Supporting Early Years leaders through digitally mediated leadership development is our second approach to supporting the sector. As a provider of the NPQEYL (National Professional Qualification for Early Years Leadership) we are proud to be developing EY leaders across settings. Our blended approach mitigates cost, travel concerns and ‘forges connections across diverse geographical contexts’ (Halls, Sakr, and Cooper 2022). The funding of the NPQEYL has helped settings to access training, something which before Covid 19 was described as unaffordable and limiting EY professionals’ ability todevelop their practice.Our leaders have enjoyed networking, learning together and visiting each other’s settings. For example, one NPQEYL leader shared ‘I am proud to say my knowledge, understanding and purpose within the EY education sector has grown as a result of the NPQ. I am more confident in myself and have empowered others to change, adapt, and improve their practices and professional development, in turn having a huge positive impact upon the children we have been fortunate enough to teach’.

Challenges remain. Access to digitally mediated leadership development across the sector remains inconsistent due to barriers to access to technology and variable Wi-Fi in rural settings. Compared to other education sectors, increased qualifications in EEC often result in increased responsibility but relatively compressed additional renumeration.

A child’s access to excellent early childhood education is fundamental to good outcomes throughout education and later life. That is why we will continue to place, train and develop teachers and leaders in EEC settings whilst advocating with our colleagues across the sector for parity in pay, conditions and progression opportunities for everyone working in EEC.