New figures released today by Save the Children show there is a shortage of nearly 11,000 qualified Early Years Teachers across England. This means 300,000 children are going without the support they need to thrive in this crucial stage of their lives.
With clear evidence that falling behind in a child’s pre-school years has a hugely detrimental impact on their chances of success throughout school and beyond, this should be a stark warning to policy makers and those committed to social mobility.
Through my work I have seen how children grow and learn at an extraordinary pace in their early years. It is when they start to develop their personalities and learn the communication, language and social skills which stay with them long after. Low levels of development in the early years doesn’t just have an adverse impact on children’s progress throughout school but has also been shown to negatively impact their future life chances.
But there has been little in the way of progress in boosting children’s development at this crucial time. In fact, last year, one in five children were behind in basic language, numeracy and literacy skills by the time they started school, and this figure increases dramatically to almost half of the most disadvantaged children. This puts poorer children at a disadvantage before they’ve even had the chance to start school.
There is no sign that this early attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their better off peers is closing any time soon, it has remained stubbornly high, declining by only 2%, from 19ppt in 2013 to 17ppt in 2017. This puts poorer children at a disadvantage before they’ve even had the chance to start school.
The sad truth is, many of these children never catch up.
Children’s early experiences lay the foundations on which they build the rest of their life. If a child falls behind in the early years they will find it harder to reach key milestones throughout primary and secondary school. If they are unable to catch up during school, the ramifications can last into adulthood.
When children are provided with the right support, they can fulfil their potential. Parents have a key role to play in providing this support, but with almost all children attending childcare each week, high-quality early years provision is also fundamental. High-quality childcare acts as a buffer to the effects of poverty, and this is particularly true of settings led by an early years teacher.
Early years teachers are specially trained in developing and delivering an effective early years curriculum, and importantly, identifying and supporting children who are falling behind. Early years teachers can’t do it alone – it’s critical that they work closely and have the opportunity to help lead and develop a team of skilled nursery practitioners, who also have professional opportunities that allow them to flourish.
The Government has recognised the positive impact that early years teacher have on closing the attainment gap; last year it made welcome commitments to growing their number in disadvantaged areas. However, last month the Minister responsible announced he was be dropping this commitment. This is hugely concerning, and even more so when you consider that enrolments onto the early years initial teacher Training (EYITT) course has steadily declined since it began 2013-14. In 2017-18 only 595 students enrolled on the course. A number of universities have stopped offering the course or are providing fewer entry routes: in the last two years the number of courses has dropped by a quarter. Many existing graduate level early years staff are approaching retirement age, with nearly half over 40 and 21% over 50.
Nurseries and childcare staff are already doing a fantastic job with limited resources. But 300,000 children in England are in nurseries without a qualified early years teacher.
Following today’s figures, it is more important than ever that the government prioritises the early years and works to ensure that childcare providers are able to invest in their workforce – especially in early years teachers.
If the Government is serious about closing the early learning gap, it must stick to its promise to grow the graduate workforce in disadvantaged areas. Without swift action, hundreds of thousands of children will continue to lose out on vital support and the cycle of disadvantage will continue on.