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There is an acute shortage of nearly 11,000 graduate early years teachers in England, according to Save the Children.
The charity says the shortage is based on an analysis of Government figures and is warning that this leaves over 300,000 children at greater risk of falling behind before they reach school – and staying behind throughout their lives.
It says a well-skilled nursery workforce led by early years teachers is key to quality early education.
While all childcare providers have staff who are trained to care for children, only 36 per cent in the private sector have a qualified early years teacher on their team, it says adding that early years teachers are the single biggest indicator of quality childcare. Without them, says the charity, children are almost 10 per cent less likely to reach good levels of development in their first year of primary school. Disadvantaged children, who are currently 50 per cent more likely to have fallen behind at age five, can benefit the most from this high-quality support.
Steven McIntosh, Save the Children Director of UK Poverty, said: “Children who start behind, stay behind. But high-quality childcare, led by graduate early years teachers, can ensure children are ready for school. So instead of lowering ambitions for childcare quality, the government should keep its promise to address the crisis in training, recruiting and retaining these underpaid and undervalued teachers. All of our little ones should have access to nursery care led by an early years teacher. Without action, we’ll be letting down our next generation.”
Save the Children’s analysis reveals there is a shortage of around 2,000 graduate early years teachers in the most disadvantaged areas, where they are most needed. The charity says this must be the Government’s first priority.
The analysis reveals significant disparities across the country. Preschool children in Sunderland are five times as likely to go to a nursery with a graduate early years teacher as those in Shropshire.
The East Midlands is the region where the lowest percentage of preschool children have access to graduate teachers. The East of England is the second lowest. The North East is the best performing region, followed by inner London.
The Local Authorities where the lowest proportion of preschool children have access to a graduate early years teacher are Shropshire, Swindon and Rotherham, while the highest percentages of children with graduate teachers are in Sunderland, Kensington and Chelsea and Islington.
Save the Children says a quarter of five-year-olds – around eight children in every reception class – are struggling with the basic language and communication skills needed to succeed at school which means they may struggle to understand and pay attention to others, express themselves, or follow simple instructions.
The charity says that instead of improving support to stop children from falling behind, evidence of an early years staffing crisis is mounting up:
McIntosh added: “The Education Secretary has set out a major new ambition to improve social mobility, starting in the early years. Addressing this chronic shortage of skilled early years teachers must be at the forefront of this. But many early years teachers are leaving the profession or are close to retirement and the numbers starting training are plummeting. This is hardly surprising when official figures show that investment in promoting early years teacher training is less than one per cent of what is spent on school teachers”.
In an open letter to Nadhim Zahawi MP, the Childcare Minister, Save the Children joined leading academics, union leaders and education bodies, including the National Association of Head Teachers, Ark academies and the National Day Nurseries Association. They have called on the government to keep its promise to address the early years teacher shortage and set out a strategy to recruit and retain these vital early years teachers.
Nursery providers expressed concern about childcare funding, but said emphasising graduate employees over others should not be seen as the only solution to quality issues.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “No one would argue that a child’s background should prevent them from realising their potential, and it’s right that recent ministerial pledges to get children school-ready are tested – particularly at a time when the early years sector faces a funding crisis.
“But it’s vital that, in looking for ways to improve quality across early education, we do not reduce the a complex issue to a simple solution and a call for higher qualifications. Parents, and providers who do not employ degree-level staff, know quality is about more than staff’s academic achievements – and that degree is not the sole marker of the the experience, passion and in-depth knowledge high quality practitioners need.”