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The Government needs to invest urgently in the early years sector which is facing a shortage of 10,000 trained nursery teachers up and down England, according to a report by Save the Children.
The charity warns that more than a quarter of a million children are at greater risk of falling behind by the time they reach school – and staying behind throughout their lives as a result of the shortage.
Research commissioned by the charity found that children in independent nurseries without an early years teacher are almost 10% less likely to meet the expected levels of development when they start school compared to children who do have a teacher, leaving them struggling with basic skills like speaking full sentences, using tenses, and following simple instructions.
The research also shows that the number of people applying for the teaching roles has dropped to 860 last year from more than 2,300 the year before – well below the number needed to fill the gaps. Save the Children blames shrinking number of available positions, poor salaries and a lack of promotion opportunities.
It says Shropshire, Hull and the London borough of Newham are the worst affected with less than 20% of children in independent settings getting access to a qualified nursery teacher. Children in Bristol, Brighton and Hove, and Sunderland have the greatest access.
While Save the Children says the poorest areas are generally the worst affected, even in wealthier parts like Sutton, only 28% of independent nurseries have a qualified early years teacher to help children develop their early language skills, identify those who are struggling, and help them catch up by the time they reach school.
It says over half of children in independent nurseries in the West Midlands don’t have a qualified teacher (58%). In the North West, 45% of children are in independent nurseries without a qualified teacher and even in the south east, 50% of children in independent nurseries don’t have a qualified teacher working with them.
Save the Children is calling on the government to invest in a qualified early years teacher in every independent nursery across the country, starting in the 20% most deprived areas of the country, including Blackpool, Oldham, Birmingham and Barking.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said he agreed that investment in the early years workforce was vital. However, he expressed concern about the suggestion that standards in early years provision were low due to a lack of graduates. He said: “While it is by now well-established that graduate-led provision has a positive impact on children’s outcomes, that is not the same as saying that non-graduate-led provision is of poor quality.
“86% of PVI providers are currently rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, while the report itself highlights that whether or not a child attends an early years provision has far more impact than whether or not the provision they attend is graduate-led.
“Some of the best early years practitioners don’t have a degree, but have expertise, passion and an in-depth understanding of how children learn and develop. These are skills to be valued, not dismissed.”