Professional development in the early years workforce

Professional development is an essential part of an excellent early years provision. It motivates staff, contributes to staff retention, and impacts on children’s learning and development. Rebecca Fisk outlines ways that providers can access continuing professional development (CPD).

The early years workforce

As a provider within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) it is worth considering how you can source or share professional development across the wider early years workforce.

In this widest sense, the early years workforce includes different professionals who come into contact with young children and their families. Amongst many others, this includes midwives, health visitors, speech therapists, early years providers, and Reception teachers in schools. It would also include staff working in Children’s Centres or Community Hubs and the voluntary and charitable sectors. When national and local government are considering policy development it is helpful to have an overarching view of the workforce involved with young children’s development and care, be this through health, education or social care.

In this article we look at the early years education and childcare sector workforce in particular.

Early years providers and barriers to professional development

Professional development enhances the skills and knowledge of the workforce. There are many barriers to quality professional development and the impact it has on children’s development. One key barrier is the instability of the early years workforce. The Social Mobility Commission identify several reasons for this, as follows.

  • Low pay, often below the minimum wage.

  • High work demands, including excess paperwork, long hours.

  • Demographic characteristics, including young female workforce likely to have career breaks.

  • Training and professional development, often too basic or too expensive for higher quality training.

  • Organisational climate and culture, often dependent on the skills of the manager and leadership.

Other barriers to accessing quality professional development include a lack of time, opportunity, and awareness as well as the expense or location.

Providers are required to support staff to undertake training and professional development (DfE 2017)

Early years workers have come into the role through different routes, including apprenticeships, NVQs and graduate programmes. The Department for Education lays out a requirement for providers to ensure staff have appropriate training and continual professional development (CPD).

‘Through the EYFS, providers are required to support staff to undertake appropriate training and professional development opportunities to ensure they offer quality learning and development experiences for children. Providers must ensure that staff have up to date knowledge of safeguarding and child protection, health and safety, paediatric first aid, food hygiene and the administration of medicine (DfE 2017:30)’

Many early years staff, having undertaken the required training, such as child protection and paediatric first aid, are keen for more learning around child development and provision.

Most local authorities have had significant cuts to their services, including their training offer for providers. Not only does this mean that centralised sources of help have been reduced but that providers will vary hugely on the funds they have to provide non-essential training. Managers want to know that their investment in training will have an impact on provision, Ofsted ratings, and their staff expertise. With considerable high turnover of staff in the early years, this investment does not always have time to manifest and make a difference.

Pandemic fuelled learning, e-learning and professional development

E-learning and virtual training has taken off over the last few months because of lockdown restrictions. It is easy for early years staff to access at a time that is suitable for them and provides a new and growing source of knowledge, networking, and opportunity.

One outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic is that some local authorities have started putting together better and more accessible e-learning offers and resources for early years.

What providers can do

Not only can you ensure your staff access the essential training they need to meet the requirements of the EYFS, but you can investigate other sources of support and professional development. Keep an open mind. Look across the whole early years workforce for potential sources of training. Why not ask your local authority if you can work with them on producing a training audit? This may help to secure training by sharing the cost with other providers.

Consider funding staff training from different funding streams such as Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP), Disability Access Fund (DAF), and Special Educational Needs Inclusion Funding (SENIF). Learning about strategies and techniques that support inclusion, such as Makaton, tend to support many other children too.

Think about the expertise amongst your own staff and see if you can boost their confidence to share this in bite-size training sessions for all the staff. You may have a member of staff who is writing an assignment and can share their research. In-house professional development has a key role to play in staff development and values input from everyone. Discussions around different sections of the Intention, Implementation and Impact process outlined in the Ofsted framework can form the basis for staff discussion and development. You could also take different principles of the EYFS such as ‘parent partnership’ or a ‘unique child’ to frame thinking. Or you could frame staff development dialogue around the ‘enabling environments’ and ‘what adults do’ sections from the EYFS characteristics of effective learning pages in the 2012 Development Matters.

There will be training needed across the sector to introduce a revised EYFS due to become statutory in September 2021. Ask your local authority how this will be delivered so you can plan ahead and ensure your staff are ready. Keep up with sector publications and announcements and ensure you subscribe to any newsletters for the early years in your council area.


Staff professional development does not have to be expensive. There are lots of excellent improvement frameworks available from local authorities, resources to support training and early years networks. There are challenges and barriers to enhancing the impact of staff training and once you have identified these, it will be easier to plan your staff development journey. Working in collaboration with others could help to reduce costs and provide support for each other. This includes working with other group providers, childminders, schools and local organisations. Don’t forget to see what the voluntary and charitable sectors have to offer and local business support hubs too. There may be free support for business leaders locally.

On-going professional workforce development is vital to motivate staff, inform practice and make a difference to children’s lives. It makes good business sense to have well-qualified staff, who feel supported in their own life-long learning. They are more likely to stay and commit to the organisation giving you a return on your investment in training. Staff training can be shared with parents, building your reputation as an early years provider.


Department for Education and National Centre for Social Research: (October 2020) How early years providers support disadvantaged children, children with SEND, the home learning environment and healthy eating Research report.

Department for Education (March 2017) Early Years Workforce Strategy.

Department for Education (March 2017) Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Early Education (2012) Development Matters. This non-statutory guidance material supports practitioners in implementing the statutory requirements of the EYFS.


Social Mobility Commission (August 2020), The Stability of the Early Years Workforce in England – an examination of national, regional and organisational barriers - Research report.