Last reviewed 26 August 2020

A lack of investment in the early years workforce risks widening inequality in society, according to a new report by the Sutton Trust and the Centre for Research in Early Childhood.

The report reviews recent developments in early years policy and sets out a framework for urgent action to improve social mobility in the early years. It urges the Government to improve the training, pay and conditions of early years staff to support all children’s learning and development before school begins.

The research highlights that access to high-quality early years teaching and well-qualified staff is hugely important for all children, leading to positive language, physical, social and emotional development. It is particularly crucial for disadvantaged children, who may not have access to the same home learning support as those from better-off homes.

The report analyses progress on the recommendations from the Nutbrown review in 2012 and assesses the current state of play in relation to the development of a quality early years workforce. It reveals a dramatic drop in numbers taking up places on early years teacher (EYT) courses and a high level of staff turnover mainly due to low salaries and lack of career benefits.

It recommends the following five priority areas for urgent action to lift the life chances of the youngest and most disadvantaged children.

  • A vision for the workforce and a restatement of the importance of achieving a well-qualified, high status and better rewarded profession to achieve a world class early years service.

  • Access to qualifications: barriers to accessing entry level (1-3) qualifications should be addressed urgently to encourage new recruits into the sector, with a view to establishing a Level 3 qualification as the benchmark for the sector.

  • Access to professional development: Continuing Professional Development (CPD), which follows on from initial training, needs to be a requirement for all staff throughout their careers and be properly funded and the current barriers to access addressed.

  • Graduate leadership: incentives for graduate leaders to be employed in all early years settings should be reinstated through a “Leadership Quality Fund”, but especially for those working with less advantaged children and those with particular needs.

  • Pay and conditions of employment: disparities on pay, conditions of employment and status across the maintained and private sectors must be addressed and funding levelled up.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“The first years of a child’s life are crucial for their development, both in terms of attainment and their social and emotional wellbeing. Access to high-quality early years education is vital, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

“The early years workforce should be given the pay and training they deserve. First and foremost, we need a clear vision for the early years workforce that addresses disparity in pay amongst staff and provides them with adequate development and qualifications.”

“Investing in the people who work in our early years sector will bring benefits to all young children – but particularly the most disadvantaged – for years to come.”