England 'faces acute shortage of 11,000 nursery teachers'

By agency reporter
August 12, 2018

There is an acute shortage of nearly 11,000 graduate early years teachers in England, new Save the Children analysis of Government figures has revealed.

The charity 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. Early years teachers are trained to support children’s early development, and to identify and support those who are struggling. 

These figures, obtained by Save the Children through a Freedom of Information request, come just days after the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, pledged to halve the number of pupils starting school behind in talking and reading skills by 2028.

The charity has warned that the government is already undermining this target by failing to get the grips with this staffing crisis and lowering its ambitions for childcare quality.  Only last month, the Government axed a commitment to address the early years teacher shortage – a decision criticised by charities, school and nursery leaders.

Just as quality teaching makes all the difference in schools, 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.

Early years teachers are the single biggest indicator of quality childcare. Without them, 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.

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. They may struggle to understand and pay attention to others, express themselves, or follow simple instructions. Many of these children never catch up.

The charity says that instead of improving support to stop children from falling behind, evidence of an early years staffing crisis is mounting up:

  • The number of people enrolling on the Early Years Initial Teacher Training course has fallen for the fourth year running, with only 595 people starting the training in the last year compared to 2,327 in 2013-14.
  • Universities are cutting the courses because the numbers are not sustainable.
  • 21 per cent of current graduate workforce is aged over 50 and approaching retirement age
  • Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee has set out major concerns that childcare funding pressures are leaving providers cutting back on higher-qualified staff.

Mr McIntosh continued: “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, 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.

Previous research from Save the Children shows that children already behind at the age of five are four times more likely to fall below expected standards of reading by the end of primary school than those who started school on track. Evidence shows that children who fall behind before school also feel the effect into adulthood. They are more likely to struggle to succeed in the world of work and see a hit to their confidence, social skills, relationships and mental health.

* Read the letter to Childcare Minister Nadhim Zahawi here

* Save the Children UK https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/

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