Numbers training to become early years teachers drop by a third in England

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There has been a steep decline in the number of people training to become early years teachers, new government figures show. New data shows that only 365 people are embarking on the course – a drop of a third since last year, and a decrease of 84 per cent since 2013/14.

At the same time, new government figures show two in five (43 per cent) children in poverty in England were unable to speak in full sentences, follow basic instructions and express themselves in their first year of primary school.

Official figures reveal a dramatic and persistent gulf between rich and poor. One in four (26 per cent) better-off children are struggling with basic skills at the age of five, meaning there is a 17-percentage point gap between poorer children and their peers across England. This gap has widened slightly since last year (by 0.3 per cent) for the first time in four years.

One of the key ways to help children catch up is high-quality childcare. Yet the number of people obtaining a key qualification that could help narrow this gap between rich and poor has fallen for the fourth year running.

Save the Children has previously identified that there are 11,000 nurseries across England that do not employ an early years teacher. In the most disadvantaged areas, where the need is most urgent, 2,000 early years teachers are needed.

To create an enriching and nurturing environment that supports children’s development, nurseries and other childcare settings need a workforce with a mixture of skills, experience and backgrounds, all with key roles to play.

As part of the right mix of skills and expertise, evidence shows that childcare settings led by a graduate early years teacher are able to provide higher-quality care and education. Early years teachers are trained to support children’s early development, and to identify and support those who are struggling. This includes providing parents with help to support their children’s development at home. Evidence shows early years teachers benefit disadvantaged children the most.

Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds recently pledged to halve the number of pupils starting school behind in talking and reading skills by 2028, but earlier this year the government axed a key commitment to address the early years teacher shortage – a decision criticised by charities, schools and nursery leaders.

Save the Children’s Director of UK Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, Steven McIntosh, said: “This steep decline in early years teacher trainees represents a crisis in the childcare workforce. Highly qualified early years teachers play a crucial role in helping children catch up, and are especially needed now with recent figures showing that poorer children are still so much more likely to fall behind by the time they start primary school.

The Government’s commitment to close this early learning gap is welcome, but it is failing to invest in what we know works – a highly qualified childcare workforce. Unless the government gets to grips with this staffing crisis, a generation of children are at risk of being left behind.”

The charity has published a report, It All Starts Here, which reveals that widespread dissatisfaction with pay, status and conditions is driving existing professionals from the sector and deterring people from becoming early years teachers.

Save the Children would like to see the Government address this staffing crisis as a priority and is calling for trial schemes to support recruitment and retention of early years teachers in some of the most disadvantaged parts of England by boosting salaries, especially in the first five years following graduation.

Save the Children says there is mounting evidence of a recruitment crisis in early years teachers. Universities have stopped delivering the courses because the numbers are not sustainable, and Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee set out major concerns that childcare funding pressures are leaving providers cutting back on higher-qualified staff.

* Read It All Starts Here: tackling the crisis in the early years teacher workforce here

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