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Do qualifications matter?

In recent decades it has become conventional wisdom in the early years sector that more highly qualified practitioners provide better care for children. PACEY's own research has found that qualifications have a positive impact on practitioners' confidence and everyday practice, though training and CPD also have this effect. Two new reports from Save the Children and the Centre for Economic Performance explore the impact of early years qualifications on children's outcomes, and they come to very different conclusions.

Save the Children argues that a highly skilled workforce led by Early Years Teachers makes a proven difference for children's early development, citing evidence from the influential Effective Provision of Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) study. It claims that children who attend settings with an Early Years Teacher or equivalent level 6 qualification are almost 10% more likely to reach a good level of development, and the organisation is campaigning for every child in England to have access to a childcare setting with an Early Years Teacher.

In its new report, Save the Children calls on the Government to make an immediate investment of £65 million into the 20% most deprived areas of the country to support nurseries to hire and retain Early Years Teachers, as well as to urgently publish an ambitious workforce strategy for childcare and early education.

The claims made by Save the Children are called into question by a new report from a team of researchers at the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, the University of Surrey and University College London. The team matched data on children's outcomes at the end of reception with information on nurseries attended in the year before starting school for 1.6 million children born between September 2003 and August 2006. They found that while it is true that children who attend an 'outstanding' (as measured by Ofsted) nursery or one with a graduate (level 6) do better, the effects are extremely small. It also found that some nurseries do tend to produce better results, but this could not be linked to staff qualifications or Ofsted ratings. The researchers have speculated that high quality interactions between early years practitioners and children may be the crucial ingredient, and are calling for more robust research on what constitutes high quality in an early years setting and its impact on children's outcomes.

It is important to note that both studies only looked at 3- and 4-year-olds attending nursery and pre-school settings. PACEY has long called for more research into the factors influencing quality in home-based early years settings, and their impact on children's outcomes. We are also calling on the Government to publish a workforce strategy that will support and motivate all current early years practitioners to stay and progress their careers.