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Urgent action needed to prevent loss of Early Years Teachers

On behalf of our early years and childcare members, PACEY (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) and Voice: the union for education professionals are calling on the Government to take urgent action on the pay and status of Early Years Teachers to prevent the loss of these “talented and dedicated teachers who understand the uniqueness of a child’s early development” from the teaching profession.

Our call follows a joint survey of Early Years Teachers (EYTs), Early Years Initial Teacher Training (EYITT) course leaders and past EYITT students about:

  • the availability of EYITT courses and different routes;
  • career aspirations, prospects and pathways of EYTs;
  • barriers to recruitment and retention of EYTs; and
  • how to improve graduate early years qualifications.

The online survey ran between 27 November 2017 and 15 January 2018 and received 428 responses. A majority of these (286 or 67%) were from past EYITT students, whilst 18% (78) were from EYITT course leaders and 15% (64) from current EYITT students.

Respondents to the survey displayed a striking commitment to and passion for working in the early years. However, there was also widespread agreement that the status quo is not working.

Nearly all respondents were concerned about the fact that an Early Years Teacher does not earn the same or have the same recognition as a teacher with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), even though they receive training of a comparable rigour, and are delivering the same curriculum.

If the pay and conditions of Early Years Teachers do not improve, the sector will lose talented and dedicated teachers who understand the uniqueness of a child’s early development.

Key findings

  • The picture concerning the number of EYITT routes offered and students enrolled is mixed; in some places these are declining, and in others they have remained steady or even increased.
  • Most people who hold or are pursuing EYTS have a strong desire to work in an early years setting directly with children.
  • The majority of EYTs find it difficult to gain graduate-level employment.
  • Schools are by far the employer of choice for the majority of current and prospective EYTs, though a minority are currently employed by them.
  • Most EYTs have not gone on to further courses to gain QTS, but a significant minority have.
  • Half of current EYT trainees think it is likely they will go on further courses to gain QTS.
  • A majority of course leaders are in favour of granting QTS to EYTs.
  • There is a stark difference between the impact of EYTS on confidence and everyday practice compared to career and income. This is much less marked for QTS.
  • Improved pay, conditions and recognition are crucial to recruiting and retaining specialist early years graduates and improving the EYTS qualification.

The survey revealed a mixed picture concerning the number of EYITT routes and students. The majority of EYITT course leaders (80%) reported that their institution was offering the same number of EYITT routes this year as in the previous academic year. Whilst around 17% of course leaders said that there were more students enrolled this year; around a third reported the same number of students; and 43% said that there were fewer students enrolled.

Read the full results 

PACEY Chief Executive Liz Bayram said:

“Our children are losing talented Early Years Teachers who understand the uniqueness of a child’s early development and are key to helping close the gap for disadvantaged children. This has to stop.

“We know that quality in the early years is reliant upon well-qualified staff who remain in post so that children can build a strong relationship with their key worker. The early years workforce has become more highly qualified in recent decades but there is evidence that this progress is now at risk.”

Voice General Secretary Deborah Lawson said:

“Recent research has pointed to a downward trend in qualification levels, as settings experience high staff turnover because they cannot afford to retain their experienced staff, invest in their training and development – or even recruit them in the first place.

“To stem this exodus of specialist graduates working in early years, the Government needs to take urgent action. In view of our findings, PACEY and Voice have made a number of short- and medium-term recommendations.”


As soon as is reasonably practicable, the Department for Education should:

  1. Allow Early Years Teachers to lead nursery and reception classes in maintained schools.

This proposal was consulted on last year as part of the Early Years Workforce Strategy[i] and should be implemented as a stopgap measure until more meaningful reform can be achieved (see recommendations 7 and 8 below).

  1. Reinstate the target that every setting in England should benefit from graduate pedagogical leadership.

Some argue that not every early years setting needs a qualified teacher. We profoundly disagree: every child deserves the best quality early education available. There is also compelling evidence that this is the best way to narrow the persistent and significant inequality gap between the most and least disadvantaged children. For this reason, settings in disadvantaged areas should be prioritised in the first instance. Without further investment in more graduate-level roles, the sector will lack the career pathways and progression opportunities it requires to recruit and retain talented professionals.

  1. Provide sustainable funding for the free entitlement that enables all settings to be able to pay graduate-level wages to at least one member of staff.

Recent research has found that the primary barrier to employing an Early Years Teacher is the cost of their salary, particularly in light of the underfunding of the 15 and 30 hours of government-funded childcare. The cost of employing a graduate must be factored into the Early Years National Funding Formula (EYNFF), and the latter must reflect the actual cost of providing high quality early education and childcare.

  1. Provide better guidance and support for settings about graduate qualifications.

Many settings, particularly in the PVI sector, are not aware of what existing government funding is available to support graduate qualifications. Some settings are much better than others at supporting and releasing staff for this purpose. In addition, some settings do not provide appropriate mentors for student placements, with staff often unaware of the teaching standards the students need to meet. Guidance and support is needed from government to enable more PVI settings to support and release staff to undertake graduate qualifications.

  1. Require more transparency of EYITT course structures and outcomes.

It is clear from our research that many EYITT courses lack transparency in terms of the advertised course structure and outcomes, especially when modules are taught jointly or alongside more general teacher training courses (which may result in QTS).  This is misleading and may seriously disadvantage some EYT graduates.

  1. Improve statistical data used for reporting and planning for EYITT qualifications.

Historically, DfE data has not differentiated between primary initial teacher training and early years initial teacher training.  Although there are signs that this is being addressed, there is still lack of detail on the number of places allocated and filled, and qualifications achieved.  It is also difficult to ascertain definitive details on the number and identities of course providers.

In the medium-term, the Department should:

  1. Replace Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) with a new early years specialist route to QTS, specialising in the years from birth to seven.

This is the only realistic way to improve the pay, conditions, career pathways and professional status of specialist early years graduates. It is simply wrong that an Early Years Teacher working in a PVI setting cannot earn the same or enjoy the same recognition as a nursery school or reception teacher – even though they are delivering the same curriculum and have undergone comparable training. As Cathy Nutbrown observed in her independent review of early education and childcare qualifications: “However hard we try, I do not believe a status that is not the same as QTS will ever be seen as equal to QTS.” This is all the more important given the proposed reforms to strengthen QTS, which, if currently implemented, would further widen the divide between QTS and EYTS. They will put off even more students from pursuing the latter. The new route must be the same as any other QTS route, save for its early years specialism. It would replace the current primary and early years (3-7) QTS route offered by many institutions.

  1. Establish accessible and affordable routes for individuals holding Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS), or its predecessor Early Years Professional Status (EYPS), to be able to access routes to obtain QTS as a priority.

As our survey shows, many Early Years Teachers are put off from going on further courses to gain QTS because they are expensive and time-consuming. They also feel it is fundamentally unjust that they have to undergo further study when they have already received a graduate-level qualification. The Department should remove this barrier to progression and make it significantly easier for EYTs and EYPs to obtain QTS.

  1. Require Reception teachers to have early years training.

Any primary school teacher with QTS can teach Reception without early years-specific training, but an Early Years Teacher is currently not permitted to teach older children. We therefore propose that all teachers delivering the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) be required to undergo a certain amount of early years-specific training. The content and amount of training required should be determined following consultation with the sector.

[i] Department for Education (2017), Early years workforce strategy (London: Department for Education).