Early years teachers should be paid the same as primary school teachers, to combat the view that jobs in the sector are "easy" or "unskilled", according to a new report.
The government is being urged to "counteract a perception of the early years as a 'springboard' for teaching in primary education" by aligning pay across the sectors, and creating a "qualification equivalency" between Early Years Teaching Status (EYTS) and Qualified Teaching Status (QTS).
Early Years Teaching Status is different to Qualified Teaching Status, in that it only allows practitioners to work with children up to the age of five.
However, those wishing to obtain EYTS must still have a degree and at least a GCSE C /4 (or equivalent) in English, maths and science. They must also complete early years initial teacher training (EYITT) and demonstrate that they have met the Teachers’ Standards (Early Years).
Early years teachers do not have QTS and are not on the same pay scale as teachers in schools. Their pay will be set by their employer.
A report by NatCen Social Research, published today, calls for greater value to be placed on roles in early education, as the sector "finds itself in a fragile state regarding its workforce".
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The study, produced with the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, involved detailed interviews with nursery staff, managers and childminders.
It sought to improve understanding of recruitment and retention challenges in the sector and explore perceptions of "quality" within the workforce.
The research found that "inadequate pay" is a barrier to both recruitment and retention in the sector, while the "low status of the profession" also means early education is "not viewed as a career option, specifically for those with university degrees".
The report concludes that policy action should be taken in three key areas: improving retention and progression pathways; professionalising the early years roles; and attaching more value to the profession.
It suggests that the government could "imbue both social and financial value" to roles within the sector by "creating a qualification equivalency between EYTS and QTS" and "matching pay in early years with primary teaching". It also calls for ring-fencing of funds for continuous professional development.
"Limited pay and career progression meant practitioners found it difficult to commit long-term to the early years sector," it says.
"Managers explained that practitioners joining school-based settings tended to perceive the sector as a ‘springboard’ to teaching older age groups, where pay and career progression was better. Particularly teaching assistants joined the setting with a view to progress to teaching older year groups."
The report adds: "Views of jobs in the sector as being ‘easy’, ‘unskilled’ and primarily suitable for those with few other alternatives, especially women, affects how sector roles are viewed and rewarded."
Ellen Broomé, NatCen’s director for children and families, said: “Too often, the views of the people who work in the sector, and what they think would help deliver high quality early years education, have not been heard. This study paves the way for the people who work with our youngest children to be part of the conversation.”
Dr Sara Bonetti, director of early years at the EPI, said: “This new research provides further evidence of a low-paid and undervalued early years workforce. If the government is serious about levelling up outcomes in education, it needs to look closely at how it supports those working with children at this crucial stage in their lives.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We have invested £20 million to improving training and development for our early years workforce, particularly targeted at disadvantaged areas.
"We have also worked with the early years sector to support progression through better qualifications, more apprenticeship opportunities and ensuring there are routes to graduate-level qualifications."
The DfE also pointed out that pay and conditions in private, voluntary and independent settings are set by employers.