A shortage of 10,000 trained nursery teachers is putting children at risk of falling behind, the charity Save the Children warned today.
In its report Untapped potential: How England’s nursery lottery is failing too many children, the charity says that more than a quarter of a million children are at greater risk of falling behind by the time they reach school – and staying behind throughout their lives – because of England’s chronic shortage of nursery teachers. It is now calling for government to invest urgently in the sector.
While all nurseries have staff who are trained to care for children, not all have a qualified early years teachers among their staff, according to Save the Children. Government figures show that 11,399 private, independent or voluntary (PVI) childcare settings did not have a single early years teacher or equivalent in 2016.
Research commissioned by the charity found that children in independent nurseries without an early years teacher are almost 10 per cent less likely to meet the expected levels of development when they start school compared to children who do have a teacher - leaving them struggling with basic skills like speaking full sentences, using tenses, and following simple instructions.
Yet, it adds, the number of people applying to train as an early years teacher has dropped dramatically to 860 last year from more than 2,300 the year before. The lack of interest, it says, is due to a shrinking number of available positions, poor salaries, and a lack of promotion opportunities.
Gareth Jenkins, director of UK poverty at Save the Children, said: “It’s incredibly worrying that so many children in England are at risk of falling behind by the time they start school when we know they don’t have to be.
“Nurseries do an incredible job nurturing our children, but many are struggling to afford and recruit the qualified teachers they need to give children this support and support their workforce with more training and development.
“If the government is serious about creating a country that works for everyone, it’s crucial we urgently invest in a qualified teacher for every nursery across the country – giving children the support they need to reach their full potential.”
The call comes after warnings that changes to the way early years is funded could mean that nursery schools, institutions which must be staffed by teachers, could ‘disappear’.
The NAHT headteachers’ union has today backed Save The Children’s call for more government investment.
“In contrast to grammar schools, high quality nursery education is a proven method of helping the most disadvantaged families,” Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said.
“It is inexplicable that a government serious about social mobility would choose to divert £50 million away from early years settings proven to help, and use it instead to expand a controversial and misdirected system of selection at 11.”
Claire Schofield, director of policy, membership and communications at the National Day Nurseries Association which represents the PVI sector, agreed that there was a “looming workforce recruitment crisis”.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “To date, we have trained over 16,000 specialist early years graduates and a record number of providers are now rated good or outstanding. But we want to get the best staff working in our nurseries and pre-schools so that every child has learnt the basics before they start school and can go on to reach their full potential.
"We are developing a workforce strategy that aims to remove the barriers to attracting, retaining and developing great people and we will be investing a record £6 billion in childcare by the end of this Parliament. This is backed up the fairer funding system we are introducing for early years providers, so that money goes to the areas that need it most.”