'Swathes of early years staff don't meet pupils' needs'

Inclusion expert says shortage of CPD means early years assistants lack essential training

Early years children

An expert on inclusion in schools has said it is "ridiculous" that "large swathes" of early years staff are not trained to meet the needs of children in their care.

Daniel Sobel, CEO and founder of Inclusion Expert, told Tes that an unskilled workforce is the "heart of the matter around early years".

Speaking at an early years education conference in central London this morning, he said: "It's ridiculous that we have very large swathes of the early years workforce which are simply not trained to meet the needs of our children."


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Mr Sobel later told Tes: "Most early years centres will have – let's say – 50 children. You might have five or six qualified early years practitioner teachers and then you will have early years assistants. Those early years assistants are not trained."

He clarified that this was meant as an illustration, and the numbers given did not necessarily reflect the national average in terms of size of staff and student bodies.

He added: "Of course, they are chaperoned on the go and they learn on the job, but they are not qualified. We have got lots of PVIs [private, voluntary and independent providers] when we have got absolutely no idea whether they are good or not. 

"It is very difficult to moderate early years for anybody else in primary school because most of the senior leadership are not from an early years background."

Mr Sobel compared unqualified early years staff to teaching assistants in schools, who he said made an "outstanding contribution" to school life if they were trained effectively. 

In many cases, however, he said early years staff did not receive the training they need - which resulted in "wasted potential".

He added: "But that doesn't reflect on the individual. They are a very important bunch and that is why we need to spend even more time and resources on developing them.

"There's a massive difference between saying we don't have skilful staff and saying we haven't spent enough money and time developing those staff. [They are] not low quality. That is not the issue."

In 2018, Save the Children published a report showing that teachers are leaving the early years sector because of poor pay, progression and conditions.

The charity called on the government to improve the induction and career support for those in the sector, in order to improve retention and impact.

Mr Sobel said there was a need to "look to technology" to develop CPD methods that improved skills among the early years workforce.

Speaking at the Westminster Education Forum conference, he said: "In my view, the very best CPD includes two things. One is go and visit loads of other schools – you'll learn loads and I'm sure that anyone who's worked in local authorities will agree to that.

"And the second is go and visit homes – you'll learn a lot about children in that way - especially for secondary school teachers who are frustrated with their naughty children.

"However, we have to be practical. And this is where the technology comes in. I think we live in a very imperfect world with the technology. We simply are not there yet. 

"I'm very awake to the limitations, and I think that unless we keep pushing on that as a potential solution, we won't get there in terms of being able to find real, meaningful change through technology.

"I don't think it's the ideal – I think it's the practical [solution]."

Sara Bonetti, director of early years at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), also commented on the need to have skilled professionals in the early years sector.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that an 18-year-old qualified at level two should be a key worker and leading a classroom," she said. 

"I’m not saying that everybody should have a degree. The point of a degree or a high qualification level is not just because you need to feel smarter – it sends a signal. 

"If primary and secondary school teachers didn’t have a degree, parents would feel very differently about that.”

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes