As many as 300,000 young children in England are having their early-learning prospects threatened as the shortage of graduate nursery teachers reaches “chronic” levels, a charity has warned.
While all registered nursery schools have staff trained to care for children, not all have specific early years teachers among their staff - Save The Children estimate there is a gap of around 11,000 teachers.
And at least 10,731 nurseries, playgroups and children’s centres do not employ a single specially qualified early-years member of staff, as shown in data obtained by the charity via a freedom of information request.
Save The Children says having contact with an early-years teacher at this stage in their development is the “single biggest indicator” of quality childcare. And it goes on to impact the rest of children’s primary education.
Research has repeatedly found children in nurseries without an early years teacher are almost 10% less likely to meet the expected levels of development when they start school.
Steven McIntosh, Save the Children’s director of UK poverty, said: “Children who start behind stay behind. But high-quality childcare, led by graduate early-years teachers, can ensure children are ready for school.”
The government’s children and families minister, Nadhim Zahawi, has defended the situation, saying that the charity claim is “misleading”.
He said: “University study is just one route into the early years workforce. There are over 250,000 dedicated professionals in the private or voluntary early years workforce, with many coming from apprenticeship or on the job training routes.”
He added: “The quality of early years childcare has risen since 2010 with 94% of providers rated good or outstanding.”
McIntosh said: “The government should keep its promise to address the crisis in training, recruiting and retaining these underpaid and undervalued teachers. All of our little ones should have access to nursery care led by an early years teacher. Without action, we’ll be letting down our next generation.”
This comes only a week after the government released figures showing 28% of four and five-year-olds are below the “expected level” of communication and literacy skills by the time they finish their first year of primary school.
It found that poor verbal communication skills were the biggest issue, with 86% of respondents saying they looked after children who did not know their own full names, and have a poor vocabulary for their age group.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said the news was a “persistent scandal” and pledged to halve the number of youngsters beginning their schooling without the early speaking and reading skills they need at that age by 2028.
“When you’re behind from the start you rarely catch up, because, of course, your peers don’t wait, the gap just widens and this has a huge impact on social mobility,” he added.
Save The Children says the number of people applying for teaching roles has dropped dramatically to 860 last year from more than 2,300 the year before - well below the number needed to fill the gaps.
In November 2016, Save The Children published a report which found more than a third of parents in England with children under five didn’t know whether their nursery employs qualified early years teachers.