Graduates may help early years attainment, new research finds

The presence of degree qualified staff in early years settings may help children’s attainment, a new study has found. In the study, by the Education Policy institute (EPI), researchers found there to be a positive but small association between the presence of degree qualified staff and children’s outcomes at age five as measured by the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP).

The EPI focused their research on private, voluntary and independent (PVI) settings (i.e. non-maintained settings), as qualifications held by staff are more variable compared to those of staff employed in the maintained sector. The research drew on census data of 6 million children in PVI settings over the past 10 years. Using a model which controlled for a range of children’s characteristics, the researchers found that having a graduate working at a setting was associated with improved children’s outcomes of 2.5 per cent of a standard deviation for the years 2011/2012 to 2015/2016. This corresponds to 0.3 of an EYFSP point. The EPI acknowledges that these results are modest - for example, the gap in total scores between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers is 3.6 EYFSP points.

However they found that the association is stronger for children who attend a setting for longer, even among the most disadvantaged children. The association between staff qualifications and children’s outcomes at age five is twice as strong among those children who attended for more than 15 hours per week than among those who were registered for fewer hours. They also found that positive associations were larger for staff holding Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) or Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) than for those holding Early Years Professional Status (EYPS). The EYTS replaced the EYPS in 2013. A further finding was that the positive association between staff qualifications and children’s outcomes is sustained over time through Key Stages 1 and 2.

In their conclusions the EPI call for the government to undertake pilot studies to investigate the impact of different formulations of staffing composition within a setting, and the possible differential impact of higher qualification levels between staff in leadership positions and frontline workers. They also call for a review of early years degrees to assess the differences among types of degree-level qualification and the quality of their theoretical content. The government is also recommended to consider the potential benefits of extending the 30 hours free childcare entitlement to be universal, to give disadvantaged children the same opportunity as their wealthier peers.

Dr Sara Bonetti, a co-author of the EPI report said, ‘Considering that this is based on census data from 6 million children, this clearly shows that graduates make a difference. You can’t expect them to work miracles – we are looking at one staff member per early years setting - but there is definitely a positive association with children’s outcomes, and this is over the long term.’

Responding to the study’s findings Deborah Lawson, assistant general secretary (Voice section) of the Community union said: ‘We welcome this new research and key findings about the value and impact of high-quality early education. We continue to call on the government to take urgent action on the ?qualifications, pay and status of early years teachers to prevent the loss from the profession of talented and dedicated graduates who understand the uniqueness of a child’s early development. We need to see the government recommit to its workforce strategy and the abandoned graduate feasibility study, and implement and invest in a national career and pay structure.’ She added: ‘The latest Low Pay Commission National Minimum Wage report highlighted “hardship among childcare workers”, with more than one in ten having a household income of £17,000 or less, and “significant numbers struggling”. These findings applied to childcare workers with degrees as well as to those with low qualification levels.’

Full EPI study:

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