A new Sutton Trust report calls for better pay and conditions for early years staff.

Generations of talent are being lost through a lack of investment in the early years workforce which risks widening inequality in our society. This is according to a new report from the Sutton Trust and the Centre for Research in Early Childhood that reviews recent developments in early years policy and sets out a framework for urgent action to improve social mobility in the early years.

The report urges government to improve the training, pay and conditions of early years staff to support all children’s learning and development before school begins.

Access to high-quality early years teaching and well-qualified staff is hugely important for all children, leading to positive language, physical, social and emotional development. It is particularly crucial for disadvantaged children, who may not have access to the same home learning support as those from better-off homes.

In 2012, the influential Nutbrown review identified serious failings in the recruitment and development of qualified early years staff. The review stated that the qualification system and training was ineffective in ‘producing early years practitioners with the skills and knowledge to deliver the quality on early education and childcare required to ensure all children’s development and capabilities were fulfilled’. The Nutbrown review put forward 19 recommendations to government, of which only five were taken up.

Today’s report analyses progress on the recommendations from the Nutbrown review and assesses the current state of play in relation to the development of a quality early years work force.

It finds that:

  • The creation of the new qualifications of Early Years Educator (EYE) and Early Years Teacher (EYT) has not led to a boost in recruitment of higher qualified staff in the sector. In fact, recruitment to early years teacher (EYT) courses has dropped dramatically over the last 5 years, significantly limiting progress towards securing highly qualified leaders in all settings.
  • There is a high level of turnover in the early years workforce which is losing more experienced and qualified staff, mainly due to low salaries and lack of career benefits. This has led to an increase in staff with lower qualifications in many settings.

According to the report, creating a sustainable, high quality early years workforce will require a significant shift in investment to secure better pay and conditions of employment for all early years staff.

The authors and the Sutton Trust offer five priority areas for urgent action, in order to lift the life chances of the youngest and most disadvantaged children.

  1. A Vision for the Workforce: There remains a need for a clear vision for the early years and childcare workforce and a restatement of the crucial importance of achieving a well-qualified, high status and better rewarded profession to achieve a world class early years’ service.
  2. Access to qualifications: Barriers to accessing entry level (1-3) qualifications should be addressed urgently to encourage new recruits into the sector, with a view to establishing a Level 3 (A Level equivalent) qualification as the benchmark for the sector.
  3. Access to professional development: Continuing Professional Development (CPD), which follows on from initial training, needs to be a requirement for all staff throughout their careers and be properly funded and the current barriers to access addressed
  4. Graduate Leadership: Incentives for graduate leaders to be employed in all early years settings should be reinstated through a ‘Leadership Quality Fund’, but especially for those working with less advantaged children and those with particular needs.
  5. Pay and Conditions of Employment: The enormous disparities on pay, conditions of employment and status across the maintained and private sectors – with higher quality pay, qualifications and provision more likely to be in the maintained sector – must be addressed and funding levelled up if progress is to be made on professionalising the early years workforce and ensuring the sustainability of the sector.

Today’s report comes after research by the Sutton Trust warned that many early years providers are facing closure due to the financial impact of the coronavirus. This will have likely repercussions for both children’s early development and learning, and their parents’ ability to access the workforce.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:“The first years of a child’s life are crucial for their development, both in terms of attainment and their social and emotional wellbeing. Access to high-quality early years education is vital, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“The early years workforce should be given the pay and training they deserve. First and foremost, we need a clear vision for the early years workforce that addresses disparity in pay amongst staff and provides them with adequate development and qualifications.

“Investing in the people who work in our early years sector will bring benefits to all young children – but particularly the most disadvantaged – for years to come.”

Speaking on behalf of the Early Years Workforce Commission, Julie Hyde, Executive Director of Education and Training at CACHE and NCFE, said:

“The Early Years Workforce Commission was established to put forward solutions-focused strategies, with key recommendations for the Government and others, to support the early years workforce to reach its greatest potential and underpin the long-term sustainability of the sector and quality of provision.

“This report is the first step in establishing how the sector has evolved since Foundations for Quality was published in 2012, and outlines what must be done now to support the sector and protect those who work within it.

“As we continue our work, the Commission is calling on those across to sector to share their views and experiences so that we can continue to advocate for real change which will ensure the long-term sustainability of this sector, which plays such a crucial role in our society and economy. To share your views, visit our twitter, @EYWC2020 for more information.”

Professor Cathy Nutbrown, author of the Nutbrown Review, added:

“I welcome this report and hope that it will stimulate the policy developments which bring about urgently needed change. A highly qualified, early years workforce, requires vital investment in the future, we cannot afford the consequences of failing yet again to fund high quality provision for young children and appropriate qualifications and renumeration for those who work with them. The solutions are clear. What is needed now is political will to properly resource the future and to show due respect to young children and those who work with them.”


  • The Sutton Trust is committed to improving social mobility from birth to the workplace. Founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997, the Trust has supported over 30,000 young people through evidence-led programmes and published over 200 pieces of agenda-setting research, many of which have influenced government policy.
  • The Early Years Workforce Commission was launched in March 2020, and brings together voices from across the Early Years sector. These include membership bodies, nursery groups, education charities, awarding organisations and independent research groups. The Commission has been established to undertake a review of the challenges facing the sector and develop comprehensive and workable solutions to address these collaboratively. Its members are:
  • Julie Hyde, CACHE
  • Jo Verrill, CEEDA
  • Beatrice Merrick, Early Education
  • Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance
  • Sara Bonetti, Education Policy Institute
  • June O’Sullivan, London Early Years Foundation
  • Purnima Tanuku, NDNA
  • Liz Bayram, PACEY
  • Laura Barbour, Sutton Trust
  • Penny Borkett, TACTYC
  • Deborah Lawson, Voice, The union
  • The report is authored by Prof Christine Pascal, Prof Tony Bertram and Aline Cole-Albäck of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC).
  • The Sutton Trust’s COVID-19 Early Years Impact Brief, published in July, covered the threats of the pandemic to the sector and early childhood learning.

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