Report Overview

It is now well established that skilled and well-qualified practitioners are a key element of high quality early education and care and make a proven difference to child learning and development, particularly for children from low income and at risk families.

In 2012, the Nutbrown Report (an independent government review) looked at how best to strengthen qualifications and career pathways in the early years and childcare sector. Nutbrown made 19 recommendations, with the aim to create a qualification and professional development system for all early years professionals that could deliver quality services.

At the time, the government response to the review was seen as disappointing by the sector, with only 5 of the 19 recommendations being accepted fully and actioned. In the years since, there have been a succession of other early years and childcare policy announcements and government initiatives which have impacted further on the early years workforce. This report looks at the current state of play, examining progress on Nutbrown’s recommendations since 2012, as well as building an evidence base on early years workforce policy, to help inform future priorities for the government’s early years workforce strategy as they attempt to mitigate the growing inequalities in society.

This report was written prior to the COVID-19 crisis. For an overview on the impact of the pandemic on the early years sector, see our COVID-19 impact brief.


Staff turnover in the early years sector is well above average employee turnover in the UK.


Just 52% of the early years workforce had a Level 3 qualification in 2018/19, a sharp drop from 2015/16.


The proportion of unqualified staff rose 16% between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

Key Findings
  1. Current evidence indicates that the recruitment crisis has worsened over recent years, as funded provision has expanded and demand for early education and childcare has soared at a time of better rewarded employment being available in other sectors of the labour market.
  2. Progress towards securing Level 3 as the benchmark qualification level has been limited, especially for those working with under threes, and there is a consequent increase in those working in the sector with low level qualifications.
  3. Those who have accessed higher level training continue to struggle to find posts with adequate acknowledgement of their leadership role and with appropriate remuneration. The push to achieve graduate leaders in all settings has stalled.
  4. The creation of the new qualifications of Early Years Educator (EYE) at Level 3 and Early Years Teacher (EYT) at Level 6 with clear ‘full and relevant’ criteria 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.
  5. 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. Staff turnover in the early years sector is well above average employee turnover in the UK, at 24 percent for the sector compared to 15-18 percent. This has led to an increase in staff with lower qualifications in many settings.
  6. The significant reduction in funded CPD following austerity measures has led to a lack of funds for staff progression to more advanced training and their consequent retention in a setting.
  7. There is no clear career progression route for early years staff with advanced qualifications, with many practitioners not realising their leadership potential.
  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.