Graduates have positive association with children’s outcomes

A new report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) shows that having a graduate in an early years setting has a “positive association with children’s learning outcomes which are sustained into primary school”. 

The improved learning outcomes persisted through primary school and remained at age eleven.

In light of this, EPI urges the government to focus on a strategy to boost the quality of the whole early years workforce, while also focusing on improving graduate take-up. It also calls for a review of early years degrees, to explore how they can be enhanced. 

Key findings include:
There is a small but positive association between the presence of a degree-qualified early years worker and children’s learning outcomes, as measured at age five by the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) 
Having a graduate working in an early years setting corresponds to an additional third of an EYFSP point score. These results are modest compared to other factors (for example, the gap between an autumn-born child and a summer-born child is 4.3 EYFSP points), but they are evident across degree types. 
Significantly, the association with positive learning outcomes is sustained as a child enters primary school, showing that improvements in the early years are sustained up until at least the age of 11. 
The more modest improvements in outcomes shown from the presence of a graduate are not unexpected, given young children’s outcomes are driven by a range of other factors in the early years, in school and at home. 
Young children who spend more than 15 hours in early years settings appear to see more benefits from the presence of a graduate than those attending for fewer hours. 
the analysis also shows that the positive association is still present when focusing on the most disadvantaged children. 

These findings have important implications for the government’s free childcare policy, as it suggests that opening up the offer of 30 hours of funded childcare to the most disadvantaged children (who are currently excluded) could be beneficial, especially when their setting has a graduate.

EPI recommends that: 
The government should assess the impact of deploying different types of early years staff, including those with higher qualifications.
The government should undertake a review of early years degrees to assess the differences among types of degree-level qualifications, content quality and how well they prepare graduates for work in early years settings. 
The government should consider the costs and benefits of extending the 30 hours childcare entitlement, so that it is universal and sufficiently funded to be of high quality, and allows disadvantaged children the same opportunities as their wealthier peers at a very young age.

Purnima Tanuku OBE. Chief Executive of NDNA said: “We welcome this new piece of research by the Education Policy Institute although we are not surprised that graduate practitioners have a positive, sustained influence on a child’s learning outcomes.

“These findings would fit into our own research that higher qualified staff lead to a higher quality of early education which is essential for children’s development and life chances.

“Although we know that we are living through a very difficult and challenging time, we are clear that the DfE needs a long-term workforce strategy backed up by realistic financial investment that enables children to receive highest quality early education and care. 

“This means they must support the early years sector to continue to attract and retain a highly qualified workforce that will in turn improve children’s outcomes both in compulsory education and in later life. Those with higher qualifications stay in their roles for longer and have demonstrated their passion and commitment to working with young children.

“The announcement from the Government yesterday that they would be funding Level 3 childcare courses from April will go some way to supporting the sector in attracting more talented individuals to work in nurseries.

“Obviously we want more children to benefit from early learning in order to reduce the widening attainment gap, but before doing so the Government must first review existing funded provision to make sure nurseries and other providers are not having to shoulder the shortfall between the cost of delivery and the hourly rate they are paid.”

Commenting on the new research, Dr Sara Bonetti, Director of Early Years at Education Policy Institute (EPI) said: “This research shows that while the presence of an early years graduate is no “silver bullet” for young children’s development, it does appear to play a role in improving their educational outcomes at an early age. 

“Children who spend the most time in early years settings seem to benefit the most from the presence of graduates – a finding that underlines the importance of reviewing the 30 hours free childcare offer to consider whether it should be extended to the poorest families. 

“If the government aims to “level up” education by narrowing the learning gap between the poorest children and the rest, it needs to offer all families high quality early years education, delivered by a well-qualified workforce.”