Chapter 12: The early years workforce

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Chapter authors

  • Nathan Archer
  • David Yates

Chapter overview

When considering the future, looking back at recent changes in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) workforce in the UK, and appraising the current situation can inform what might be. Over the last hundred years ECEC has evolved enormously; different political administrations have engaged with and intervened in the provision of ECEC to varying degrees. Indeed, the sector has experienced extended periods of policy neglect and substantial investment and policy attention which have shaped provision and practice. As other chapters have demonstrated, devolved education policies across the four UK nations mean fragmentation. In this chapter we highlight some workforce policy initiatives and draw on the largest data sets and most substantial body of literature relating to England in particular. We consider recent workforce reviews which detail the features and challenges the workforce faces, as we take stock of current roles, initial education, and professional development within the sector. We conclude with an essentially bold, ambitious, and achievable vision for the future.

Chapter objectives

  • To explore the configuration of the ECEC workforce
  • To consider the roles, qualifications and working conditions of the workforce
  • To set an agenda for a sustainable and transformative workforce of the future.

Further reading


Elwick, A., Osgood, J., Robertson, L., Sakr, M. and Wilson, D. (2018) In pursuit of quality: early childhood qualifications and training policy. Journal of Education Policy33(4), pp.510-525. 

Nutbrown, C. (2021) Early childhood educators’ qualifications: a framework for change, International Journal of Early Years Education, 29:3, 236-249.

Early Education Journal


Articles by David Yates 

Supplementary material

Policy Reports

Archer, N & Oppenheim, C. (2022) The role of early childhood education and care in shaping life chances. London: Nuffield Foundation 

Bonetti, S. (2019) The early years workforce in England: a comparative analysis using the Labour Force Survey. London: Education Policy Institute 

Bury, J. Mayer, M., Gogescu, F., Bristow, T., Husain, F. (2020) Understanding the Early Years Workforce Qualitative research findings. London: NatCen 

Early Years Workforce Commission (2021) A Workforce in Crisis: Saving Our Early Years. PACEY.

Hardy, K., Tomlinson, J., Norman, H., Cruz, K., Whittaker, X. and Archer, N., (2022). Essential but undervalued: Early years care & education during COVID-19. 

Social Mobility Commission (2020). The stability of the early years workforce in England. London: Social Mobility Commission 

Pascal, C., Bertram, T. Cole-Albäck, A. (2020). Early Years Workforce Review: Revisiting the Nutbrown Review – Policy and Impact London: Sutton Trust 

Government policy documents (England)

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