Ofsted’s latest annual review highlights the impact of recruitment and retention challenges and finds a link between inspection outcomes and the proportion of graduates in a setting. It recognises the work which settings are doing to address the impact of the pandemic on young children.
It found that 96% of providers on the early years register were graded good or outstanding at their latest inspection, compared to 97% at the same time last year. Perhaps as a consequence of prioritising new providers, those which had not been recently inspected and those with a rating of less than good, fewer providers were judged good or outstanding in 2021/22 than in 2019/20. The report also notes that the gap in the quality of education widened between outstanding and weaker providers.
It comments that although the proportion of disadvantaged 2-year-olds taking up their free entitlement has returned to pre-pandemic levels, many children are still missing out on their entitlements.
The report devotes considerable attention to current recruitment and retention challenges in the early years (and elsewhere in the education sector). It finds that providers with multiple settings appear to do better at recruiting, retaining and developing their staff. It notes the potential impact of staff qualifications and experience on quality and consistency of care, and emphasises that experienced staff need to be working with all ages of children, not just the oldest in the cohort. It flags that the number of apprentices at levels 2 and 3 has fallen from 27,200 in 2016/17 to 16,200 in 2021/22, raising concerns about the effectiveness of this route to address workforce shortages.
On the level of qualifications, it notes that:
“Outstanding providers have, on average, nearly twice as many staff with a degree-level qualification as those receiving other inspection outcomes.”
Finally, it addresses the fall in the number of providers – mainly a continuing steep decline in the number of childminders – and places, while speculating that this may be linked to the decline in the size of the current cohort and moves towards more home working by parents also reducing demand.
Early Education’s Chief Executive, Beatrice Merrick commented:
This report rightly recognises the vital role of the early years workforce in delivering the quality of early education that young children need, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. We cannot afford to lose experienced and well-qualified staff due to the poor pay and conditions in the sector caused by persistent underfunding by government. There is important evidence in the report about the link between the proportion of graduate staff and a setting being rated outstanding, that reinforces the argument for increasing the number of graduates in the workforce.