New research project aims to improve our understanding of what makes a difference to the quality of the early years workforce and to children’s outcomes
The Education Policy Institute is pleased to announce a new research project, in collaboration with Dr Jo Blanden and NatCen, which will look into the elements of a high quality early years workforce and the impact on children’s outcomes.
Previous research suggests that high quality early years provision can have a positive and lasting impact on outcomes, particularly for the most disadvantaged children. Evidence also points to the workforce as a key driver of quality provision. What is less clear is which features of the early years workforce make the biggest difference. This mixed methods study aims to identify the most effective features of the early years workforce to ensure that investment in the early years is best geared towards improvement of outcomes for children.
This project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the work will span from July 2018 to June 2020 and will consist of four strands of work, each aimed at answering distinct questions.
Strand 1 Research Question: Who are the early years workforce? Description and recent trends.
The first strand will attempt to develop a comprehensive picture of the early years workforce in terms of demographic, educational and employment characteristics, using the Labour Force Survey (LFS). Analyses will explore changes over time, including in response to key events, such as the 2008 recession and the extension of the free early years entitlement. Where possible, distinctions would be drawn between geographical areas, and the findings for the early years workforce would be compared with the entire working population as well as teaching staff in other phases of the education system.
Strand 2 Research Questions: What drives the provision of a qualified workforce? What could be done to increase it?
The second strand will investigate the supply and demand side factors that have driven, or could potentially drive, the provision of a qualified early years workforce, for example the expansion of the free entitlement and the increase in the National Living Wage, using the LFS and other relevant datasets.
Strand 3 Research Question: What current incentives and barriers exist to the recruitment, retention and development of qualified early years staff?
The third strand will involve qualitative interviews aimed at providing detailed insights into the factors that facilitate or obstruct the recruitment, retention and development of a high quality early years workforce. Case studies of twelve settings will be undertaken, involving face-to-face interviews with the setting manager and two frontline workers, as well as 30 telephone interviews with workers from other providers.
Strand 4 Research Questions: What drives the provision of a qualified workforce? What could be done to increase it? 
The last strand will explore relationships between different workforce characteristics and children’s educational outcomes at ages 5 and 7. Workforce characteristics will include staff qualifications and training, as well as setting-level factors such as staffing structures and turnover rates, and geographical and labour market variations. We will update the analysis undertaken by Jo Blanden et al. (2017), which looked at the cohort of children attending pre-school from 2008 to 2010 using the Early Census data linked with the National Pupil Database (NPD). This project will build on the previous work by Blanden et al. (2017) in several ways, such as:
- We will look at the outcomes for a larger group of children: those who attended pre-school up to 2015.
- We will look at the overall EYFS score as well as disaggregate the scores by the different areas of learning (i.e. communication and language, literacy, maths, etc).
- We will carry out analysis on disadvantaged children (those receiving the Pupil Premium) only, in order to reduce the extent to which outcomes might be affected by unobserved family differences.
- We will go beyond the binary ‘graduate v non-graduate’ qualification and look into the whole range of qualification levels, with a particular focus on Level 3 staff.
One of the biggest barriers to improving the quality of early years provision (and potentially increasing investment in this phase of the education system) is the existing conflicting nature of the evidence. If we want to make real progress in narrowing the gap and ensure that public investment is as focused as it can be, then we need a better understanding of the mechanisms that drive high quality early years provision and ultimately an improvement in children’s outcomes. We will use our findings to provide policy-makers with evidence-based recommendations and to keep alive the conversation around the importance of high quality early years provision.
 Subject to final approval by the Foundation’s Trustees