11th February 2020

Understanding the early years workforce: Qualitative research findings

A new report from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), produced as part of a programme of research led by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, investigates the barriers and incentives in recruitment, retention and development within the early years workforce.

Through detailed interviews with nursery staff, managers and childminders, the report identifies:

  • The different “professional journeys” typically taken by early years workers
  • The attributes practitioners identify as indicators of quality in the early years workers
  • The barriers to staff recruitment and retention, and access to continuing professional development (CPD) within the sector

Based on this analysis, the research identifies three areas for policy focus:

  • Improving pathways for the retention and progression of early years staff
  • Professionalising the early years workforce
  • Enhancing the status of the early years sector

You can access the full report here.

This research is the third strand of a wider research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation. The project consists of 4 research strands in total:

  • Strand 1, The early years workforce in England (January 2019), identified variations in qualification levels, pay, and demographic background within the early years workforce, and between it and the rest of the education system. The report raised concerns around an ageing, low-paid early years workforce which is often reliant on benefits.
  • Strand 2, Early years workforce development in England: Key ingredients and missed opportunities (January 2020) investigated the impact of four major early years policies from the last 15 years on the qualifications of early years workers. It found clear evidence of a positive effect of one major policy, and recommended a renewed commitment to improving staff skill levels and the establishment of a long-term vision for sector development.
  • Strand 4 (Summer 2020) of this research will investigate how workforce characteristics, and particularly qualification levels, relate to children’s outcomes, investigating workforce qualification at a level beyond “graduate v non-graduate”.


Further EPI early years research