Where measurement stops: A review of systematic reviews exploring international research evidence on the impact of staff qualification levels in ECEC on the experiences of, and outcomes for, children and families.


Qualifications vary widely for those employed within the ECEC sector; this is of particular concern within the English context where questions are raised about sustainability. An inconsistent approach to training and qualifications has contributed to a perception of ECEC as low skilled work. Apprenticeships and part-time distance learning courses have become commonplace, enabling practitioners to work and study concurrently; however, this strategy has blurred the boundaries between initial training and CPD. There is a persistent concern about how to improve educational attainment for young children. In the English context, the Early Years Workforce Strategy (DfE 2017) acknowledged the impact of specialised graduates. Other evidence notes that better qualified practitioners provide higher quality provision (Mathers et al. 2011) and that such provision is positively associated with children’s attainment and progress throughout primary school (Sylva et al. 2011). More recently, Bonetti and Blanden (2020) found a small positive association between the presence of graduate level staff in private, voluntary, and independent settings and 5-year-olds’ attainment on the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) (DfE 2018) although the authors note that improved outcomes were modest. It is widely accepted that quality in ECEC matters to the families of young children. In the context of England, successive governments have committed to the expansion of fully subsidised ‘15-hour’ and ‘30-hour’ provision for 2-4 year olds, not only to promote children’s development, but also to support parental employment, particularly for disadvantaged families. Previous initiatives to support parents and families, such as the Sure Start local programmes, found positive impacts for parents and families yet spending cuts have led to more than 30% of Sure Start Centres (more than 1000) closing since 2009 (Smith et al. 2018). A renewed interest in impact on families has been referenced recently in the enhancement of Family Hubs and a discussion of how they may build on existing Sure Start provision (DHSC 2021). In 2021, it is impossible to consider the experiences of young children and their families without acknowledging the ongoing context of Covid-19. The pandemic situation has impacted both children and families in many ways, including their access to quality education and care, thus worsening an already precarious situation. A further layer of complexity and concern is the impact of pervasive inequalities on the lives of many young children and their families; around 4.3 million children were noted as living in poverty in the UK in 2020 with numbers rising to include the impact of the pandemic (Hirsch and Stone 2021). Our findings are based on the analysis of 25 reviews which included over 764 research studies. These reviews focused on research evidence of the relationship between practitioner qualifications/training and their links to better outcomes for young children and their families. Reviews were included in the study following a systematic review process based on protocols established by the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) (Gough, Oliver, and Thomas 2012). Internationally published literature (written in English) was searched using EBSCO (to include ASC, BEI, ERC and ERIC) and SCOPUS. The search took place in October 2020 and fields included were titles, abstracts and keywords; the search strategy is set out in Appendix 1. Publications were limited to those published between 2002-2020. Inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied to the initial 18579 articles to arrive at the 25 articles analysed for our report

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