A leading charity has called on the government to invest in a qualified early years teacher for every nursery across England, starting with the poorest areas, including Blackpool.
Save The Children said the move could stop youngsters falling behind by the age of five because of a severe shortage of qualified staff, in a report released today.
Last year, just 860 people applied for nursery teaching roles nationally, down from 2,300 the year before, the charity said.
In Lancashire, more than 500 nurseries are without a qualified early years teacher, and in Blackpool 59 per cent of youngsters in an independent nursery don’t benefit from one, the charity warned.
Gareth Jenkins, director of UK Poverty at Save the Childre said: “It’s incredibly worrying that so many children in England are at risk of falling behind by the time they start school when we know they don’t have to be.
“As a country, we need to start recognising that if we want to give every child the best chance in life – no matter what their background – they must have the support they need to learn, grow, and develop in the early years of their lives.
“Nurseries do an incredible job nurturing our children, but many are struggling to afford and recruit the qualified teachers they need to give children this support and support their workforce with more training and development.
“If the government is serious about creating a country that works for everyone, it’s crucial we urgently invest in a qualified teacher for every nursery across the country, giving children the support they need to reach their full potential.”
The charity said 7,100 Lancashire children are at greater risk of falling behind by the time they go to school – and staying behind. It said research showed youngsters at nurseries without early years teachers are almost 10 per cent less likely to meet the expected levels of development when they start school, compared to children who do.
It described the fall in graduates applying for roles as worrying, and said a shrinking number of vacancies, poor salaries, and a lack of promotion opportunities was driving the chronic shortage.
Emma Rathbone (pictured above left) , who quit her job as deputy headteacher at Charles Saer Community Primary School in Fleetwood to open Little Explorers Nursery in West Drive, Thornton, said: “I currently work alongside excellent early years practitioners and I know that their care, experience and understanding of under fives is fantastic.
“They are the backbone to the nursery industry. Having said that, I also feel that qualified teachers offer a different range of experience. Having a combination of teachers and practitioners means the children benefit from both sets of experience.
“Our nursery is in a very fortunate position, having three qualified and experienced teachers. This means that learning through play is carefully planned, assessments of children are used to inform future teaching, and gaps in learning are identified early, with intervention in place where needed.”
Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, a clinical psychologist and expert from Channel Four’s Secret Life of Four Year Olds programme, added: “Having an early years teacher in a nursery can make all the difference to a child’s future.
“We know that during the early years a child’s brain is developing at its quickest rate - and that language and communication skills are the building blocks for everything else. So many nurseries are struggling to afford to hire qualified teachers, and until they can, children will continue to slip through the net.”