An Invitation to Debate a Change to the Ratio of Staff Qualifications with Ofsted

August 9th 2022

The recruitment and retention issue continues to drag us down and there is no immediate end in sight.  Worse still, I doubt if Liz Truss, the darling of the Tories, will become the darling of Early Years if she becomes Prime Minister given her history of child ratio slashing. So, what are we to do?

Right now, we are stuck in a market led sector and experiencing the negative impact described by Mark Carney, the previous Head of the Bank of England, as a market economy creating a market society which is trampling our values because the market cannot value what it does not price. He emphasised the importance of values-led business as critical to building a better world and suggests a new social contract founded on fairness, personal responsibility, sustainability and solidarity with those values embedded in this reformed market economy. In this world, the Early Years sector would have a better chance of being valued and supported but this is unlikely to happen any time soon within the current political context. Therefore, we need to take some action of our own.

There are two sets of problems about staffing: structural and process and we need different responses for each.  Of course, solving the structural issues would make the process issues a lot easier but hey, when did logic ever get in the way of a good Government funded solution?

Structurally we need 3 immediate sets of action.

  1. Proper funding so we can manage costs more effectively and redirect more money into paying staff and improving their benefits
  2. Building status would to celebrate what we do, the impact we have on small children’s development and education
  3. Access to a strong career progression pathway would also be a huge improvement for many staff

Some things we can do ourselves, but funding is essential for most structural improvements. For example, big chains can do this if they are willing redirect some of their profit into salaries and benefits and also, as with so many nurseries, create really strong progression pathways. However, this should be the option for all settings no matter their size or geography.  Every staff member needs to be paid fairly and provided with a good pension as a basic offer no matter whether they work for a company driven by dividend, a charity, a statutory service, an independent school or social enterprise.

In October 2021, the Early Years Alliance published their report, Breaking Point which revealed what we all know now about the seriousness of the recruitment and retention crisis in the sector. The report revealed that more than 80% of settings were struggling to recruit staff[i] and one in six believe staffing shortages would lead to closure of their setting permanently within the next year. One third of the 1,395 respondents are actively considering leaving the sector because they could not access training, did not have a work life balance and managers, in particular, were really feeling the stress.

Addressing issues of recruitment and retention through operational improvements should also be key. We know from staff that the culture and values of the organisation really do matter and we should therefore factor in retaining staff who like feeling part of something bigger than themselves.  We also know the many ways we can support staff at every touch point of their work experience. But that is still not enough in these really dire times.

So, I am proposing we discuss a possible operational change with Ofsted. I am interested to consider how we might design some flexibility about the proportion of qualified to unqualified staff.  I know there are risks to this and so I have invited Ofsted to meet us to discuss the idea.

I would like to invite those who run settings to attend the meeting and debate the idea. I think you are ideally placed to consider all the angles of such a proposal.  I am hugely aware of the risks to quality and the impact on the children’s experience but, on the other hand, this recruitment and retention issue is also impacting negatively on quality with a tired and stressed workforce.

I am proposing we meet in person as it is too important a subject to rely on a virtual chat to hear your thoughts. We need your voices in the room. In preparation, please read the revised (July 2022) Early Years Inspection Handbook and ‘Ofsted EIF inspections and the EYFS’.

The meeting is on 26th September, 11:30-13:30 at LEYF Central Offices.

If you would like to attend, please contact and let her know your full name, job title, organisation and one question or suggestion that you have for Ofsted on what we can do to resolve the current recruitment crisis in early years. We have limited space in the room, if we are over-subscribed we will run a ballot system for tickets.

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