Use EYFS review to rethink staffing

James Hempsall, director, Hempsall's
Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Providers can benefit from proposed Early Years Foundation Stage Framework changes, says expert.

Picture: gpointstudio/Adobe Stock
Picture: gpointstudio/Adobe Stock

Everyone is talking about how people are leaving their jobs in early years and childcare, and there appears to be fewer new entrants to replace them in the workforce. This is placing pressures upon remaining teams and managers, and the quality of provision, and it is limiting the number of places available to children.

We've always had workforce challenges and pressures in the sector. I know because I wrote about the subject in 2001 – the issues and processes haven't changed, but the numbers and government policy are different. Providers are constantly telling me they cannot find the staff they need that meet current requirements and deliver the number of places they want.

Workforce trends

Trends in how people enter the profession have changed. We have historically benefited from parent volunteer routes, facilitated in the main by community pre-schools. Parents would bring their children to the playgroup and then gradually get involved, ultimately becoming staff or committee members. Another well-trodden route is to start in childminding. With the numbers of these two different types of settings decreasing, this further reduces the opportunity for this to happen.

New student numbers are said to be lower. I am often told the numbers of further education courses, and of students on them, are at their lowest for some time. Another trend is that students are more likely to go onto further study at higher education rather than beginning work. At the end of that period of study, they appear less likely to begin early years or childcare roles. Even if they find themselves applying for work, managers frequently complain they haven't got the “common sense” or understanding of the realities of the job that is much needed. Things are not matching up.

It is against this backdrop that the Department for Education has launched a consultation over proposed changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework, which sets standards and outcomes for providers. The proposals cover a wide range of issues including staffing, qualifications, training and safeguarding (see below) but changes around staff-to-child ratios and practitioner competencies have attracted most attention.


  • Remove the requirement for level three early years educators to hold a GCSE or equivalent maths qualification and introduce an experience-based route into childcare for those without an approved level three qualification

  • Change staff-to-child ratios for two-year-olds from 1:4 to 1:5 alongside changing the requirements on the percentage of staff required to be at level two qualification

  • Create two simplified versions of the EYFS framework: one for childminders and one for group and school-based providers

  • Water down requirements on providers over offering learning for children with English as an additional language from “must” to “should” or “may”

  • Students and apprentices studying towards an approved level 3 qualification will be allowed to count in ratios, as will those working towards an approved level 6 qualification

Source: Early Years Foundation Stage government consultation, DfE, May 2023

Rethinking recruitment

Most settings need greater flexibility – and sometimes there are attitudinal and practical blocks. Many need to refresh their “grow your own” staff strategies, that reinvent routes in to replace those that aren't as plentiful as before. In my recruitment and retention workshops, we look at the current ratio requirements and how they can be applied. This involves asking how established routines and arrangements can be reconstructed to meet requirements and reconcile with the supply of available staff and volunteers.

The consultation proposes moving from one staff member for every four two-year-olds – at least one Level 3 and half of others Level 2 – to one staff member for every five two-year-olds, at least one Level 3 and 30-40 per cent Level 2. It sounds like this aims to allow for a little more provider flexibility, and proposals could benefit all types and sizes of setting. This is more of a guide and option, rather than a requirement. It is entirely possible for such a strategy to sit alongside objectives that seek to grow qualifications, leadership, and professional standards in the sector.

Work-based learning

Some of the best staff enter this profession having had a poor experience in education, and disadvantaged by a multitude of other factors, or indeed having never contemplated it as a career before – me included. Why wouldn't we offer student, apprentices, and unqualified staff work-based learning in the sector with the aim of growing the best workforce? If we solely relied upon people deciding on this profession at school, then going to university and then trying their hand at the practical realities of the job, the sector would quickly find itself in a right mess.

When requiring Level 3 staff to have a Level 2 maths qualification was brought in, we all said it would have a negative effect on recruitment. It went ahead anyway. Unfortunately, we were right. Placing that at management level helps and should stimulate a fresh approach to supporting children to experience the world mathematically and digitally.

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