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Education experts at the University have called for a national review of Early Years education degrees after publishing research revealing how they are highly variable and difficult for students and employers to navigate. 

Fragmentation in degree choice and content, reduced employment opportunities compared to the broader student population, and a lack of financial incentive to complete an early years’ degree are some of the findings identified from an analysis of graduate career trajectories.

The research by the Plymouth Institute of Education, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, also shows that there is a localised workforce in the early years’ sector, with little movement between pre-university residence, location of study, and place of employment.

The report – A Systematic Review of Early Years Degrees and Employment Pathways – has been released today (Thursday 10 December) to coincide with the publication of a new study by the Education Policy Institute. This two-year study has found that the presence of a graduate in early years settings has a positive association with children’s learning outcomes, which are sustained into primary school.

Dr Verity Campbell-Barr, Associate Professor in Early Childhood Studies, and Associate Head for Research in the Plymouth Institute of Education, said:

“We know how important early years degrees are for the quality of early years services, but we have known very little about the content and structure of these degrees and whether graduates go on to work in this field. Our findings – particularly the fragmentation of degree content and work-placement arrangements, and geographical issues relating to distribution of the courses and a lack of movement among graduates – indicate the challenge and the need for a national quality assurance review in Higher Education.”

The research team spent 12 months assessing the higher education landscape for early years education, conducting a qualitative analysis of courses and related HESA data.

Among the specific concerns they identified was whether degree content is satisfying both the need for quality of education as well as meeting the statutory requirements of working in the early years sector. And the uneven distribution of courses is also resulting in a similar pattern in the graduate workforce. 

The team has called for the establishment of a national group within the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) to review the content and structure of degrees; for further research on the induction systems present for those going on to work in early years education; and more accessible information on how degrees meet QAA benchmarks. 

“The release of these two studies presents a powerful picture of two education contexts,” 

adds Verity. 

“It reveals how graduates are both important to the quality of a child’s early education, but how they are to some extent being let down by the education and training they are receiving. It would be in everyone’s interests to improve that situation.”

Research with Plymouth Institute of Education

Research in Plymouth Institute of Education (PIOE) is both excellent and highly distinctive, with its lifelong and life-wide approach; foregrounding the vital role learning plays in society and culture. Our researchers explore how and why people learn at every stage of life, from babies to the very old. We have strong research links and networks across the world and a wide range of externally funded national and international research projects.
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