Gareth Conyard, Director of Education at Teacher Development Trust speaks about the importance of the new qualification available for the sector.

Just over a decade ago I was lucky enough to work with Professor Cathy Nutbrown on her review of early years qualifications. As a civil servant at the time in the Department for Education, I was able to work alongside her as she toured the country, speaking to early years practitioners from across the profession. I could not help but be inspired by the dedication, creativity and care being shown when visiting those working with babies and young children – in nurseries, schools, and as childminders. As Professor Nutbrown stated back in 2012, “quality is the key to a positive impact on children, and staff with the necessary skills, knowledge and understanding are a crucial element of that quality.

Recent evidence supports that statement. The continuing ‘Study of Early Education and Development’ shows how quality early education and childcare supports better outcomes for babies and young children, both at the time and as they progress through school – all the way to GCSE – with especially positive outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Specifically, this study shows the clear link between more qualified staff and better outcomes.

Put simply, better training and development means more effective practice, with improved outcomes.

Professor Nutbrown recognised this a decade ago as she pushed for an increase in the minimum requirements for people working in early years, asking for:

  • A tightening of the full criteria that dictate which Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications are acceptable
  • All staff should have at least a Level 3 qualification
  • Early years teachers be granted Qualified Teacher Status. 

Status is so important. People work with babies and young children because of a passion for caring, for helping the youngest minds flourish, out of a sense of profound mission. However, it’s a sad fact that too often the early years is seen as little more than babysitting by those who fail to understand its importance. That helps to explain why qualification requirements are so low and why people bemoaning the cost of childcare claim deregulation is the answer.

Which is why I am so pleased to see the launch of a new early years qualification – the National Professional Qualification in Early Years Leadership – the NPQEYL. 

Over time, National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) have evolved into respected development routes for senior leaders and middle leaders in schools as well, most recently creating new qualifications around behaviour, leading teaching, professional development, and literacy. 

The introduction of the NPQEYL means that, for the first time, the early years sector has access to a qualification that is absolutely on a par with that offered in schools. It isn’t a fudge, it’s the real deal. It has been developed following the same rigorous process of evidence-led design and is subject to the same quality control and accountability. In fact, the NPQEYL sits across the traditional early years and school divide, aimed at those working in nurseries and childminders and those working in the Early Years Foundation Stage in schools. 

It is a complete qualification for early years leaders, looking at child development and progression (including SEND) as well as managing the complex world of an early years setting. It also looks at the practicalities of how to implement change, played out through realistic scenarios to help apply theoretical knowledge to real life challenges. Those completing the course and passing the assessment will gain a prestigious qualification and increase their knowledge and ability to help babies and young children prosper.

The course is delivered via a mixture of online content – so that participants can access it in their own time, in whatever way best suits their working pattern and life demands – and core face-to-face elements to bring together people from different settings to share experiences and ideas.

The best news is that it is free for most people. Those working in a maintained school or for an Ofsted-registered early years setting (including childminders) can be funded by the Department for Education. We at the Teacher Development Trust are committed to supporting effective professional development and are delighted to be among the few organisations approved by government to deliver this qualification – you can go online to: to find a local delivery partner to sign-up with. If we don’t yet offer it in your area, the Department for Education has a list of other providers you can apply with.

And, as well as providing an excellent qualification, the NPQEYL is a step on the road to greater parity for the early years sector.

First published in Nursery Management Today, 10th January 2023