University of Leeds staff and students are passionate about improving the future for children in our community, the city of Leeds and around the world.
As we celebrate International Day of Education, we are turning the spotlight on the ongoing support, research and collaboration taking place across the University of Leeds.
Our research is driving change in the early years sector and the University is well placed to support national efforts to boost the quality and capacity of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) provisions.
Our long-term vision will transform social care and child health and deliver a sustainable programme which will benefit our students, staff, local community and partnerships across the globe.”
Through broad collaboration with partners, including schools, charities and policymakers, the University is making a difference across society.
This passion and desire to make an impact is shared by our students, who go on to a variety of careers where they can make a difference in the sector and improve the future for the next generation.
Professor Jeff Grabill, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Education, said: “Our world leading research in early years and education tackles key areas where our research can improve the lives of young children across education, public policy and health.
“Our long-term vision will transform social care and child health and deliver a sustainable programme which will benefit our students, staff, local community and partnerships across the globe.”
Majority of nursery staff consider quitting the sector
Latest research reveals that 57% of nursery staff and 38% of childminders are considering quitting the sector in the next year.
The University of Leeds and Early Education and Childcare Coalition study, ‘Retention and return: delivering the expansion of early years entitlement in England’, was presented in late 2023 as the Government prepared to roll out a childcare expansion it had announced in the Spring Budget – aiming to offer 30 hours of ‘free childcare’ to eligible parents of nine-month-olds by 2025.
Estimates show that almost 50,000 extra workers would be needed in 2024 and again in 2025 to maintain the existing service and expand entitlement, but many providers are struggling to meet existing demand due to difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified staff.
Investing in staff in the sector in this way is absolutely vital for stemming the tide of people exiting the sector and also for delivering the highest quality early education possible.”
This project is part of a wider stream of work putting Leeds at the forefront of early years education research. Since its launch in November 2023, the new Early Years Employment Research Hub at Leeds University Business School has been bringing together policymakers, providers, professional associations and researchers to tackle workforce challenges in early years education.
Lead author Professor Kate Hardy, from the Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change (CERIC) at the University of Leeds, said: “Early years educators have a real thirst for training and continuing to improve their practice. But they desperately need paid time out from their working day, high quality training and their pay to rise in line with their growing capabilities.
“Investing in staff in the sector in this way is absolutely vital for stemming the tide of people exiting the sector and also for delivering the highest quality early education possible.”
The impact of COVID and narrow attainment gaps
Research led by the University of Leeds analysed changes in children’s abilities relative to the ECEC they had received during the pandemic.
The results highlighted its clear potential to allow children to catch up on lost development and improve school readiness.
Children who attended more ECEC during the pandemic could understand significantly more new words over the first year of the pandemic than peers who did not attend formal childcare. In real terms, this means that a child who attended one day of ECEC per week could understand an average of 16 more new words over the year.
Our findings demonstrate the importance of early years education for children born without social advantage - helping to narrow the gap in early development and level socioeconomic inequalities.”
And for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the more time spent in those settings, the better their communication and problem-solving skills. Lockdowns are widely believed to have negatively affected young children’s language skills, but the results of this study suggest that ECEC had sustained learning benefits for youngsters growing up during the pandemic - with specific benefits for those from less affluent homes.
Dr Catherine Davies, Professor of Language Development in the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies at the University of Leeds, said: “Our findings demonstrate the importance of early years education for children born without social advantage - helping to narrow the gap in early development and level socioeconomic inequalities.”
The findings of the project, carried out in collaboration with researchers at Oxford Brookes University, University of Oxford, Leeds Beckett University and University of Warwick, has prompted the team to call for education policy reforms, including support for lower-income families to access Early Childhood Education and Care, and better promotion of the role of ECEC for children’s development, such as highlighting its provision of education as well as care.
School of Education Spotlight Film
Our students, staff, alumni and partners spoke about the importance of collaboration in the sector and how this can improve the future for children.
We hope our graduates will be change makers."
One of the Schools most high-profile collaborations happened almost a year ago, when the University welcomed HRH The Princess of Wales to launch the Shaping Us campaign.
The passion and desire to affect change that the Princess of Wales saw during her visit is something tutors at the School of Education recognise in many of their students.
Dr Lucy Taylor, Lecturer in Education (Primary English), says: “We hope our graduates will be change makers. Whether that be influencing policy, whether that be making change by being teachers themselves, that they will build on what they’ve learnt and go on to make things better for children and young people in the UK.”