1 in 5 early years workers considering leaving the sector as Covid hits mental health and wellbeing

The pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, alongside a lack of support and recognition from government, has meant that one in five early years practitioners are actively considering leaving the sector, a new survey from leading early years membership organisation, the Early Years Alliance, has found. 

The online survey, which was carried out between December 2020 and January 2021 and received nearly 3,800 responses from those working in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings in England, found that:

  • One in five (20%) say that they are considering leaving the sector due to stress or mental health difficulties related to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector       
  • Eight in 10 (80%) have felt stressed about work because of an issue relating to the Covid-19 pandemic ‘somewhat often’ or ‘very often’ over the previous month  
  • Over a third (36%) do not feel able to cope with the additional pressures that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed on their early years role  
  • 72% say that they had experienced fatigue/tiredness related to the impact of the pandemic on their early years role over the past six months, while 70% had experienced anxiety and 59% had experienced insomnia
  • One in 10 (11%) have taken time off work due to stress linked to the impact of the pandemic on their role
  • 67 respondents (2%) said that they had thoughts of ending their own life as a result of the pressures that the pandemic has placed on their early years roles

The survey also found that the three main sources of stress for those working in the early years sector are: (1) Keeping up to date with the latest government guidance; (2) Ensuring the safety of children and practitioners at their provision (i.e. reducing the risk of Covid transmission); and (3) Concerns about the financial viability of their provision. 

Almost nine in 10 (87%) practitioners that they don’t think that the role that the early years sector has played during the pandemic has been adequately valued by the government. 

Commenting on the results of the survey, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: 

“It is clear from these results that this is a sector at breaking point. Those working in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings have been asked to put their own safety, and that of their loved ones, at risk with little support and even less recognition, and so it is no surprise that this has taken such a toll on their mental health and wellbeing. 

“Those in government should take a moment to reflect on how it feels to listen to ministers tell everyone how vital it is to stay at home, and to watch as hospitalisation and death rates continue to rise, and then to be asked to keep working in a close-contact environment with no support with PPE, no testing and no vaccinations. Is it any wonder that such a significant proportion of the early years workforce are considering simply walking away? 

“We urge the government to take stock of these findings, and commit to providing the support that those in the early years need to remain safe and sustainable during this period. The sector is doing its utmost to continue providing a vital service to families at an incredibly difficult and worrying time, but it is not fair, and it is not right, to ask them to continue to do so if the cost is their own wellbeing, whether physical or mental. If we keep going the way we are going, we are going to lose excellent professionals from the sector for good.


“I feel that the early years sector has been treated disgracefully during the pandemic and I feel that workers have been put at increased risk during the pandemic with little support and acknowledgment of [our] feelings and welfare. My intention is to look for another form of employment and leave the sector.”

“I have always loved my job, but I’m about to resign this week as I don’t feel safe at work. It’s causing terrible stress and anxiety, and arguments at home.” 

“The stress is too much. Although I love my team and children, the unpredictability and pressure on us for minimum wage is terrible and unjustified. I would get the same or more for cleaning.” 

“I don't know how much more I can take. [My work] is considerably affecting my home life and has done since the 30 hours funding came in place; now with everything regarding Covid, I feel I am breaking point.” 

“I am considering leaving after feeling so unsupported and undervalued by the government in recent weeks. I do not feel this will improve so feel that I will seek other employment.” 

“I love my job, but I have never felt so underappreciated. I've lost about half my former income and set to lose more. My hands are wrecked from constant handwashing and I'm terrified that my kids will catch Covid from one of the children in my care. I can't attend my usual toddler groups or drop-ins with other childminders, so I am totally isolated. I'm trying to keep cheerful to maintain some semblance of normality for my minders, but it's hard when I'm told, day in and day out, that my health is worth less than school teachers'.” 

“Not sure how long I can do this for. In a charity pre-school, I already work many hours for free and on a low hourly rate but since Covid, this has tripled, I’m heading for a burn-out and I’m a person that has never had any mental health issues in the past.”  

“I love my job, but feel totally overwhelmed by having to stay up to date with all the guidance, stay on top of all the cleaning I have to do to ensure the children, and my family, are kept as safe as possible, as well as all the usual planning and preparing that comes with the job.” 

“I feel the sector has been treated appallingly. Staff have been expected to carry on regardless and the risk we are putting ourselves at is not really acknowledged. This really does not help with current stress levels.”