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Early years staffing shortages reaches crisis point

By Rachel Lawlerchild and early years practitioner playing

More than eight in 10 early years providers (84%) are finding it difficult to recruit staff, according to a new report from the Alliance.

The new report, Breaking Point: The impact of recruitment and retention challenges in the early years sector in England, also found that 49% of providers have had to limit the number of places at their setting or stop taking on new children as a result of the crisis.

More than a third of those who responded said that they were actively considering leaving the sector themselves, with 3% confirming that they were in the process of leaving and 1% had already left.

One in six early years providers said that their setting was likely to close within the next year as a result of staff shortages.

Feeling undervalued
The most common reason for staff considering leaving the sector was “feeling undervalued by government”, with 77% of respondents citing this reason. Two thirds of respondents (66%) said that their experience of working during the pandemic had increased the likelihood of them leaving the sector.

Inadequate pay was also a commonly cited factor, with 57% of those considering leaving stating that this was a contributing factor, with 52% said that being unable to meet salary expectations was a contributing factor in staff shortages.

Staff shortages
Lorraine Weaver-Ennis, nursery manager at Hinckley Road Nursery in Coventry, said: "We have had to reduce our register of children from 32 down to 24 because of staff shortages. We have struggled to recruit knowledgeable, qualified practitioners and whilst we have always been known for paying salaries above the minimum wage, we cannot compete with the salaries offered by the local authorities.

"As a 98% funded private nursery, the poor funding is devastating to us and the only reason we have remained open is that the manager, who is a qualified Early Years Teacher, works full time in the nursery then attends to management duties at the end of the day when the children have gone home."

Childminder concerns
Victoria Lewis, a childminder in London, said: "I have been actively recruiting for four months and haven't managed to successfully hire an assistant. I believe it's due to the salary I can afford to pay, and I can't compete with entry-level positions outside of the sector. I've had to reduce my numbers as I can no longer maintain the required ratios and had to cease childcare for families with no notice. It's affected my working partnership with parents, and I view this as the beginning of the end of my 17-year long career in childcare, unless things change quickly."

Valuing providers
In response to the survey responses, the Alliance is calling for the government to:

  • Determine and publish a set of pay ambitions for the early years sector in England, setting out what it considers to be suitable salary ranges for each role level in the sector – and to ensure that early entitlement funding is set and maintained at an adequate level to enable early years settings to meet those salary expectations.
  • Value and promote the early years sector as an education profession. This includes:
    • ensuring that the early years is included in all education announcements, debates and discussions, and that any support schemes or initiatives rolled out to the schools and further education sectors are also rolled out to the early years sector, where appropriate and relevant
    • reviewing the use of language when discussing the sector, with an emphasis on early years provision as ‘early education’ and on the workforce as ‘early educators’
    • in the medium-to-long term, running a high-profile campaign to encourage talented and dedicated professionals into the sector
  • Ensure there are clear and consistent career pathways into and through the sector, as well as funded training and CPD opportunities.

You can the report in full here.

Concerning report
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “It is incredibly concerning, and yet sadly unsurprising, to hear not only how difficult early years settings are finding it to recruit suitable staff, but that so many dedicated, committed and experienced early educators are considering leaving the sector themselves. The figures in this report show we have nothing short of a sector-wide crisis on our hands. Parents are already experiencing temporary and permanent closures as a result of these challenges, and ultimately it is families and children who will suffer if this crisis continues.

“There is no single quick-fix on offer. Early education and care has the potential to be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding careers in any industry or sector, but for this to be a reality, there needs to be a complete overhaul of the way that government views, treats and ultimately funds early years providers in this country.

“The early educators I speak to every day are passionate advocates for the work they do, but they are tired: tired of being overworked, tired of being underpaid and tired of being undervalued. We urge the government to act on the recommendations in our report and work with the sector to improve the status of early years as a profession and help build and maintain a dedicated, stable workforce for this vital sector, both now and in the future.”

Read the report in full here