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NEWS: Research shows further challenges for the early years workforce

A new report by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), produced in collaboration with the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, reveals another picture of the early years workforce and the challenges for recruiting, retaining and developing staff in the sector.

PACEY worked in partnership with NatCen and others in the sector to support the project and help with the recruitment of participants. 

While demand for childcare in England remains high, the sector is struggling to recruit and retain staff. Over the course of a year, the number of staff in the early years workforce fell from 430,500 to 363,400.

The research investigated:

  • What motivates early years professionals to enter and remain in (or leave) the sector.
  • How and why managers seek to recruit, retain and develop a ‘high quality’ early years workforce.
  • What the barriers and facilitators to the recruitment/retention/development of a ‘high quality’ early years workforce are.

Key findings

  • The early years sector in England currently finds itself in a fragile state regarding its workforce.
  • Poor pay progression and low salaries were seen as incompatible with increasing workload and responsibilities and is a cause for practitioners considering leaving the sector.
  • Progression opportunities and limited opportunities for professional development contributed to the turnover of staff. 
  • A mismatch between expectations and the reality of the job was one of the reasons practitioners considered leaving the sector. This included the emotional and physical demands of the job, made worse by increasing paperwork and demands from parents and employers.
  • The early years sector profession is seen as being ‘easy’, ‘unskilled’ and primarily suitable for those with few other alternatives, especially women, affects how sector roles are viewed and rewarded.

Read the full report here.

Liz Bayram, Chief Executive at the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) comments:

“After working to support NatCen on this project, alongside key sector organisations including NDNA, this latest analysis of the early years workforce once again highlights the issues that the sector continues to face with poor pay, higher workloads and low-status.

Low pay barriers and unsustainable funding levels means many providers are being put in a position where they are having to make staff cuts, reducing training opportunities or leave a career they are passionate about in order to make ends meet for their own families. This is not a decision that those responsible for looking after the next generation should be facing.

A primarily female workforce are taking on more responsibility to support children but continue to be undervalued. A long-term workforce development and funding strategy that pays professionals a salary proportionate to the important job they do is not only vital for a skilled workforce but will help more families enjoy the high quality early education.”