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Early years sector sees qualifications fall and high staff turnover

Article By: Melissa McAlees

A ‘recruitment crisis’ in nurseries could see half of highly-qualified staff retiring within 25 years, new research suggests.

Credit: oliveromg/

The Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) report ‘Early years workforce: a fragmented picture’ warns that qualification levels across the sector are falling, staff turnover rates are increasing, while unpaid volunteers make up more than one in seven staff.

Of 400,000 early years educators – which includes nurseries, pre-schools and Reception classes – 98 per cent remain female.

Stella Ziolkowski, National Day Nurseries Association’s (NDNA) director of quality and workforce development, said: “As we have said in our recently published 2018 Workforce Survey, the Government must address the qualifications and staffing issues being faced by the sector as a matter of urgency.

“We cannot rely on volunteers to make up for staff shortages. Many volunteers are unqualified and do not have the grounded understanding of children’s development that training and qualifications provide.

“This high turnover of staff results in a lack of continuity of care for the children and expensive recruitment for nurseries who struggle to find suitable candidates.”

The report found that a large proportion of staff with degree-level qualifications are aged over 40. One in five are over 50 and are set to retire within 10 to 15 years, while younger staff are more likely to be volunteers.

In Reception classes, almost 16 per cent of staff are unpaid volunteers, and the number of unpaid staff in independent nurseries has risen by 60 per cent between 2008 and 2013.

The report warns that qualification levels across the sector are also falling – and courses leading to Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) that were introduced in 2013 to boost the number of graduates working with young children, are being shunned.

Commenting on the findings, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “If the Government wants to ensure accessible, quality early care and education for all children, it needs to ensure that we have a well-qualified professional workforce to deliver this – this means investing in the sector and ensuring that childcare is, and remains, a viable career choice.”

Eradicating gender stereotypes

Credit: pavla/

In recent years, it has become widely recognised and accepted that male practitioners are present in nurseries and pre-schools across the UK, yet the EPI report found that 98 per cent of the childcare workforce is still occupied by female practitioners.

The main reason for this, according to Krishan Sood, from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Education, are negative stereotypes. These include the risk of being wrongly accused of indecent behaviour, that men can be perceived as being threatening to some young children, and the perception that early years is a career path for women, because they are perceived as more nurturing.

This week, London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), which operates 38 nurseries, launched its ‘4 Point Plan’.

The document calls for more support for men working in childcare, more recruitment of early years male role models, and the formation of a Men in Early Years Advisory Group.

June O’Sullivan, chief executive officer of London Early Years Foundation, said more men would be interested in becoming nursery teachers if they understood the benefits it can bring to young children.

She said: “Research shows there are huge benefits from having men in nurseries, such as providing male role models, eradicating gender stereotypes and helping fathers engage with their children. Whilst the nature of modern work is changing, the perception that nursery teaching is not for men persists and the experiences of men in early years demonstrate how pervasive negative stereotypes remain.

“We now need a robust strategy in place that will affect culture change and shift attitudes for the better – female teachers and assistants need to help drive this.”

According to Nadhim Zahawi, the minister for children and families, the lack of male nursery teachers is a ‘huge problem’ which Department for Education (DfE) officials are trying to address.

Speaking at the education select committee, he said: “We do need to do more. One of the areas we are looking to do more on is apprenticeships – to get more people considering a career in early years, especially males. It is something that is important. A lack of male role models is not a good thing.”

Spring statement: Chancellor announces £500m for T-levels

Chancellor Philip Hammond - Credit: Conservative Party Flickr

The EPI report comes after Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in the spring statement that £80m will be given to support small businesses in engaging apprenticeships.

Mr Hammond also said that there would be £500m for T-levels and £50m to help employers provide placements for T-level students.

Speaking in Parliament on 13 March, Mr Hammond said: “We are committed as a Government to delivering three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 with the support of business through the apprenticeship levy.

“We recognise the challenges the new system presents to some small business looking to employ an apprentice. I can therefore announce that the education secretary will release up to £80m of funding to support small businesses in engaging apprentices.”

First announced by Education Secretary Justine Greening in 2016, T-levels will allow 16 to 19-year-olds to study a technical qualification at level 3 (equivalent to A levels) in 15 sectors, including education and childcare.

If you are looking for a career in the early years sector, lists a wide range of jobs which can be viewed here.


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