Workforce survey confirms qualification levels falling

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The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) is calling for government to act to reverse the ‘catastrophic recruitment crisis’ after research confirmed qualification levels are falling - because of the GCSE requirement.


Childcare workforce qualification levels are falling

The drive to improve standards is seemingly having the opposite effect, with numbers of Level Three-qualified staff and above, down eight per cent on last year.

The association warned at these rates, there may not be enough staff to deliver the Government’s 30-hours free childcare pledge.

If the GCSE requirement were scrapped and replaced with an ‘everyday maths and English’ standard, the sector would be pulled back from the brink, said the NDNA.

Even a Level Three accountancy apprenticeship allows functional skills as an alternative to maths and English GCSEs, as well as health and social care, and support teaching.

In 2015, the ‘Level Three and above’ category made up 83 per cent of employees, but the rate is now 75 per cent, according to the association’s latest Workforce Survey, published today (Wednesday).

Stella Ziolkowski, NDNA’s Director of Quality and Workforce Development, said, 'The results of our latest workforce survey show the breadth of this recruitment and retention crisis, backing up anecdotal information from our members.

‘Numbers of qualified staff are dropping too low, which will have a detrimental impact on the quality of early years education, the single most important factor in reducing the attainment gap and supporting children to achieve.’

Overall staff turnover is up at 19 per cent, with rates among level threes at 21 per cent and it is said that this is due to low wages and workers being held back by their lack of maths and English GCSE at grade C or above.

More than half the current Level Three staff and more than two thirds of Level Two staff do not hold these qualifications and ‘feel undervalued and cannot progress in their career’, added Ms Ziolkowski.

‘This requirement is preventing many good candidates from applying for positions or progressing to higher qualifications within the nursery.

‘We urge the new childcare minister Caroline Dinenage to change the GCSE requirement to one for practical everyday maths and English as part of her promised early years workforce strategy to ease this escalating crisis.

'Quality, experienced candidates without GCSEs at these grades must be allowed to demonstrate their skills and knowledge to support our children to reach their full potential.’

She continued, ‘Unless the current double whammy of staff leaving and few staff applying for practitioner positions is addressed urgently, we risk that there won’t be enough nursery places to be able to deliver the 30 hours free childcare promise.

‘The majority of employer respondents tell us that changing the GCSE requirements for staff would have a positive impact on their business.’

This year’s survey analysed the views of 278 nursery owners and managers employing 12,500 practitioners caring for more than 58,000 children. 

It also included responses from an additional 385 individual practitioners.

PACEY's chief executive Liz Bayram, Chief Executive of PACEY, agreed the GCSE requirement requires 'urgent government attention'.

Ms Bayram added, 'In order to deliver the government’s promise of 30 hours funded childcare, we need to see some significant steps to encourage early years professionals to stay in the sector and offer the increase in places that will be needed to meet the demand from parents.'

Julie Hyde, associate director of CACHE, the organisation leading the Save Our Early Years Campaign, also called for government action to accept functional skills like in some other fields.

Ms Hyde said, 'Good literacy and numeracy are vital for early years practitioners – and alternative Functional Skills qualifications in these subjects provide these skills, as well as the practical soft skills so vital to be a high-quality early years practitioner.

'Other sectors have functional skills accepted as an equivalent qualification – there is no reason for the early years sector to be an outlier.'

A Department for Education spokesman said, 'Making sure we get the best staff into the early years sector will be vital to the success of our 30 hours free childcare offer.

'That’s why we are establishing a workforce strategy that aims to remove the barriers to attracting, retaining and developing great people.

'This is backed up by record investment in childcare – £6 billion per year by the end of this Parliament.'

Key survey findings

  • GCSE requirements single biggest reason for the escalating recruitment and retention crisis along with relatively low salaries
  • Qualifications of workforce dropping (numbers of level three qualified staff and above have dropped from 83 per cent to 75 per cent since 2015)
  • Overall turnover higher than previous years at 19 per cent with level threes up to 21per cent due to low wages and lack of progression – level twos and threes cannot progress if they don’t have these GCSE requirements
  • More than half the current level threes and more than two thirds of level twos don’t have the GCSE requirements so can’t progress/feel undervalued
  • Many settings are not employing level twos or unqualified staff at all without these GCSE qualifications
  • The majority of employers say changing the requirements would have a positive impact on their business
  • Many employers are worried about rising costs which include using agency staff to cover vacancies, keeping pace with the National Living Wage and pension auto-enrolment costs. These burdens are proving too much for many small businesses
  • The majority of employers have reduced staff training budgets as a result of these heavy business burdens
  • There is insufficient high-quality affordable training, in particular training for staff to support children with special educational needs and disability (SEND)

NDNA’s Key Recommendations to Government

  • Workforce strategy must be clearly costed and account for funding shortfalls for the delivery of 30 hours and the National Living Wage increases 
  • Include financial investment from Government to address workforce improvement and continued professional development with a particular focus on supporting children with SEND
  • Change the requirements for grade A*-C in maths and English GCSEs to accept revised functional skills, whilst maintaining a continued focus on improving quality
  • Consider affordability of CPD for the sector to prevent a negative impact in driving up costs of childcare for parents
  • Give long-term commitment for the development of the early years workforce with clear progression pathways that predict the skills gaps for the next five to ten years
  • Have a strong focus on attracting new candidates to the workforce as well as retaining those already employed
  • Focus on a vision of level three staff delivering quality early education and a graduate leading practice in every setting
  • Government must ensure that the school system is challenged and supported to improve the number of pupils exiting with both English and maths at Grade C or above.


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