Danger of childcare workforce shortage without wage increase

Anna Pujol-Mazzini
Friday, July 24, 2015

Low pay in the childcare sector could lead to a shortage in staff, warns a new report.

‘Provision and use of pre-school childcare in Britain’, published today, claims there is a possibility that the country could face a childcare staff shortage once the economy begins to improve as staff are attracted to better paid jobs.

It highlights how poorly paid the sector is compared to other occupations, despite an increase in qualified workers, and says low pay is a frequently cited reason for high levels of staff turnover in nurseries.

According to the UCL Institute of Education, which carried out the report in collaboration with the Family and Childcare Trust and National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), there has already been a five per cent decrease in the number of people working in childcare since 2005.

As the economy gradually starts to pick up, it says that good ‘candidates’ may move to better paid work in other sectors.

There are also concerns among the sector that the GCSE English and maths entry and exit requirements for childcare courses will mean a massive decline in the number of students going into the sector.

Nursery World reported in March that training providers have already seen drops of between 40 and 96 per cent in the number of students on Early Years Educator (EYE) courses across the country.

The UCL report, which is based upon an analysis of multiple sets of data on childcare use and provision, found that 75 per cent of childcare staff now hold NVQ Level 3 or higher, an increase of 12 per cent between 2005 and 2014.

Despite this, the average rate of pay for the sector is just 10p above the minimum wage for workers aged 21 and over, set at £6.50 per hour.

Lead researcher Antonia Simon from the UCL Institute of Education said, ‘ Young women have seen a reduction in employment opportunities open to them due to the recession.  It is possible that they are continuing in the sector due to the lack of alternative employment.  As the economy gradually starts to pick up good candidates may move to better paid work in other sectors. This will make recruitment harder for providers looking to grow their workforce to cover the Government’s increased offer of 30 funded hours per week for three and four-year-olds of working parents from 2017.’

The report goes on to highlight the difference in pay between childcare staff working in private and maintained early years settings, £5.60 per hour compared to £7.80, and the how the sector continues to be predominantly female.

Childcare usage

‘Provision and use of pre-school childcare in Britain’ also looks at the use of childcare among families in Britain, and argues that current childcare provision does not cover what parents need, particularly to work full-time.

It shows that 68 per cent of families were using some form of childcare, with around half using more than one type of provision.

Use of informal care, mainly provided by grandparents, has increased. The authors suggest this may be because parents are struggling to afford the ‘soaring costs’ of childcare.

The report goes on to say that while extending the free childcare offer to 30 hours is intended to help parents, providers are likely to struggle to cover the cost of providing these places. It warns that as such the cost of nursery places could rise if the Government fails to adequately fund the early education places.

Ms Simon said, ‘The problem is that the provision of these places is not actually viable. The Government is not adequately funding these free places, so nurseries and crèches will have to raise their fees. Parents already pay high childcare fees and if the cost of usage increases many may not be able to afford to access childcare.’

The report concludes by recommending a formal review be set up to examine what it calls the ‘complex and interwoven issues of childcare’, as well as starting a recruitment drive to address the lack of male workers in childcare.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘Despite significant improvements in qualification levels over recent years, pay in the early years sector remains extremely low. This is creating real challenges for childcare providers when it comes to recruiting and retaining staff – particularly practitioners with higher qualifications, many of whom are increasingly opting to establish careers in the better-paid primary sector instead. For far too long, the sector has survived on the good will of practitioners working long hours for minimal pay – and often for free – but this is simply not sustainable in the long term."

‘With the new "national living wage" set to come into effect next April, wage pressures are unlikely to abate any time soon. It’s absolutely vital, then, that the Government funds the sector at a level that ensures that providers are able to both attract and retain experienced, capable early years staff, especially in light of plans to double the free entitlement offer for eligible three- and four-year-olds.’

Claire Schofield, director of membership, policy and communications at the National Day Nurseries Association, said, ‘This study echoes our own survey results which paints an overall picture of the sector, which is in urgent need of reform.

‘Our Early Years Workforce Survey shows there are already problems with recruitment and retention.’

‘We need to ensure that the Government’s funding review ahead of the expansion of funded hours for three and four-year-olds enables us to put in place the right support and development for a high quality, stable workforce. We must not end up with inadequate funding, which entrenches low pay and puts us in a worse situation.

‘The new funding formula would have to be index-linked to keep pace with inflation and ensure that nursery wages would remain attractive enough to recruit and retain high quality staff.’

Deborah Lawson, general secretary for Voice the union, said, ‘Childcare’s greatest resource is the dedicated professionals who work in it.

‘However, the challenge is recruiting and retaining staff in a sector that, because of decades of underfunding, offers skilled and experienced professionals low wages, poor career prospects and dwindling training budgets. This does not make childcare an attractive professional career option. 

‘With the temptation of better-paid jobs outside childcare, the early years sector faces a recruitment and retention crisis.’

She added, ‘Voice is calling for appropriate investment and coherent pay and career structures across the UK to reflect and reward appropriately the professionals who work in childcare and to raise the status of the sector and profession.’

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