‘Urgent’ action needed to prevent the early years sector from collapse – workforce report

Nicole Weinstein
Monday, January 18, 2021

The early years sector is at risk of becoming unsustainable without ‘immediate intervention and urgent action’, the Early Years Workforce Commission (18 January) has said.

The survey found that low pay is the main reason why early years workers are leaving the sector
The survey found that low pay is the main reason why early years workers are leaving the sector

With almost 70 percent of settings anticipated operating at a loss over the last six months of 2020 and 33 percent of respondents suggesting that they would leave the sector past their current job role, a report by the commission highlights the challenges facing the sector’s workforce, which have been exacerbated by Covid-19.

An underpaid and undervalued workforce, combined with issues around funding, training, recruitment and retention, has resulted in a sector that is now in danger of becoming untenable, the report states.

Evidence also shows that just 23 per cent of the workforce felt that their job was safe following the outbreak of the virus.

Other headline statistics highlighted from the Commission’s research include:

  • 44 percent of early years workforce respondents feel their learning and development has been negatively impacted during the pandemic
  • More than 50 percent said low pay was the main factor resulting in people leaving the sector
  • 64 percent have not had a pay rise in the last one to two years, or more

Julie Hyde, executive director at CACHE and a member of the Early Years Workforce Commission, said, ‘For us, this report confirms that the sector is under enormous strain and pressure, and that immediate intervention and urgent action is required. Safeguarding the early years sector is vital in order to reap the best future for society. It’s also imperative for the recovery of our economy from the impacts of Covid-19, as early years plays a critical role in providing childcare and support for families so that parents and carers can continue to work.

‘This report’s package of recommendations are crucial to support the workforce going forward. We stand at a cross-roads within the sector and the next steps from the Government will dictate how settings, early years educators and even children can thrive in a post-Covid world.

‘The Early Years Workforce Commission is pleased to be able to shed light on the challenges facing the sector, and share our evidence-based recommendations, which we strongly suggest are taken on board by the Government.’

Recommendations for change

The report outlines the key recommendations to be taken in order to prevent further damage and support recovery, which include:

  • Funding, equity, and clarity In order to safeguard jobs and support disadvantaged areas, the Government should provide additional resources for settings which are needed to ensure sufficiency of provision but which are not viable on the basis of current funding rates. Whether funds are deployed to settings with higher fee income ratios, or by application via local authorities on sustainability risk, any criteria would need to acknowledge the extreme challenges many providers are facing.

  • Changing perceptions of the early years career path An awareness campaign should focus on the importance of early childhood education on a child’s development and life chances and portray the crucial role early years professionals play in supporting this.

  • Changing the Narrative There must be a shift away from the ‘childcare’ terminology to ‘early childhood education’, in order to position the sector as a phase within the education journey rather than only a means of enabling parents to work.

  • Training There should be an urgent exploration and extension of accessible and flexibly offered CPD, with online and face to face options, coupled with more high-quality workplace placements and action research projects, with mentoring support across the sector.

  • Fair pay, recruitment and retention Early years staff must be recognised and rewarded with a level of pay that reflects their essential role, and which allows them to focus their time and energy into just one job, rather than two or more to make ends meet, as so many who work in the early years have reported having to do.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said that there are some ‘shocking statistics’ in this report around low pay, lack of meaningful wage increases, feeling undervalued and lowering qualifications.

She said, ‘This report…underlines the workforce crisis in early years that we have been highlighting for the past few years.

‘Academic research has repeatedly shown that a motivated, highly qualified early years workforce is crucial to achieving the best possible outcomes for children and reducing the inequality gap.

‘We strongly back the recommendations that change the emphasis on how early years is viewed. As we learned in the Duchess of Cambridge’s Royal Foundation report in November, even parents don’t always recognise the impact that high quality early education has on a child’s development and lifelong learning, so it is important to change attitudes outside the sector.’

She added, ‘The pressures of the pandemic have thrown early years into the spotlight where it has been viewed as the fourth emergency service. If the Government is truly committed to "Building Back Better" then what greater opportunity than by focussing on those who shape our children’s earliest years, that lay the groundwork for their educational outcomes and life chances.’

The Commission’s steering group is made up of representatives from key organisations including CACHE, the leading awarding organisation for early years and childcare qualifications; leading provider of independent research and intelligence for the early years sector CEEDA; membership bodies Early Education, the Early Years Alliance, PACEY, TACTYC, NDNA, and nursery group, the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF); research organisation, the Education Policy Institute; education charity the Sutton Trust; and Voice, the union for education professionals.

The full report can be found here.

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