Nearly half of settings lack staff, finds research

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Recruitment difficulties are still ‘rife’ across the early years sector, with one in two settings lacking staff, new research has found.


Data company Ceeda says there are 24,600 unfilled vacancies across private and voluntary-run nurseries and pre-schools in England, at 45 per cent of all those settings surveyed.

Over half of these (12,580 posts) are for staff with level 3 qualifications. A further 4,180 vacancies are for apprentices.

Ceeda surveyed a ‘representative research panel’ of 366 PVI settings between July and August 2017 as part of its About Early Years data project.

Both level 3 qualifications and apprenticeships have been hit by recent policy changes. Critics of the Government’s apprenticeship reforms say that not enough funding is available for the youngest apprentices after it was revealed that only 15 per cent of apprentices taken on across all sectors since May of this year have been aged 16 to 18. 

Meanwhile, the number of candidates completing level 3 qualifications (Early Years Educators) has also been hit, dropping by half between 2014 and 2016, according to analysis of Ofqual figures by CACHE for Nursery World.

This coincided with the introduction of a rule requiring GCSEs as the main literacy and numeracy requirement for an EYE (brought in September 2014). Despite functional skills being reinstated as an alternative in March of this year, any improvement in recruitment of staff will take time to be felt as L3 courses take one to two years to complete.

Any staff shortages will impact settings’ ability to deliver the 30 hours free childcare offer, which started last month. Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘Put simply, if you don’t have enough staff, you can’t offer more places – or extended hours – to local families.’

Overall, 84 per cent of settings with jobs to fill say finding staff is tough. This comes despite an average pay rise of 9 per cent since the advent of the National Living Wage. Ceeda has found that average pay in 2017 stands at £8.45 an hour, up from £7.87 in 2014 in daycare settings. However, average hourly pay across all occupations is nearly double this, at £15.98.

Childcare providers also reported that applicants they did see lacked:

• the required skills (54 per cent)

• the required qualifications (36 per cent)

• the required experience (22 per cent).

Over a quarter of employers (27 per cent) also felt that there was a general lack of interest in childcare as a career.

Jo Verrill, managing director of Ceeda, said, ‘Recruitment difficulties are rife in the early years sector and show little sign of improving in the short term.’  

Dr Verrill added that an increase in the number of women in full-time work, Brexit, and the 30 hours funding rates were all increasing the pressure on the ability to recruit. ‘To recruit and retain staff, employers need to remain competitive. As the 30-hour childcare offer rolls out across the country, Government funding levels have an ever-increasing influence on what the sector can afford to pay its workers’.

Janet King, Senior Subject Specialist in Childcare at CACHE, said, ‘Settings are being asked to do more with less. Real investment into implementation of the [30 hours] strategy is required for long term gain.

The Department for Education's workforce strategy, published in March, acknowledges recruitment and retention issues.

A spokesperson said, 'In March this year, we broadened the entry requirements for early years staff to enable employers to attract, retain and develop more people with the skills and passion for this rewarding profession. This means that Level 2 functional skills are accepted alongside other suitable Level 2 qualifications, including GCSEs.'

On apprenticeships, the DfE says, ‘We are investing over £500 million a year of new funding for technical education and the apprenticeship levy will double the annual investment in apprenticeships to £2.5 billion by 2019-20.’

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