The National Day Nurseries Association survey, published on Thiursday, revealed that nurseries are losing qualified staff and the proportion of Level 3 practitioners has dropped significantly in the past two years with a fall of almost 20 per cent.
According to the workforce survey of more than 500 nurseries, qualified staff are leaving because of endemic low pay, which is hitting recruitment and retention.
Nurseries are concerned the recruitment crisis will leave them unable to deliver the 30 hours, as well as leading to less support for children with additional needs.
Level 3 qualified staff
Source: NDNA Workforce Survey 2017/18
'The sector is depressed'
John Thomson is MD and co-owner with Alison Thomson of The Spinney Day Nursery in Chester.
The couple own two nurseries and opened the first one 20 years ago. They are registered for 135 children at any one time and employ 27 staff. Three members of staff have left in the past 12 months; all were Level 3 qualified.
Mr Thomson says the nursery has lost staff to ‘supermarkets and credit card company call centres’.
Occupancy is 70 per cent, which Mr Thomson says has decreased as a result of the 30 hours offer, and the nursery has had to change ratios as a result of lower income.
He says, ‘Childcare has always been at the bottom of the food chain and we have overcome that by professionalising the sector. But the constant dialogue on 30 hours is resulting in nurseries closing. If you’re on the outside looking in, childcare looks like a sector in decline.
‘If nurseries take [money] out of the training budget, which is what the survey says nurseries are doing, this reduces Level 3s to Level 2s, and this will mean that they can’t keep up with the requirements of Ofsted.
‘We’ve always been committed to apprenticeships. We were YMCA National Employer of the Year in 2004. For the first time this year we had an apprentice who completed her Level 3 and had just signed up for a university course, when she decided to leave and work in a call centre because of the pay rates.
‘We have advertised to replace that job but we’ve only had two applications – normally we would expect at least 10.
'Like many owners, I am sure that we did not come into the childcare sector to make a huge amount of money and we understand that. I feel that this is also true of the staff, but after what has been what I consider to be a very damaging year, it is becoming increasingly difficult to promote and maintain a “professional self-esteem” among the staff when the outside world does not take this into consideration.’
Referring to the fact that high-income families are eligible for the 30-hour childcare entitlement, Mr Thomson says, ‘I feel it truly disheartening when a Government committed to getting the nation back to work expects to recognise households with up to a £200k income while at the same time restricting my ability to pay staff the salary I believe they are due as a result of the commitment that they give to the sector and to families.
‘The work that they do is so important to the economy of the country, I hope that we won’t have to wait until there is an unmanageable situation – as we currently have with teacher recruitment – before we, out of necessity, have to “throw money at it”. By that time, it will be too late as many of the provisions, as they are already doing, will have had to close.
‘The time is long overdue when we need to put vocational training on a level platform to academic study. I consider the sector to be depressed at the moment and, as such, its attractiveness to potential recruits of the future is already causing a very noticeable decline in those suitable candidates that are applying to join the childcare sector. I believe that the NDNA study illustrates this point extremely well.’
Fallout from GCSE rule
Nicci Atkinson, centre manager of Rowner Family Centre in Gosport Hampshire, has three early years settings, Dinky Ducks Day Care, Little Barn Owls Pre-school and Magpies Pre-school.
'In the past 18 months we have had difficulties in recruiting qualified early years practitioners. This seems to be the knock-on effect of when the Government had implemented the requirement of early years trainees requiring GCSEs Maths and English for the Level 3. This in my opinion deterred people from starting the Level 3 qualification and the fallout of that is the shortage we are seeing today,' she said.
'I also believe that when the NNEB was in place the training that was received was much more in depth and meant qualified practitioners started ready to full fill their job role. '
However, what we have recognised is that when newly qualified practitioners start their employment they need a lot more support and training to support them in fulfilling their role. Through my research in my MSc in Educational Leadership and Management, I have researched employee inductions and from this enhanced and developed our induction package - recognising that staff induction lasts for the first year of employment, which includes an in depth training package.
'The further difficultly is where to advertise vacancies as the local authority no longer provide the free childcare advertising service.'
She said they used job websites and social media to advertise positions. 'Finding good quality qualified staff seems to be an uphill struggle.'
Comments from the survey
‘We are desperate for good quality Level 3 practitioners that want to upskill and contribute to our workforce, but the quality of applicants is truly shocking.
‘The working interviews are poor overall as individuals just don’t know how to connect with little people. Training providers must take some responsibility, endorsing poor placements just to tick boxes! This then manufactures a poorly trained practitioner! Low aspirations which then lead to limited progress of children’s development!
‘Staffing is a real problem for the first time in 15 years we’ve been open. Finding new staff is expensive and takes a long time. During which time, we are stuck with very expensive and often uninterested agency workers.’
Wonder Years Nursery, Coventry
‘Our running costs and staff costs are much higher due to wanting the setting to be of good quality, and with pensions and increased wages along with a drop in income due to poor funding in all areas, but especially the 30 hours. I am not sure how long I can personally continue to financially top up my business to keep it going.
‘I am seriously considering closing after 20 years of providing care in our local community. I think the only way to survive is to be a much larger setting; this is something I will not do as I have always had the ethos of a small family-style setting.’
Bright Eyes Day Nursery, Cheltenham
‘Shortfall in Level 3 quality practitioners, which I believe is due to the period when a GCSE grade C in English and maths was required, therefore people did not qualify and we are now feeling the effects.’
Dinky Ducks Day Care, Gosport
‘Sadly, it appears that people do not want to work in childcare; the few that do have a massive choice as there are so many settings looking for staff. This is the first time in eight years I am struggling to recruit. I have signed up to five recruitment agencies and they have no-one. It will be lack of staffing that will force nurseries to close.’
‘The local Tesco is paying £8/9 an hour, which is the same or more than us.’