Private and voluntary sector nurseries in Scotland are facing a staffing crisis, a year before the full roll-out of 1,140-hour funded childcare in the country.
According to the National Day Nurseries Association, PVI providers – which make up half of all daycare settings and offer a quarter of all funded hours – are losing staff to schools and council-run nurseries that can afford to pay higher wages.
NDNA Scotland’s first early years workforce survey reveals a crisis as nurseries struggle to recruit the right staff, and the majority (62 per cent) face significant challenges keeping the workers they already have.
Staff turnover at Scottish PVI nurseries is 29 per cent, higher than England’s 24 per cent.
The biggest challenge is recruiting for practitioner-level jobs that require a minimum of Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) Level 3.
Nearly half of respondents (48 per cent) face issues recruiting Lead Practitioners, who must hold a degree-level qualification.
The care inspectorate says it is good practice to ensure nurseries have a Lead Practitioner to maintain high quality and good outcomes for children.
In some areas, private providers are being excluded from local expansion plans as the 1,140 offer is phased in, which is a factor for some staff leaving.
- 71 per cent of employers reported problems recruiting staff at practitioner level (minimum of SVQ Level 3).
- 48 per cent find it difficult to replace Lead Practitioners.
- 62 per cent have ‘significant challenges’ retaining staff.
- 42 per cent of PVI nurseries are not involved in the phasing in of the 1,140 hours.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA, said, ‘We know from research that qualified staff and continuing professional development are key to delivering high-quality early learning and childcare. It’s this quality of provision which will address the inequality gap and support the Scottish Government’s ambition to make Scotland the best place for a child to grow up.
‘But the results of our research paint a grim picture. If a Lead Practitioner cannot be replaced – and 48 per cent are finding this a challenge – then a setting may struggle to stay open.
‘On the funding rates that partner providers get from councils, they cannot hope to compete with the salaries on offer for the same roles.’
According to the survey, 38 per cent of respondents expect to see an increase in their staffing costs of 5-6 per cent, as a result of rises to wages and employers’ pension contributions (see chart, left).
Currently providers are not required to pay the Scottish Living Wage, which is £9 an hour and is expected to rise in 2020.
However, from August 2020, providers delivering funded ELC places will be required to pay it. The National Standard for Early Learning and Childcare Providers has stated that ‘partner providers’ must have ‘a fair and equal pay policy across their setting (including a commitment to supporting the real living wage)’.
The research also found that the ongoing phasing in of the 1,140 funded hours, which starts in Scotland this month, means that not all providers are being given the opportunity to have any involvement in it.
Ms Tanuku said, ‘As councils, nurseries and families prepare for the 1,140 hours expansion next year, local authorities should be supporting nursery providers, not competing with them for staff.
‘We know that the criteria being applied to “phasing-in” has meant that some providers haven’t been able to offer extended hours, with 42 per cent of nurseries saying they are not being involved.’
She added, ‘Working parents value the flexibility that private and third-sector nurseries, open all year round, can give them. This choice must not be compromised. Private providers should be treated equally and supported to play their part in delivering the 1,140 hours policy by 2020. While progress is being made in some areas, there are still a lot of challenges facing this policy.
‘The Scottish Government acknowledges the fact that private and voluntary partner providers play an important role in the ELC expansion. However, if funding rates aren’t sustainable and these staffing issues remain, nurseries will struggle to stay open, putting ELC places at risk, and no-one wants to see that.’
Scottish Government response
Children’s minister Maree Todd said, ‘We have increased training opportunities and routes into the sector, alongside our recruitment campaigns, and enabled providers to advertise for free on the campaign site.
‘As a result, there are more people than ever before working in early learning and childcare, with a 40,000-strong workforce.
‘Local authority funding to private providers has also increased significantly, with rates increasing by 26 per cent over the two years to this August and further increases expected from the implementation of 1,140 hours next year.
‘Private providers deliver high-quality early learning and childcare and we will continue to invest to support expansion and work with the sector, including the NDNA.’
Mulberry Bush Montessori runs nurseries in partnership with two local authority areas: Killearn, with Stirling Council; and Yorkhill, with Glasgow City Council.
So far, Mulberry Bush has not been involved in the phasing in of the 1,140 offer.
The nursery owner says she believes that while the Scottish Government is trying to be as fair as possible, local authorities are not being equitable about how they distribute funding, and she has lost staff to council-run nurseries in other local authority areas, which are able to offer much higher salaries.
Mairi Maciver Clark, managing director and principal at Mulberry Bush Montessori (pictured above), says,‘I’m working towards paying the Scottish Living Wage, but I can’t do that where I only get £5.45 an hour. The council are holding the purse strings and are competing in terms of childcare places and recruitment. I know of councils advertising jobs for Level 3 practitioners at £24,000 a year.
‘It’s imperative that councils across Scotland look at changing how they deliver early years services to ensure best value and diversity.
‘The PVI sector undoubtedly offers best value to the taxpayer with high quality, affordability and flexibility. The Scottish Government needs to assure parents that the generous allocation of funds to the councils is disseminated fairly without question and that what funding is provided in a local authority setting is equal to that of a PVI setting if “funding follows the child” has any genuine meaning.
‘We deserve equal funding for our parents and workforce and the Scottish Government needs to act to ensure that parents irrespective of the setting they choose for their child receive equal funding.
‘There is around £7.31 per eligible child available. Yet an average of £5.31 an hour per child is on offer to PVIs for August 2020. So where is the surplus £2 going?
‘For meals, the Scottish Government is providing £3 per child per day. Some councils are offering PVIs £2.10 – where is the surplus going?
‘Can we politely ask for meaningful and intelligent, respectful negotiation on the proposed funding rate that is currently unsustainable?
‘Because of the unlimited resources made available to councils via ELC funding flow from Government as well as coercive local tax powers, instead of funding following the child, it follows the sector and staffing to council settings, where it appears the child is valued more highly in terms of costings than in PVI [settings].’