UK ECEC workforce attrition rates highlighted in new report
The early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector in the United Kingdom is facing similar issues to the sector in Australia, with rising concern that those working in ECEC are increasingly likely to leave their role to pursue a career in an alternate sector, such as retail.
In response to these concerns, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) in England has conducted research comparing pay, working conditions, demographics and qualifications of both the ECEC and retail sectors in England.
The findings are of note in the Australian context, with recent research undertaken by the Australian Education and Care Workforce Professional Body (AECWPB) finding that 15 per cent of respondents working in the Australian ECEC sector are actively seeking to leave for a different profession, with a further 30 per cent undecided about their future in ECEC.
One respondent to the AECWPB survey articulated the struggle facing many educators when determining their next professional steps, saying “I’m in two minds – I deserve better for myself, but I do it for the children”
The EPI study found that those working in the UK ECEC sector are experiencing a “sharp, real term decline” in wages, with the study finding that by 2021, retail wages will overtake those of ECEC.
The EPI findings mirror the Australian context, where educators can earn more doing night retail work than in the work they are qualified to undertake. Australian commentators have noted that low wages contribute to working in ECEC being viewed as a short term career path, and a “temporary employment solution.”
As in the Australian context, low rates of pay are often cited in the UK as a reason for educators leaving the ECEC sector. The EPI report showed concern that a drop in wages could worsen the current retention and recruitment outlook for the sector.
In coverage relating to the report, UK ECEC news source Nursery World noted that the UK ECEC early years workforce has faced issues around recruitment and retention for several years, and there is growing evidence that nursery staff are opting to leave the sector to work in retail for better pay and conditions.
EPI has said that with few qualification barriers in starting a retail career, and with higher pay, it “is likely to lead to more childcare workers moving into retail jobs” with the EPI warning that if the retention and recruitment outlook for the ECEC sector becomes less favourable, this will have serious implications for access to and quality of childcare, optimum staff to child ratios may not be met, and providers could restrict the number of childcare places available to parents.
Speaking with Nursery World and commenting on the EPI research, Avinash Akhal, report author and researcher at EPI, said the trends “ought to alarm policy-makers.”
Ms Akhal said it was critical for the sector to have a good supply of well qualified workers, to ensure the early years of a child’s life were well supported, adding that a failure to resolve recruitment problems could impact the provision of childcare and early years education, heightening the chance of development gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers widening.
‘These findings represent a real failure of the Government’s workforce strategy. The strategy is not supporting continuity of care for children, or fostering a high quality, happy and engaged workforce which is needed to achieve the best outcomes for children.’
Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice, the union for education professionals, said the UK sector had ‘relied on the goodwill of its staff for too long’ calling for appropriate investment and a coherent national pay and career structure to reward the professionals who work in childcare, and to raise the status of the sector and profession.
Key findings of the EPI report:
- Since 2013, ECEC wages have fallen over 40 cents per hour, while retail wages have risen by 40 cents per hour
- One in four former ECEC workers cited unsatisfactory pay as the main reason for leaving the sector
- One in six former retail workers cited unsatisfactory pay as the main reason for leaving the sector
The EPI report may be read in full here, with coverage provided by Nursery World available here.