England experiencing workforce crisis
The Sector > Jobs News > England faces an ECEC workforce crisis, with researchers addressing Parliament

England faces an ECEC workforce crisis, with researchers addressing Parliament

by Freya Lucas

November 14, 2023

The early childhood education and care (ECEC) workforce in England is facing challenging workforce conditions, similar to those in Australia, with University of Leeds researchers presenting a report to the House of Commons. 


More than half of those surveyed in the Retention and return: delivering the expansion of early years entitlement in England study are considering quitting the sector in the next year, a shocking statistic which was presented in the research, delivered to the House of Commons as the Government prepares to roll out an early learning expansion announced in the Spring Budget which aims to offer 30 hours of ‘free childcare’ to eligible parents of nine-month-olds by 2025.


Estimates show that almost 50,000 extra workers would be needed in 2024 and again in 2025 to maintain the existing service and expand entitlement, but many providers are struggling to meet existing demand due to difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified staff a situation which mirrors the Australian experience with the expansion of three and four year old kindergarten initiatives. 


The research combined a quantitative survey of almost 1,000 early years workers with interviews and focus groups involving 60 participants.


According to the report, just 17 per cent of service leaders said it was likely they would increase the number of places they offered, while 35 per cent said they would limit the number of places they offered unless there was more government support to enable them to recruit and retain staff. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of (long day care equivalent) services were already reporting average waiting times of almost six months for a place. 


“Early years educators have a real thirst for training and continuing to improve their practice,” said lead author Professor Kate Hardy. 


“But they desperately need paid time out from their working day, high quality training and their pay to rise in line with their growing capabilities. Investing in staff in the sector in this way is absolutely vital for stemming the tide of people exiting the sector and also for delivering the highest quality early education possible.”


For Sarah Ronan, Director of the Early Education and Childcare Coalition, promising more free childcare without the infrastructure to deliver it is “raising false hope among already struggling families. If the Government is to have any chance of delivering this expansion, it must listen to the people on the ground educating and caring for our children.”


“Years of underfunding have left them underpaid, overworked and feeling disrespected,” she said. 


“It doesn’t matter if it’s more free hours from this Government or wholesale reform, the fact is nothing will change for parents or children unless we have a well-paid and valued workforce.”


The reasons given for wanting to leave the sector included:  


  • Low pay rates 
  • Lack of training opportunities (66 per cent said funding or costs were a major barrier to accessing training) 
  • Notable increase in the number of children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) without necessary specialist support 
  • Recent changes to staff:child ratios. 


“Whether as a result of the pandemic or a longer-term trend, there appears to be a significant rising need in the sector amongst children with SEND. Educators want to be able to support these children –  this is why they do this job,” said co-author Professor Jennifer Tomlinson from CERIC at the University of Leeds.


“They are deeply committed to giving children the best start in life possible. But they urgently need more staff around them, support from other agencies and investment in specialist training to do so. This must be an urgent priority for this government and needs urgent intervention.” 


The report sets out a number of recommendations that could help tackle the staffing crisis in the short term. These ‘rescue’ measures include: 


  • Increasing early years funding rates with the expectation that providers will use this to boost pay 
  • Reestablishing a career development hub at the Department for Education 
  • Providing more on-site training to reduce the need to spend time away from a setting 
  • Ensuring access to funded, universal, high-quality SEND training 
  • Developing a system for bank staff at Local Authority level which enables staff to take time out for training, with no negative implications for their setting 
  • Ensuring the ‘Experts and Mentoring Scheme’ for childminders becomes a permanent program 
  • Restarting the Graduate-led Grant Scheme. Set a target to achieve a graduate led workforce by 2028. 


“There is no quality childcare expansion without a new workforce strategy for the early years workforce. Government needs to value workers to attract them to the sector – this means development opportunities and ultimately, higher pay,” said Abby Jitendra, Principal Policy Adviser for Care, Family and Relationships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.


“We need to rethink how we fund providers, moving beyond funding a race to the bottom in quality to investing in driving up standards.” 


Download the report here

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