Thousands more staff needed in early years sector to meet demand
Recent research by the innovation charity Nesta shows that the early years sector needs an additional 27,500 practitioners to deliver the expansion of free childcare hours to under-3s, announced in the Spring Budget 2023. This represents an increase in demand of 8% and further challenges an over-burdened sector that has lost 3% of the workforce since 2019.
From September 2025 government funded childcare will be extended to working parents of children aged nine months to 2 years who will qualify for 30 hours per week.
According to Nesta, by 2028 when the scheme will be fully operational, there will be 285,000 one-year-olds and 323,000 two-year-olds eligible for the scheme. The number of hours 1-year-olds will spend in ECEC (early childhood education and care) will increase by 46% and those of two-year-olds will increase by 32%.
And yet the early years sector is already crippling under the continuing pressure of rising costs, underfunding and a workforce crisis.
Early years professionals numbers declined during the pandemic and have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Finding staff with the required qualifications and experience is ‘very difficult’ according to more than 7 in 10 local authorities. An additional report released by Nesta highlights that the number of graduate early years teachers in England has dropped by 77% over the last 9 years.
These declining numbers come at a time when median salaries for early years workers are between £22,500-£25-000 which are more in line with professions such as retail hospitality rather than other education professions.
Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said: This research from Nesta lays bare the full extent of the challenges that nurseries face. To deliver the childcare expansion announced without warning in March’s Budget, there needs to be an additional 24-27,000 more practitioners.
“Since 2019, numbers of qualified staff have been dropping alarmingly – we have lost 3% of the total workforce. Our own research with providers showed that three quarters already have a waiting list for under threes and 74% told us they would need to take on more staff to be able to offer additional places. Recruitment and retention of staff is our members’ top priority: we need the workforce to be growing not shrinking.
“In order to achieve this feat, the sector must be fully supported by the Government, with sufficient investment, practical workforce measures, training grants and incentives for new recruits. Failure to do so could spell failure of this expansion policy.”