Commission calls on the Government to provide a package of changes for the Early Years Workforce

A new report on the crisis in the early years workforce has revealed that without immediate intervention and drastic action, the sector is at risk of becoming unsustainable, with almost 70% of settings anticipated operating at a loss over the last six months of 2020 and 33% suggesting they would leave the sector past their current job role.

Produced by the Early Years Workforce Commission, a steering group made up of leaders from across the sector, ‘A Workforce in Crisis: Saving our Early Years’ unveils the key challenges at play, and sets out solutions which will ensure the sector’s workforce is able to continue providing sustainable and high-quality early years provision, based on research and data gathered from a range of stakeholders.

Many of the challenges facing the sector’s workforce have been exacerbated by COVID-19, and weakened provision that was already experiencing challenging circumstances.  

An underpaid and undervalued workforce, combined with issues around funding, training, recruitment and retention, has resulted in a sector that is now in danger of becoming untenable. Evidence from the report shows that only 23% of the workforce felt that their job was safe following the outbreak of the virus.

Other headline statistics highlighted from the Commission’s research include:

  • 44% of the early years workforce respondents feel their learning and development has been negatively impacted during the pandemic
  • More than 50% of the early years workforce respondents said low pay was the main factor resulting in people leaving the sector
  • 64% of early years workforce respondents have not had a pay rise in the last one to two years or more

The report outlines the key recommendations that must be taken in order to prevent further damage and support a recovery, which include:

Funding, equity, and clarity

  • In order to safeguard jobs and support disadvantaged areas, the Government should provide additional resources for settings which are needed to ensure sufficiency of provision but which are not viable on the basis of current funding rates. Whether funds are deployed to settings with higher fee income ratios, or by application via local authorities on sustainability risk, any criteria would need to acknowledge the extreme challenges many providers are facing.

Changing perceptions of the early years career path

  • An awareness campaign should focus on the critical importance of early childhood education on a child’s development and life chances and portray the crucial role early years professionals play in supporting this. It should emphasise that this is a skilled role, equivalent to teaching in other phases of education.

Changing the narrative

  • There must be a shift away from the ‘childcare’ terminology so frequently used to ‘early childhood education’, in order to position the sector as a phase within the education journey rather than only a means of enabling parents to work.

Training

  • There should be an urgent exploration and extension of accessible and flexibly offered CPD, with online and face to face options, coupled with more high-quality workplace placements and action research projects, with mentoring support across the sector.

Fair pay, recruitment and retention

  • Early Years staff must be recognised and rewarded with a level of pay that reflects their essential role, and which allows them to focus their time and energy into just one job, rather than two or more to make ends meet, as so many who work in the early years have reported having to do.

A full summary of the recommendations can be found in the report here.

The report has been produced by the Early Years Workforce Commission, which aims to promote the wider recognition of the sector, identify problems and ways to improve it, as well as supporting it to recover from the impacts of COVID-19.

Julie Hyde, Executive Director at leading sector specialists in Early Years, Care and Education, CACHE and member of the Early Years Workforce Commission, said:

“For us, this report confirms that the sector is under enormous strain and pressure, and that urgent action is required. Safeguarding the early years sector is vital in order to reap the best future for society. It’s also imperative for the recovery of our economy from the impacts of COVID-19, as early years plays a critical role in providing childcare and support for families so that parents and carers can continue to work.

“This report’s package of recommendations are crucial to support the workforce going forward. We stand at a cross-roads within the sector and the next steps from the Government will dictate how settings, early years educators and even children can thrive in a post-COVID world.

“The Early Years Workforce Commission is pleased to be able to shed light on the challenges facing the sector, and share our evidence-based recommendations, which we strongly suggest are taken on board by the Government.”