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Early years workforce crisis could hinder government plans to expand ‘free childcare’

early years

New research published by the Early Education and Childcare Coalition and the University of Leeds, reveals the scale of the workforce crisis in early years with 57% of nursery staff and 38% of childminders considering quitting the sector in the next year. 

The study, “Retention and return: delivering the expansion of early years entitlement in England”, comes as the Government prepares to roll out the first phase of the ‘biggest expansion of childcare in history’ which will offer 30 hours of ‘free childcare’ to eligible parents of nine month olds by 2025. Researchers found that even using conservative estimates the number of childcare places in England would need to grow by 6% in order to meet the demand created by the Government’s planned expansion.

The research also found a notable increase in the number of children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) in early years settings with 87% of nursery respondents and 63% of childminders reporting that they were working with or assessing more children with SEND, often without the necessary specialist support that the child needs.

Professor Kate Hardy, from the Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change (CERIC) at the University of Leeds, comments: “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. 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, alongside longer-term reforms to improve sustainability. These short-term ‘rescue’ measures include:

  • Increasing early years funding rates with the expectation that providers will use this to boost pay
  • Re-establish a career development hub at the Department for Education
  • Provide more on-site training to reduce the need to spend time away from a setting
  • Ensure access to funded, universal, high-quality SEND training
  • Develop 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
  • Ensure the ‘Experts and Mentoring Scheme’ for childminders becomes a permanent programme
  • Restart the Graduate-led Grant Scheme. Set a target to achieve a graduate led workforce by 2028

nasen has recognised the need for high quality training for this vital sector in a child’s life and has developed ‘The Golden Key’ programme to support understanding of SEND for early years practitioners.