A new report by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) reveals the ongoing challenges in recruiting, retaining and developing staff in the early years sector.

While demand for childcare in England remains high, the sector is struggling to recruit and retain staff and more than 67,000 early years staff have left the workforce in the past year.

The report, Understanding the early years workforce, was produced as part of a programme of research led by Education Policy Institute (EPI) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Through detailed interviews with nursery staff, managers and childminders, the report identifies:

  • early years professionals’ motivations to enter and remain in the sector

  • their journey into and through the early years sector

  • definitions of “quality” within the workforce

  • barriers to staff recruitment and retention, and access to continuing professional development (CPD) within the sector.

The research identifies the challenges faced by staff that made them consider leaving the profession including:

  • poor pay progression and low salaries, which were felt to be incompatible with increasing workload and responsibilities

  • the job’s emotional and physical demands, made worse by increasing paperwork and demands from parents and employers

  • difficulties supporting a family on current salaries, which stopped many from seeing working in the early years as a long-term career option

  • the perceived low status of the profession, which staff felt society wrongly viewed as being “easy”.

Budget pressures also made it difficult for early years providers to give their staff access to training and they tended to prioritise mandatory training over more specialised courses.

The report calls on the Government to:

  • improve pathways for the retention and progression of early years staff

  • professionalise the early years workforce

  • enhance the status of the early years sector.

Dr Sara Bonetti, director of Early Years at the Education Policy Institute, said:

“This new research provides further evidence of a low-paid and undervalued early years workforce. If the Government is serious about levelling up outcomes in education, it needs to look closely at how it supports those working with children at this crucial stage in their lives.”

The full report is available here.

Last reviewed 14 February 2020