Rising to the childcare challenge

Another 10.000 recruits are needed to work in early year’s settings in London to meet the demand from working parents and fulfil government targets on childcare.

More under-fives are now in early years education, according to the government figures. Nearly 1.3 million three and four years-old are now in founded early education, a near 10% increase since 2010. Demand is set to increase further when the free nursery places for disadvantage 2 years-old sheme is extended to another 28,000 London children from September. In addition, there is also likely to be a need for more paid-for places following the introduction of the “tax-free childcare” Bill, which will give 1.9million families up to £2,000 a year towards childcare costs for all children under 12 from autumn 2015.

This is putting pressure on providers – schools for 4years-old and mainly independent, private and voluntary providers for 2 and 3year-olds – to offer more places. And that means more jobs in childcare and early years education: an estimated 10,000 in London alone. However to attract the right quality of staff, salary will need ti increase, according to a report published this month by the Pre-School Learning alliance.


Its survey of providers revealed a lack of recognition of the skill and expertise required for early years work, and that the sector is being “propped up” by practitioners’ willingness to work additional unpaid hours. Jill Rutter, head of policy and research at the Family and Childcare Trust, agrees that pay is a big issue, saying: “Our survey of early years workers found that they are the worst paid professionals, earning less than cleaners and bar staff. As a result, people do not stay in this profession for long and staff attrition and turnover is another problem.”

How to raise standards

So how is the sector going to attract the right people, particularly when there is a call for more and more graduates to teach 3 and 4year-olds and give them the best start in life? Schools have less of an issue because those with early years qualified-teacher status earn the same as teachers. But Rutter points out that this is not the case in the private and voluntary sector, “which still makes up 90% of early years provision”. This has led to calls from the Pre-school Learning Alliance for greater government support for the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) early years sector.

Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch says:”The assumption that, to achieve the Government’s aim of developing a graduate-led early years sector we need to move to a school-led system, is fundamentally flawed. Research does show that graduate-led provision has a positive impact on early outcomes, but it does not say that this provision has to be school-based. The percentage of PVI settings delivering funded places for 3 and 4-year-olds who employ graduate staff has increased by 15% since 2010. The Government should be looking to build on this progress and support the sector in developing a highly qualified workforce, rather than opting for the cheap and easy solution of pushing young children into a school environment far too early.”

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