Qualified staff are leaving nurseries because of underfunding and endemic low pay in the sector, putting the government’s promise to provide high quality, accessible childcare under threat, according to the National Day Nurseries Association.
The NDNA’s latest annual Workforce Survey of 522 nurseries across England shows that 86% of nurseries have lost staff this year and that it is better qualified staff who are leaving. There are almost 20% fewer Level 3 qualified practitioners within the day nursery sector than there was in 2015, it says.
Of those Level 3 staff who are leaving or who have left, 80% have gone to jobs outside the sector, with almost half of graduates and early years teachers following suit.
Two thirds of nursery managers say that they are unable to recruit suitable replacements for the qualified staff they have lost due to a lack of candidates. A third of practitioners who remain working in nurseries say they are considering leaving the sector, either due to low pay or because they have lost their passion for working in early years as a result of government policy changes.
Low pay is also a major issue for the sector, hitting recruitment and retention, the NDNA says. It adds that low pay is affected by underfunding of ‘free’ childcare. NDNA research shows that an average nursery makes a loss on each 15-hour funded place of £900 per year. This pushes fees up for parents of younger children. It says Government funding rates for 30 hours childcare for three and four-year-olds are frozen in 70% of local authority areas in 2018/19 in spite of the costs rising significantly as a result inflation, National Minimum and Living Wage increases and increases in pension contributions.
Because of the recruitment and retention problems facing nurseries, the survey found that the vast majority of practitioners (79%) are working overtime to cover for staff members who have left and in doing so, risk burn out. This has consequences for quality.
NDNA recommends that early years funding is reviewed urgently or it says more nurseries will be forced to limit funded places or go out of business.
NDNA’s Chief Executive, Purnima Tanuku OBE, said: “The results of our survey are shocking and show the true staffing crisis in our nurseries. Although our members show passion and commitment to providing excellent early education and care, they are struggling to recruit and retain practitioners, especially at Level 3.
“Our members are genuinely concerned that they won’t be able to deliver 30 hours of funded childcare if numbers of qualified staff continue to drop. Nurseries are having to work increasingly tightly to statutory adult to child ratios, but this has knock-on consequences for their ability to support children with behavioural or other needs for which they don’t get additional funding.
“Settings work efficiently and try to make funding rates work, but they have less and less room for manoeuvre.
“Employers are becoming more cautious, making sure they have sufficient children on a waiting list before trying to recruit additional staff. Ultimately this will mean fewer childcare places for working families and could call into question the quality of delivery if not enough qualified staff are present.”
The NDNA’s recommendations include a call for the Department for Education (DfE) to undertake a thorough and rigorous assessment of the cost of delivery for early years settings in partnership with nurseries; an urgent review of early years ‘free’ entitlement funding; an urgent review of the current workforce strategy; and the setting-up of an Early Years Workforce investment fund.
Other key findings from the survey include concerns about the impact of Brexit on staff recruitment and about the loss of unqualified workers and apprentices because they were unsuited to the role.