‘84% of childcare settings finding it hard to recruit staff’

A new survey by the Early Years Alliance shows widespread staffing shortages in childcare settings, causing closures or partial closures and affecting the quality of care.

Child playing with toys whilst in chilcare


Parents of young children are facing repeated disruptions to their childcare services as a result of severe and growing staffing shortages at childcare settings across England, according to a new survey.

The online survey by the Early Years Alliance, which received 1,395 responses from early years providers, revealed that more than eight in 10 (84%) of settings are currently finding it difficult to recruit suitable staff (60% “very difficult” and 24% “quite difficult”). The survey also found that 62% of settings had staff who had left the early years sector completely over the previous six months, while more than a third (35%) said that they are actively considering leaving the sector themselves.

As a result of these recruitment and retention challenges, in the six months prior to the survey:

  • Half of respondents (49%) had been forced to limit the number of, or stop taking on, new children at their setting
  • A third (34%) had been forced to temporarily limit the number of children able to attend their setting on a particular day or days
  • A quarter (24%) had been forced to temporarily close a room or multiple rooms at their setting
  • One in five (21%) had been forced to reduce or restrict opening hours
  • One in six (17%) had been forced to temporarily close their entire setting

The survey, published in the Breaking Point: The impact of recruitment and retention challenges on the early years sector in England report,  also revealed that those working in the early years sector expect these challenges to continue for at least another year. It found:

  • Nearly half of settings (46%) are pessimistic about the prospect of having sufficient staff in 12 months’ time
  • A third (34%) believe a lack of adequate staff is likely to result in temporary closure of one or more rooms in their setting during the next 12 months
  • One in six (16%) believe staffing shortages are likely to force their setting to close permanently within a year

More than three-quarters (77%) of those considering leaving the sector cited ‘feeling undervalued by government’ as a reason for this. Two-thirds (66%) of those considering leaving the sector stated that their experience of working in the early years during the pandemic had increased the likelihood of them doing so, while eight in 10 (82%) respondents with staff who have left the early years sector over the past six months said that the number of staff members leaving the sector is higher today than it was two years ago.

Inadequate pay was also identified as a common challenge for both recruitment and retention: 57% of those considering leaving the early years sector cited poor pay as a contributing factor, while 52% of respondents struggling with recruitment said an inability to meet the salary expectation of applicants was a contributing factor.

In response to staffing challenges, half of all settings (49%) said that they had been forced to use temporary staff over the previous six months to remain operational. Of those experiencing staffing shortages, six in 10 (61%) said that this had negatively impacted the quality of provision at their setting.

The Alliance are calling for the government to set out its pay ambitions for every role in the early years sector in England and value and promote the early years sector as an education profession, ensuring it is included in all education announcements, debates and discussions and that any support schemes or initiatives rolled out to the schools and further education sectors are also rolled out to the early years sector, where appropriate and relevant.

It also wants the government to review the use of language when discussing the sector, with an emphasis on early years provision as ‘early education’ and on the workforce as ‘early educators’ as well as to run a high-profile recruitment campaign and ensure there are clear and consistent career pathways into and through the sector, as well as funded training and development opportunities.

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: “There is no single quick-fix on offer. Early education and care has the potential to be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding careers in any industry or sector, but for this to be a reality, there needs to be a complete overhaul of the way that government views, treats and ultimately funds early years providers in this country.

“The early educators I speak to every day are passionate advocates for the work they do, but they are tired: tired of being overworked, tired of being underpaid and tired of being undervalued. We urge the government to act on the recommendations in our report and work with the sector to improve the status of early years as a profession and help build and maintain a dedicated, stable workforce for this vital sector, both now and in the future.”

Meanwhile, a survey of parents with children aged 14 and under by MoneySupermarket, has found that seven in 10 British parents don’t think the government does enough to make childcare more affordable, with over two thirds saying they rely on family and friends as an alternative to paying for childcare. Close to half (45%) of parents said they were put off having another child due to childcare costs and 18% are using their savings to fund childcare.  Parents said they spent £7,207 on average per year on childcare costs – 28% of the average wage.


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