‘Government needs to address staffing crisis in nurseries’

A leading childcare organisation is calling on the Government to scrap the GCSE requirement for career progression in nurseries or risk  problems implementing its plans to double free childcare for three and four year olds.

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) says its latest Workforce Survey shows qualification levels dropping for the first time since the survey began, with staff turnover high at 21% for level three qualified staff.

The main reason for staff leaving and a lack of suitable candidates is the requirement for qualified staff to hold GCSE grade C or above in maths and English, says the NDNA.

Stella Ziolkowski, NDNA’s Director of Quality and Workforce Development, said: “The results of our latest workforce survey show the breadth of this recruitment and retention crisis, backing up anecdotal information from our members.

“Numbers of qualified staff are dropping too low, which will have a detrimental impact on the quality of early years education, the single most important factor in reducing the attainment gap and supporting children to achieve.

“Unless the current double whammy of staff leaving and few staff applying for practitioner positions is addressed urgently, we risk that there won’t be enough nursery places to be able to deliver the 30 hours free childcare promise.

“The majority of employer respondents tell us that changing the GCSE requirements for staff would have a positive impact on their business. More than half the current level three staff and more than two thirds of level two staff do not hold these qualifications. They feel undervalued and cannot progress in their career.

“This requirement is preventing many good candidates from applying for positions or progressing to higher qualifications within the nursery.

“We urge the new childcare minister Caroline Dinenage to change the GCSE requirement to one for practical everyday maths and English as part of her promised early years workforce strategy to ease this escalating crisis. Quality, experienced candidates without GCSEs at these grades must be allowed to demonstrate their skills and knowledge to support our children to reach their full potential.”

The survey of 278 nursery owners and managers employing 12,500 practitioners caring for more than 58,000 children also includes responses from an additional 385 individual practitioners.

The survey found:

  • GCSE requirements single biggest reason for the escalating recruitment and retention crisis along with relatively low salaries
  • The number of level three qualified staff and above have dropped from 83% to 75% since 2015
  • Overall turnover is higher than previous years at 19% with level threes up to 21% due to low wages and lack of progression
  • More than half the current level threes and more than two thirds of level twos don’t have the GCSE requirements so can’t progress/feel undervalued
  • Many settings are not employing level twos or unqualified staff at all without these GCSE qualifications
  • The majority of employers say changing the requirements would have a positive impact on their business
  • Many employers are worried about rising costs which include using agency staff to cover vacancies, keeping pace with the National Living Wage and pension auto-enrolment costs. These burdens are proving too much for many small businesses, says the survey
  • The majority of employers have reduced staff training budgets as a result of these heavy business burdens
  • There is insufficient high-quality affordable training, in particular training for staff to support children with special educational needs and disability (SEND).

The NDNA is calling for increased funding to cover the delivery of 30 hours and the National Living Wage increases, for a change in the requirements for grade A*-C in maths and English GCSEs to accept revised functional skills, whilst maintaining a continued focus on improving quality and for the Government to give a long-term commitment for the development of the early years workforce with clear progression pathways that predict the skills gaps for the next five to ten years as well as doing more to attract and retain candidates.

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