A new report shows a fall in staff numbers in childcare provision as nurseries struggle to fill vacancies.
The number of staff working in early years has fallen from 363,400 in 2019 to 349,000 in 2021, according to a report from the Department for Education which find that 23,600 were temporary staff in a sector struggling to fill vacancies.
The estimated number of childcare and early years providers in England in 2021 is also down at 67,900 compared with 72,400 in 2019. However, the estimated number of childcare places is 1,674,200 in 2021 compared with 1,655,800 in 2019.
The report says the drop in the number of providers between 2019 and 2021 is largely driven by a reduction in the estimated number of childminders from 35,100 in 2019 to 31,200 in 2021, although group-based childcare providers are also down from 21,900 to 21,300. However, the number of school- based provision and maintained nurseries has increased from 8,900 to 9,500.
Nevertheless, the report says the average number of registered childcare places per provider in 2021 remains broadly consistent with 2019 for all provider types .
However, there has been a significant drop in the average number of registered before school places in school-based providers since 2019, from 35 in 2019 to 31 in 2021. The average number of after-school places also fell from 33 in 2019 to 30 in 2021.
The report also looks at staff pay. Almost a fifth (18%) of group-based provider staff aged 23 and over received less than the National Living Wage (NLW). Just over one in ten (12%) of school-based provider staff received less than the NLW. Among childminder assistants, almost half (48%) earned less than the NLW.
The cash shortage in childcare provision was further evidenced by the rise in fees. Among group-based providers, 41% had increased their fees for any age group in the last 12 months. Increased fees were more likely amongst private group-based providers (47%) than voluntary group-based providers (31%). A smaller proportion of school-based providers (13%) increased their fees for any age group in the last 12 months. For childminders 18% increased their fees in the last 12 months for any age group.
The group most affected by fees rises was under two year olds in nurseries and school-based provision.
Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: “Despite the overall number of early years places staying broadly level nationally since 2019, this data shows a substantial decline in the overall number of early years staff over the same period. Is it any wonder that so many early educators warn of being stretched far too thinly to provide the quality care and education that each child needs and deserves?
“Add to this the fact that one in three providers are reliant on temporary staff, who cannot take on the same level of responsibility or offer the same continuity of care as permanent staff, and it’s clear that urgent action on staff shortages needs to be taken if we are to ensure the consistent delivery of quality provision going forward.
“We know that low pay is a key contributor to the recruitment and retention crisis and so it is particularly concerning that so much of the early years workforce remains in receipt of close to – or in some cases, less than – the minimum or living wage.
“If the government is to have any hope of tackling this incredibly worrying trend, it needs to completely overhaul how it values and treats the early years workforce. That means, first and foremost, funding the sector at a level that ensures all early educators get paid a wage that reflects the pivotal importance of their role, both now and in the future.”
Meanwhile, a survey by MoneySupermarket has found that parents of children aged 0-14 are paying an average of £7,207 annually for childcare costs, over a quarter (28%) of the average wage, which stands at £25,780. The average annual cost ranges from £6,150 for a part-time childminder to £13,700 a year for a full-time nursery place for under twos, over half the average Brits’ salary. It also shows that almost one in 10 parents use a credit card to pay for childcare, 45% are deterred from having another child due to childcare costs and 69% rely on family and friends as an alternative to paying for childcare.