Early years workforce "underpaid, overworked and undervalued"

Low pay, a high workload and a lack of career development for early years workers risk having a serious impact on the provision of care and education services for the under-fives, says the Social Mobility Commission in its report, The stability of the early years workforce.

The report reveals that as many as one in 8 of the early years workforce is paid under £5.00 an hour. The average wage is only £7.42 an hour, less than the minimum wage and much lower than for the average female workforce (£11.37). The research finds that staff turnover is high, at 15%, mainly due to low pay, a lack of training and career structure and excessive overtime.

Childcare professionals work longer hours than people in comparable occupations: 11% of full-time early years workers reported working more than 42 hours per week, compared to 3% of retail workers and 6% of female workers in general. There are few training opportunities once people enter the workforce. Only 17 % of early years workers receive job-related training. While a high proportion of workers are passionate about what they do, 37% leave their employer within 2 years.

There are signs that the workforce – which includes childminders, nursery assistants and early years teachers – is becoming increasingly unstable with too few new entrants replacing those leaving the sector.

High turnover can affect both the quality of service and children’s outcomes, and a stable workforce is even more important in disadvantaged communities. By the time children are aged 5, those from disadvantaged families are already significantly behind their wealthier peers in a variety of development measures.

The research, carried out for the Commission by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), and based on analysis and qualitative work, found that the main barriers to a stable workforce are: low income; high workload and responsibilities; over-reliance on female practitioners; insufficient training and career opportunities; low status and reputation; and a negative culture and climate within the organisation.

The Commission proposes a comprehensive career strategy for the early years workforce including attracting older workers into the profession. It also calls on the government to match the operational costs of providing childcare to take account of increases in inflation and the national minimum wage.


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