Initiative aims to tackle stress in early years workforce

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 13 February 2019

Early years providers are urged to take part in a government-backed initiative which aims to cut stressors that are "taking their toll" on the workforce.

Preparing paperwork for Ofsted inspections was a key source of stress cited by the early years workforce. Picture: Avava/Adobe Stock

Focus groups will be held across the country over the coming month to help identify ways to improve conditions for childcare workers.

Early years sector organisation the Pre-school Learning Alliance will lead the project, alongside the Department for Education and education watchdog Ofsted.

The action follows findings from a survey of more than 2,000 practitioners, published by the alliance in June last year, that found more than three quarters of those surveyed cited paperwork and administration as a regular source of stress.

This was especially the case in preparation for Ofsted inspections and paperwork required "to evidence setting practice and children's development to inspectors".

The survey report states: "Many [respondents] stated that they believed much of this paperwork is unnecessary, but that their fear of Ofsted inspections meant that they felt they have no choice by to produce it anyway."

Ofsted early education deputy director Gill Jones said: "I want childminders and nurseries to focus on what matters: looking after young children in a safe environment in which they learn and develop well.

"We certainly don't want anyone in an early years setting to do anything specifically for Ofsted, and which creates extra work for them.

"That is why we have worked hard in recent years to dispel myths about what Ofsted does and doesn't want when we carry out inspections."

Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch, said it was "crucial" to take steps as a "matter of priority".

Leitch added that while the passion and dedication of the workforce was to be admired, it was clear that the "demands of working in the sector are taking their toll".

He claimed that it was "simply not right that day-to-day working life should be having such a detrimental impact on practitioners' mental and physical health, relationships and, in some cases, their ability to do their jobs properly".

Ofsted is currently consulting on a draft education framework, which intends to lead to practitioners focusing more time on reading or playing with children, rather than preparing copious documentation about children's development.

Nearly two thirds of practitioners said stress or mental health difficulties relating to work had an impact on their personal relationships, according to the survey.

As a result, a quarter had considered leaving the early years sector as a result of stress and mental health difficulties.

To address these concerns, the partnership will host focus groups to gather views of practitioners from across the early years sector on current workload demands.

These are open to all working in early years, with the first three being held in March in Leeds, Birmingham and Cambridge.

Further information will also be collected via a sector-wide online survey to be published in the spring.

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said he wanted all early years staff to participate.

"It is really important that we help cut unnecessary workload for early years staff so they can focus on supporting children's development," he said.

"That's why we welcome this new project led by the Pre-school Learning Alliance which will look into the type of pressures the early years workforce face and how we can best support staff."

Practitioners can register their interest in attending the focus groups at

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