Early years workers 'earning £5 per hour' as low pay and long hours threaten sector

As many as one in eight early years workers earn less than £5 per hour, a damning new report by the government’s Social Mobility Commission shows.

Children's development could suffer if workforce stability is not improved, the report states. Picture: Adobe Stock
Children's development could suffer if workforce stability is not improved, the report states. Picture: Adobe Stock

The research, carried out by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), warns that low pay, high workloads and a lack of career development across the sector risk having a serious impact on care and education services for under-fives.

In England, the average wage across the early years workforce is £7.42 an hour, The stability of the early years workforce in England report states, compared with £11.37 for the female workforce and £12.57 for total population.

Some 13 per cent of the workforce earn less than £5 an hour while many childcare workers take on second jobs to make ends meet, researchers add.

Lydia Pryor, a pre-school leader in Aldborough, Norfolk, told the EPI: “My deputy recently handed in her notice because she found another job that pays more, and I had nothing that could entice her to stay. She’s had enough of just making do and worrying about money when her car breaks down.”

Low pay coupled with a high workload has sparked high staff turnover rates, the report warns, adding that the quality of provision is being affected as newly qualified staff are forced to replace more experienced peers.

Some 11 per cent of full time childcare staff work more than 42 hours per week, compared with three per cent of retail workers and six per cent of the female workforce as a whole, the report states. It adds that one in six workers (15 per cent) leave their jobs within a year.

According to the EPI research, the biggest barriers to creating workforce stability in the early years are: 

  • low income

  • high workload and responsibilities

  • over-reliance on female practitioners

  • insufficient training and career opportunities

  • low status and reputation

  • a negative culture and climate within the organisation

The commission has called for a comprehensive career strategy to be implemented across the sector which includes plans for older employees to rejoin the workforce.

Steven Cooper, interim co-chair of the commission said:  “The early years workforce is vital in helping to narrow the development gaps between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and privileged ones.

“We must do everything we can to ensure that childminders and nursery workers are valued more by ensuring we pay them a decent wage, give them a proper career structure and ensure their workload is reasonable.”

Dr Sara Bonetti, report author and director of early years at the EPI, added: “The pandemic now threatens to exacerbate many of these problems.

“We must do far more to support workers, otherwise we risk compromising the quality of provision and widening the disadvantage gap.”

Commenting on the report, Neil Leitch chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: "Is it any surprise that more and more are opting to leave and seek employment  opportunities elsewhere?

"With the huge challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has created for the childcare sector, it's clear that much more government support is needed if providers are going to be able to not just stay afloat, but to continue to recruit and retain quality early years professionals who can deliver quality early years provision as well.

"If the government is truly serious about improving social mobility and children's life chances, there is no better place to start than the early years."

Stella Ziolkowski, director of quality and training at the National Day Nurseries Association, added: “High quality early years education is crucial to give all children, especially the most disadvantaged, the best start in life.

"We can’t overemphasise the importance of a happy, recognised and rewarded workforce on outcomes for children. Practitioners in the sector are passionate about what they do and this motivation deserves reward.”

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