Level 3 qualified nursery workers down by a third

Nina Jacobs
Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The number of nursery workers qualified to Level 3 has hit crisis point after dropping 37 per cent in the last four years, according to a new report by the National Day Nurseries Association.

NDNA research reveals just 52 per cent of staff are Level 3 qualified. Image: Adobe Stock
NDNA research reveals just 52 per cent of staff are Level 3 qualified. Image: Adobe Stock

The latest early years workforce survey carried out by the NDNA reveals just 52 per cent of staff have Level 3 as their highest qualification.

This has plummeted from 83 per cent of nursery workers surveyed by the NDNA in 2015.

Level 3-qualified workers are needed in nursery settings as they count in statutory staff:child ratios and allow nursery workers to progress to more senior positions such as room leaders.

The accompanying report says the proportion of the early years workforce qualified at this level has reduced at "an alarming rate" in the past four years.

"This highlights grave concerns for nursery provision, quality of children's experiences and could also jeopardise the availability of provision to meet the government's promise of subsidised childcare to parents and families," it states.

The report also reveals staff turnover is higher than average with the majority of staff leaving the sector qualified at Level 3 for better-paid jobs in retail.

It says more nurseries admit to finding it harder to recruit qualified staff at Level 3 but also increasingly with Level 2 qualifications.

Salary levels, better hours and "a loss of passion" for the job are cited as the main factors for those leaving the profession, the report says.

Of 705 nurseries surveyed, employing more than 14,000 staff, the findings showed nearly half of leavers (48 per cent) went on to new jobs in retail.

The report describes an emerging workforce as "younger, less qualified, less experienced with higher skilled experienced staff are leaving mid-career or approaching retirement".

Total workforce turnover, based on more than 250 practitioner responses, represents almost one quarter (24 per cent) of the entire childcare staff employed in their setting.

"While some turnover of staff is always to be expected, the UK average employee turnover rate is approximately 15 to 18 per cent, putting nurseries well above average," the report states.

"Taking into account inflation since 2014 and an average advertised salary of £18,000, this 24 per cent turnover can be seen costing the sector an estimated £879m in the past year alone," it adds.

The report reveals the way the government's 30 hours childcare offer is delivered has affected how 60 per cent of respondents run their settings.

"The most common impacts were negative as they reduced the numbers of experienced or highly qualified staff nurseries could employ," it says.


The investigation showed 14 per cent of settings employed fewer graduates or qualified early years teachers and 18 per cent had taken on more apprentices to reduced staffing costs and fills gaps.

The report contradicts a childcare provider survey conducted by the Department for Education between 2016 and 2018 that suggested the levels of staff with at least Level 3 qualifications had risen from 79 per cent to 81 per cent in group-based settings.

"However, the question in the 2018 survey explicitly excluded apprentices which providers are telling us are making up an increasing proportion of their staff," the report says.

In response to the survey's findings, the NDNA says it is calling on the government to address underfunding in the early years in its upcoming spending review.

It says the DfE should work closely with the sector to develop a workforce strategy that would tackle the issue of the number of qualified staff in the sector, the skills of new entrants and offer increased support for nurseries to upskill their staff.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA, said the latest survey results revealed a "full-blown crisis" in the sector.

"Nursery staff qualified to Level 3 or above understand about child development and how best to support and nurture our children.

"A less-qualified workforce could undermine nurseries' efforts to drive up quality.
"We know that employers would love to pay their staff at the rate they deserve but are hamstrung by government underfunding for ‘free' places which leaves childcare providers struggling to make ends meet.

"As a result they are finding it harder to attract the right candidates," she said.

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