Another week...and another disturbing report emerges.
This time it's the Education Policy Institute's (EPI) comparative analysis of the Early Years workforce in England, based on findings from the Labour Force.
The report reveals a series of statistics comparing conditions and characteristics of childcare workers with those in ‘competing’ jobs such as hairdressers and beauticians – occupations, it states, often regarded as career alternatives. Comparisons are also made with teachers and the female working population.
Among the most striking findings relate to pay - or the lack of it - and qualifications.
The report finds that childcare workers in England were paid around 40 percent less per hour than the average female worker in 2018. And almost half claim state benefits or tax credits.
Despite being slightly more qualified than hairdressers and beauticians, real term pay cuts experienced by Early Years staff means that their pay per hour is now at very similar levels to hairdressers and beauticians who, in contrast, have experienced an increase in their hourly rate.
Other key findings in the report, supported by the Nuffield Foundation, include:
- Pay is low, both in relative and absolute terms. The childcare workforce earned an average hourly pay of £8.20 in 2018.
- The sector has suffered a pay reduction of nearly 5% in real terms since 2013, despite working women overall seeing rises of 2.5%.
- Real-terms pay decreases mean childcare workers’ pay in 2018 is now virtually the same as that of hairdressers and beauticians.
- Childcare providers frequently report difficulties in hiring staff, particularly staff with full ‘Early Years Educator’ status (level 3 qualification). The percentage of nursery nurses and assistants with this qualification in 2018 was 68.3%, compared to 73% in 2016.
- The sector is ageing, in 2018 around 90,000 childcare workers were 55 years old or above. A significant number are likely to exit the workforce in the next decade and there is little indication that sufficient numbers of younger workers will replace retiring older workers.
- The childcare workforce is far less qualified than both the teaching workforce and general female working population. In 2018, 25.1% of childcare workers had completed a degree, 36% A levels or equivalent and 24.4% GCSEs or below. Overall, qualification levels have marginally increased, but at a very slow pace in the last few years.
- Supporting childcare workers to upskill and gain higher qualifications is critical to the quality of Early Years education, yet many workers are not undertaking further training, in part due to fewer opportunities provided by employers. For those that do upskill there is no guarantee of career progress.
Several sector organisations have commented on the report, but I thought the observations made by Liz Bayram, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) Chief Executive, summed up my feelings best:
“The EPI analysis...makes for depressing reading and reinforces all the concerns PACEY has consistently raised with Government over the years.
"Early Years practitioners are caring and educating our youngest children but are poorly paid, unable to access or afford to undertake relevant qualifications.
"Most disheartening of all, practitioners are being expected to take on more and more responsibility for early interventions that support children, especially our most disadvantaged, to have the best start in life.
"It is simply wrong that low levels of Government funding for early education forces nurseries, pre-schools and childminders into having to pay low wages; stops them investing in the qualifications and training that support high quality childcare.
"Many practitioners are living with the stress of financial insecurity and should not have to rely on tax credits and other state benefits to make ends meet when the job they do is so important to children and families.
"Funding levels must increase and Government needs to recognise the Early Years profession as equivalent to teaching in the same way that many other countries do. This is the only way we are going to stem the tide of reducing levels of qualified practitioners, of good people leaving the profession they love because they simply cannot afford to stay."