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The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the early years workforce

Education Policy Institute
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New @EduPolicyInst and @NDNAtalk survey finds 71% of #EarlyYears staff were #furloughed between March and August 

A significant proportion of early years settings are relying on the government’s furlough scheme, sparking concerns that the childcare staffing crisis is set to worsen when the scheme ends. 

18% of early years staff are due to remain on furlough between August and October, while the least qualified early years staff have been most affected by the pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic and the early years workforce: Staffing decisions in an uncertain environment” draws upon a survey of 445 early education and care providers in England, Scotland and Wales, active between 4th-26th August.

Early years education providers include private, voluntary, and independent nurseries and pre-schools.

The pandemic and economic downturn have significantly affected early years education, causing disruption to providers since the lockdown began earlier in the year.

Researchers have found that 4% of staff in these settings have been made redundant and 7% of staff voluntarily terminated their contract, with 30% of settings reporting ‘finding alternative employment during furlough’ as the reason for termination. Indeed, settings report employing 9% fewer staff in August than in March.

The least qualified and least experienced staff have borne the brunt of the impacts of total or partial closure of settings: they are more likely to be furloughed, made redundant or to have left for other work.

The findings suggest that early years settings value experience more than qualifications, with 48% reporting that they take qualification levels into account when making furloughing decisions, compared to 68% of settings taking experience into account.

The County Councils Network has today (Friday 25th September) issued a warning that one in ten providers in England’s counties are at risk of closure this winter and that that remoter rural could be impacted the most by childcare closures.

Tulip Siddiq 100x100Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, said: 

“Parents rely on childcare to be able to do their jobs. Those jobs and our economic recovery will be put at risk if one in ten nurseries and childminders are forced to close over winter, not to mention the impact on children who rely on early education. 

“Labour has been warning about childcare closures for months, yet Ministers have sat on their hands as the early years sector and workforce move ever closer to a cliff edge. 

“It is time for this incompetent Government to start listening and start targeting support at sectors like childcare which need it the most.” 

“This report highlights the appalling toll that the coronavirus crisis has taken on the childcare sector, which is now on the brink of collapse.

“We are already starting to see early years staff being made redundant, and the jobs of thousands more workers – mainly women – are at risk without targeted support for the childcare sector.

“Childminders, nursery staff, and the families who rely on their fantastic services must not be forced to pay the price for this Government’s incompetence.”

Key findings

Early years settings have furloughed 71% of their staff since March

Staff most likely to be furloughed were those who held lower levels of qualifications:

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  • 79% of staff with no qualifications had been furloughed
  • 79% of staff with level 2 qualifications had been furloughed
  • 74% of staff with level 3 had been furloughed
  • 59% of staff with level 6 qualifications had been furloughed

4% of early years staff have been made redundant

Staff with higher levels of qualifications were least likely to be made redundant:

  • 6% of apprentices were made redundant
  • 5% of staff with no qualifications were made redundant
  • 2% of staff with level 4/5 qualifications were made redundant
  • 1% of staff with level 6 qualifications were made redundant

Early years settings were more likely to furlough staff if they had higher redundancy rates

  • Settings that had made a greater-than-average proportion of staff redundant since March also expected to furlough a greater proportion (26%) of their staff in the following three months than settings that had made a lower than average proportion of staff redundant (16%).

Commenting on the new findings, Dr Sara Bonetti, Director of Early Years at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:

“This report highlights the striking scale of furloughing and redundancies made by early years settings from March to August of this year. In spite of most settings reopening from June, 1 in 5 staff remain on part or full time furlough, suggesting that come the end of the scheme in October, we can expect even more redundancies than we have seen to date.

“Early years settings are facing highly uncertain operating conditions. They are expected to make staffing decisions for the coming months, despite it being difficult to predict demand for their services. This is particularly alarming, given the existing, widely publicised recruitment crisis ongoing in the childcare sector.”

 Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive Officer at the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said:

“Prior to the pandemic the childcare sector was already facing serious workforce challenges but Covid-19 risks pushing this into a full-blown crisis. This is a time of great uncertainty for early years providers, staff and families. Childcare must be at the centre of any economic recovery as people look to return to work.

“That’s why we’re committed to tracking the impact of the pandemic on early years and the workforce as it unfolds. This is just the first part of a year-long study but already the findings are proving important and I want to thank all the providers who took part in this survey.

“High quality early education is crucial to giving every child the best possible start in life. Having a well-qualified, secure and motivated workforce is central to this quality of care and education. Only by having the latest data can we understand what the sector needs to ensure childcare places are available when families need them.

“The findings so far point to a lot of uncertainty, especially with the end of the furlough scheme in sight. We’ll continue to work with the sector and governments to ensure the challenges are understood and addressed.”

KevinCourtney100x100Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“This report by the EPI is further evidence of the deep financial and structural impact the Coronavirus continues to have on the Early Years sector as a whole.  The Coronavirus has only exacerbated the serious challenges the Early Years sector was already facing.  Financial pressures prior to the pandemic had already forced some private providers and Maintained Nursery Schools to close or make significant savings through staff redundancies.  It is now clear that without government intervention, this situation is only going to worsen in the immediate future.   

“Government inaction is jeopardising the education of millions of children, who are missing out on vital early years education and hindering the ability of parents looking to return to work. Access to good quality early years education vastly improves future educational attainment and the life chances of those pupils, and can significantly improve social mobility. The NEU in its submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review is asking for sufficient funding and resources for the Early Years sector to ensure every child has access to good quality early years education.” 

peter lampl100x100Sir Peter Lampl, chairman and founder of the Sutton Trust, said:

“It is deeply concerning to see further evidence of the pandemic’s damaging impacts on the early years sector. The Sutton Trust’s own research has highlighted that a third of early years providers in deprived areas believe they may have to close within a year.

“The early years are the vitally important first stage of the education process. We know that a high-quality workforce are an important part of delivering this, so it is worrying that this report suggests a likely worsening of the staffing crisis after the furlough scheme ends.

“It is vital that the sector is supported through these uncertain times, so that we are able to continue to provide the early learning and development that is so crucial for social mobility.”

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