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Ongoing workforce challenges in the early years sector; poor pay, increasing workload and low status

nursery teacher
Published: February 2020

This study forms strand 3 of a broader research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and conducted in collaboration with the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

Key findings

The research identified three types of professionals with different motivations for working with children:

  • Career professionals, who started working in the sector and remain because of their passion for working with children
  • Inspired professionals, who took up childcare because it was convenient, but remain because they developed a passion for early years education
  • Pragmatic professionals, who entered and remain in the sector out of convenience.

Whatever path they followed into the profession, staff faced challenges that made them consider leaving the profession. This included:

  • Poor pay progression and low salaries, which were felt to be incompatible with increasing workload and responsibilities
  • The job’s emotional and physical demands, made worse by increasing paperwork and demands from parents and employers
  • Difficulties supporting a family on current salaries, which stopped many from seeing working in the early years as a long-term career option
  • The perceived low status of the profession, which staff felt society wrongly viewed as being “easy”.

Budget pressures also made it difficult for providers to give their staff access to training and they tended to prioritise mandatory training over more specialised courses.

The study forms strand 3 of a broader research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and conducted in collaboration with the Education Policy Institute (EPI). The most recent EPI work strand looked at the impact of major government policies affecting the sector over the past 15 years and can be found here.

Our research

Through nursery case studies and in depth interviews we explored:

  • early years professionals’ motivations to enter and remain in the sector
  • their journey into and through the early years sector
  • definitions of ‘quality’ within the workforce
  • barriers to the recruitment, retention and development of a ‘high quality’ workforce.

Download the report