Childcare Sector Insists Workforce "Has To Grow" To Cope With Free Hours Expansion
Leaders in the childcare sector have said that the workforce “has to grow” if the sector is to cope with the upcoming expansion of free hours, but worry that efforts by Government to launch a large-scale recruitment campaign could amount to “too little too late”.
Jonathan Broadberry, director of policy and communications at the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) told PoliticsHome that pressures on the workforce is “the number one concern” for many providers when it comes to the “practicalities” of delivering the government’s promise of expanded free hours provision.
In the coming weeks, the Department for Education is set to launch a recruitment campaign to “make sure the rollout of our largest ever investment in childcare is a success”, and while Broadberry believes "the workforce has to grow" and anything the government does to help that is "welcome”, he said there is still “a lot of concern that there won’t be the staffing, there won’t be the resources for this policy to work”.
PoliticsHome has previously reported that childcare sector leaders are seeing early years staff leave to work in other industries such as retail or hospitality for better pay and conditions.
Any recruitment campaign, Broadberry said, needs to address “How do we get more people working in the sector, how do we keep the excellent people who are already there?”
He also warned that the issues could become more acute as the policy continues to expand to include younger children, as fewer children can be looked after per staff member among baby age groups. Plus, parents could be making longer-term plans about their return to work after parental leave, in which childcare provision could play a key part.
Broadberry also felt that ministers have not had a long-term strategy for early years underpinning the changes that they have been trying to make.
“We’ve been calling for strategy and actions for a number of years,” he said.
“The fact that some of those things are starting to happen is good, uplifting funding, making capital funding available, it’s too little too late to have an impact by the time we start the expansion in April.”
Last year, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a major expansion of the free childcare hours available to, that is intended to see all eligible parents of children from 9 months old entitled to 30 hours of childcare per week from September 2025.
The scheme is being staggered, with the first stage set for 1 April this year, when parents of 2-year-olds should be able to get 15 hours of free childcare per week.
Asked on Monday morning whether Sunak could "give a guarantee" that all eligible parents will be able to secure a place when they qualify, he said there are some "practical issues".
"I just want to reassure all of those people that those issues are being resolved as we speak, all of those families will get the childcare that they are eligible for, and will be contacted as soon as possible," Sunak added.
At last year’s Labour conference, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson confirmed that she had asked former Ofsted chief inspector Sir David Bell to lead a review of early years provision.
Phillipson’s team want the review to inform their plans for reform of the sector, taking into account how the industry could be geared up to meet the sort of capacity that would be needed with the government’s current expansion plans.
PoliticsHome understands that workforce planning could form a key part of this, amid concern about the decline in the workforce and staff who are not satisfied at work.
Asked about early years following her speech at the Centre for Social Justice earlier this month, Phillipson said that “quality provision” is “essential” for “making sure that children get the best possible start in life”.
She added: “Sadly for lots of parents the places aren’t there, they’re not available and the cost has skyrocketed.
“That’s why I’ve asked Sir David Bell to look carefully about setting out a report for us, a review that he’s undertaking that will consider all of those issues around quality, around availability and how we can make sure that we’ve got the places where we need them.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We will shortly be launching a significant new communications campaign, alongside an accelerated childcare apprenticeship and degree apprenticeship, to help recruit more staff into the brilliant early years sector and make sure the rollout of our largest ever investment in childcare is a success.
“We are also investing hundreds of millions of pounds to increase rates paid for government-funded hours, which can be used to support staff salaries, and are providing a package of training, qualifications, and expert guidance worth up to £180 million to help retain staff in the sector.”
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