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In this briefing, the ‘childcare workforce’ includes people working with children from infancy up until they start school (around age five) for early years providers and childminders registered with Ofsted or childminder agencies. Currently, it is set out in legislation that childminding means providing childcare for a reward, and at least half of the provision is on domestic premises (rather than a nursery, for example).

In the Spring Budget 2023, the Government announced it would be expanding entitlement to free childcare, which would support “hundreds of thousands more working parents”. The DfE has estimated there will need to be an extra 40,000 workers (PDF) in childcare by September 2025 to support the entitlement roll-out. This is an 11.5% increase on the number of paid childcare staff in 2023.

In a 2024 report, the National Audit Office said this increase was “ambitious given the workforce only increased by 5% between 2018 and 2023”. In its 2024 childcare survey, the charity Coram found the “vast majority (87%)” of local authorities said the childcare workforce was a barrier to expanding free childcare. In response to the survey, local authorities also said the whole childcare sector is facing difficulty in attracting and retaining high-quality staff.

This briefing discusses the childcare workforce in England.

Who works in childcare?

The Department for Education (DfE) publishes statistics on the childcare workforce. In 2023, there were 259,300 staff in group-based provision (such as nurseries) and 55,800 staff in school-based provision (such as nursery classes in primary schools). There were also 32,200 childminders and childminding assistants registered with Ofsted. Childminders registered with a childminder agency are not included in the DfE survey.

In 2023 most of the early years workforce was female: 98% of staff at schools and group-based providers were female, and 97% of childminders. Most of the workforce was from the White British ethnic group: 83% of staff at school-based providers were White British, 81% of staff at all group-based providers and 82% of childminders.

What qualifications are needed?

A person does not need to have certain qualifications to work in childcare. However, there are rules around the qualifications people need to have to count towards ‘childcare ratios’ (the minimum number of qualified staff to the number of children of different ages).

Within each childcare ratio, at least one member of staff must have an approved level 3 qualification (Early Years Educator), and at least half of all other staff must have an approved level 2 qualification (Early Years Practitioner).

Similarly, childminders do not need prior qualifications or experience before starting the role. However, there are regulations which provide for child to staff ratios. The Early Years Foundation Stage Statutory Framework sets out the standards that all early years providers and registered childminders in England must follow.

What are the workforce issues?

In July 2023, the Education Committee published its report into support for childcare and the early years. In the report, it identified several problems facing the early years workforce such as:

  • difficulty recruiting qualified staff
  • a lack of professional development
  • low pay
  • long hours
  • low status

What are the recommendations for change?

The National Audit Office, which looked at the childcare market and DfE preparation for the expansion, recommended in 2024 that the Government make better use of statistics to assess how Government initiatives were affecting the workforce.

The Education Committee made a wide range of recommendations to the Government in 2023. To help recruitment and retention, the committee’s recommendations included:

  • working with local authorities to reduce the cost of training, and rewarding development and promotions with better pay
  • widening qualifications available for primary school teachers to include the early years workforce.

Other organisations have also recommended improving pay and having more focus on practitioner’s training opportunities. The Local Government Association highlighted that Ireland had legislated for minimum rates of pay for roles in the childcare sector in 2022.

Government policy

At the 2024 Spring Budget, the Government confirmed it would increase the hourly funding rates the government provides to local authorities to pay childcare providers for the “free hours” entitlement. The education minister David Johnston said the additional funding would “will provide a level of certainty that we are confident will… give providers a greater opportunity to increase staff pay.”

The Government has also announced targeted initiatives to help with the funded expansion roll-out and increase the number of childcare workers:

In 2023, to try and reduce the costs for providers and parents, the Government changed the childcare ratio for two-year-olds in early years settings from 1:4 (one member of staff for every four children) to 1:5.

The Government also made legislative changes so childminders are able to work more flexibly within the ratios and provide more childcare in non-domestic settings.

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