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Childcare and Early Education Week

Childcare and Early Education Week, run and organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Childcare and Early Education, is taking place between 24 and 31 January 2022. This year the Week aims to celebrate the work of early years educators with the theme: “We are educators”.

The impact of early years education

Research indicates early childhood education and care can have a positive impact on children’s educational, cognitive, behavioural and social outcomes, in the short and long term. It can also play a positive role in raising attainment and closing the gap between outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and other children. However, UK data suggest evidence of actual impact is more mixed.

Positive benefits are dependent on several factors, including the quality of care, such as the nature of the activities and relationships that children engage in within their settings, as well as group size, child to teacher ratios, staff retention, and teachers’ training and professional development.

Early years workforce statistics

The Department for Education publishes the Childcare and early years providers survey every two years. The most recent survey is based on survey responses which were provided between March – July 2021, a period when providers were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A sample of around 10,000 Ofsted registered private and voluntary providers (known together as “group-based providers”), school-based providers (this includes maintained nursery schools), and Ofsted registered childminders were surveyed. Their responses were then weighted to provide national estimates.

In Spring 2021 there were an estimated 328,500 early years staff working at group-based providers, school-based providers, and at childminders in England (an estimated decline of around 5% compared to 2019). These staff members were working across around 62,000 providers.

Of the estimated 328,500 early years staff, the majority (72%) worked at group-based settings. 16% of staff worked at school-based settings, and 12% worked as childminders and childminder assistants.

Workforce issues

Concerns have been raised that recruitment to the early years workforce is increasingly difficult. In a survey conducted by the Early Years Alliance in autumn 2021, 84% of respondents said they were finding it difficult to recruit suitable new staff.

In August 2020, the Social Mobility Commission published a report on The stability of the early years workforce in England. The report highlighted “high-quality early years provision delivered by a qualified and skilled workforce” as key to reducing the development gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their wealthier peers. However, in recent years, the report added, “there have been signs that the early years workforce is increasingly unstable, with too few new entrants to replace those who are leaving the sector.”


While noting that its research was carried out before the outbreak of Covid-19, the Social Mobility Commission’s report said the “drivers of workforce instability are likely to persist and even worsen as a result of the pandemic” and “for many working in early years, the crisis has further destabilised an already precarious situation.”

In its 2020/21 annual report, Ofsted reported early years staff “were more stressed and felt their work was more difficult than before the pandemic.” It added, however, “despite this, there was an increased appreciation of the importance of early years and many felt honoured to be working to support children during this time.”

In July 2021, the Education Policy Institute published the final report of a year-long project examining the impact of the pandemic on the early years workforce. The report, which covered February to May 2021, said that:

  • Early years settings were facing significant instability in the workforce, with a large proportion of staff still furloughed.
  • Settings had seen a high turnover of staff, with job stress and low pay cited as reasons for leaving.

Settings able to navigate the period are likely to be faced with major recruitment shortfalls when parental demand for places returns in the future.

Government policy and spending

On 2 June 2021, the DfE announced an additional £1.4 billion to help support education recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic. Of the additional funding, £153 million will fund training for early years staff, including new programmes focusing on speech and development.

As the Government has noted in response to parliamentary questions, the majority of the early years workforce are employed in private, voluntary and independent organisations which are responsible for recruiting sufficient staff. However, as explained in the Low Pay Commission’s December 2021 report on the National Minimum Wage, the sector’s funding settlement is “largely set by the Government”.

On 25 November 2021, the Government announced that for 2022/23 the hourly funding rates for all local authorities for the two-year-old entitlement will increase by 21p an hour. Funding for the three-and four-year-old entitlements will also increase by 17p an hour in the vast majority of areas. The minimum funding floor for the three and four-year-old offer will also increase to £4.61 per hour.

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