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Qualifications and pay falling in early years sector

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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

A new report on the early years workforce from the Education Policy Institute shows worrying signs that qualification levels in the sector may be starting to decline.  The number of nursery nurses with a Level 3 qualification rose from 65.9% in 203 to 73% in 2016, but has since dropped again to only 68.3%.  Moreover, the proportion of childcare workers studying towards a higher qualification fell from 22.7 per cent in 2008 to 17.2 per cent in 2013 and to 14.9 per cent in 2018.  This is contrast to other comparator groups of the population considered in the report where qualification levels have risen over the period.

The report provides data confirming that the early years workforce is predominantly female, low-paid and lacking in diversity.  While none of that comes as a surprise, the report highlights that while wages for the childcare workers has decreased in real terms, it has been increasing for hairdressers and beauticians over the same period, leading to a convergence of pay rates.  That provides little incentive for those faced with the choice of "hair or care" to undertake the qualifications needed to join the early sector, nor to remain in it.

The report also found that 44.5% of childcare workers accessed tax credits or state benefits compared to 40% of hairdressers and beauticians and 34% of female workers overall. 

Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive of Early Education said: 

"The EPI's report shows the false economy of paying low wages to the early years workforce, at a time when an increasingly high proportion of sector funding comes from government.  Instead of having to top up low wages with tax credits and benefits, it could use the money to fund settings to pay higher wages that would bring in more highly qualified workforce, and we know that has the potential to raise the quality of provision in a way that improves children's outcomes  and amply returns the original investment.  The government should be concerned by the signs in this report that show attempts to improve workforce quality are stalling and even going into reverse.  If it wants to meet its targets on social mobility, the evidence tells us that it needs to invest in the early years workforce and raise the quality of provision for the most disadvantaged children.  Government also needs to do more to promote a diverse workforce, to ensure the workforce represents the communities it serves, and to enable the sector draw from a wider pool of talent."


Notes to editors: 

Early Education (The British Association for Early Childhood Education) is the leading independent national charity for early years practitioners and parents, campaigning for the right of all children to education of the highest quality. Founded in 1923, it has members in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and provides a national voice on matters that relate to effective early childhood education and care of young children from birth to eight. The organisation supports the professional development of practitioners through publications, training, conferences, seminars and access to a national and regional branch network. For more information on the work of Early Education visit