Research has found that nurseries in England are struggling to recruit the staff they need to deliver the Government’s 30 ‘free’ hours.

The research was carried out by independent analysts Ceeda and revealed that 1 in 2 private and voluntary nurseries and pre-schools have vacancies, totalling an estimated 24,600 positions.

There is also an estimated 4,180 vacancies for apprentices and more than half of the remaining vacancies are for staff with level three childcare qualifications.

4 out for 5 nurseries have said that they have found it hard to fill staff vacancies and are worried that meeting the demand for the 30 hours is at risk.

Dr Jo Verrill, managing director of Ceeda, said: “Recruitment difficulties are rife in the early years sector and show little sign of improving in the short term. It will take time to replace the fall-out in new entrants; meanwhile, wider market pressures are building.

“Employment levels are at 75.1 percent, their highest since comparable records began in 1971, mainly driven by increases in full-time female employment. We have also yet to feel the full impact of Brexit on labour supply, with an estimated six percent of childcare workers being EU Nationals.

“To recruit and retain staff employers need to remain competitive. As the 30-hour childcare offer rolls-out across the country, Government funding levels have an ever-increasing influence on what the sector can afford to pay its workers.”

The research also revealed the challenges that nurseries and pre-schools face: many of those applying for jobs do not meet the job requirements, they do not have the required skills, the required disposition, the required qualifications or the required experience and there is a general lack of interest in childcare as a career option.

This recruitment crisis is due, in part, to the Government changing the requirements in 2014 for level 3 childcare qualifications from Functional Skills to GCSEs in maths and English.

It has also been found that many people look at pay rates, career progression and the deep-rooted perceptions of childcare as a job for women having an impact on recruitment.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, has said how recruiting staff in early years is a ‘huge obstacle’ for childcare providers wanting to offer the 30 hours.

He said: “Unfortunately, we are still feeling the effects of the Government’s ill-thought-out qualification policy which required Level 3 childcare practitioners to have English and Maths GCSEs, rather than functional skills – and while this has now rightly been scrapped, it’s going to take some time for the sector to recover from the impact of this on the workforce.

“Add to this the fact that, as a result of historic government underfunding, childcare remains a low-pay, low-status career, and it’s no surprise that providers are struggling to attract new recruits. If the 30 hours is to have any chance of succeeding, we need to be able to attract and retain quality, experienced childcare staff – and this means paying them a fair wage for what is an absolutely vital educational role.

“Put simply, if you don’t have enough staff, you can’t offer more places – or extended hours – to local families.”

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