“Working in early years used to be all about the children. Now it is all about the paperwork and constant changes to legislation...There just aren’t enough hours in the day and not enough money in the pot to pay people what they deserve for the job they do.”

- “Minds Matter”, Early Years Alliance, 2018.

There are many studies on primary and secondary teachers’ workloads and wellbeing and yet the experiences of early years practitioners have been historically overlooked.

The “Minds Matter” report (Early Years Alliance, 2018 provided a comprehensive overview of the impact on practitioners’ mental health and levels of stress on those working in the early years sector. The results were alarming - depression and anxiety were the most common mental health issues. A quarter of the workforce was actively considering leaving the sector.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance said, “The results of our “Minds Matter” survey were a wake-up call for many of us. We expected to see the strain of trying to keep a childcare setting sustainable and of managing ever-increasing workloads in the results – but no one could have anticipated the sheer scale of stress and other mental health issues in the sector. It was far and away our most responded-to survey and the findings were as striking as they were upsetting.”

  • Key findings were:
    66% of the respondents stated that their personal relationships had been ‘negatively affected by work-related stress or mental health difficulties over the last year.’
  • 62% felt their work/non-work life was unbalanced.
  • 44% quite often felt stressed about work or an issue relating to work.
  • 52% of respondents had not spoken to anyone at work about their stress or mental health issues.
    (“Minds Matter”, Early Years Alliance, 2018)

Fatigue, insomnia, irritability, tearfulness and mood swings scored highly in the “Minds Matter” report. Panic attacks affected one in eight respondents, and a very small number had experienced suicidal thoughts or self-harming. With more than a half of respondents keeping silent over their anxieties, it is clear that there is poor perception of support. Meanwhile, practitioners find themselves floundering in increasing workloads; falling short in wages; and largely unrecognised by the masses for the invaluable work they do.

Such gloomy statistics have serious consequences for a workforce with the task of building a nation of resilient children.

Improving practitioners’ mental health will only be achieved through collaborative approaches. It is essential for early years providers and practitioners alike, to take steps to help prevent low mental health and wellbeing of colleagues due to work-related stress, and also to support and comfort anyone who is affected by mental health issues. Early years providers have the chance to place wellbeing at the heart of their practice, recognising that the needs of the practitioner are of significant importance to children’s development. When whole settings implement stress-reducing strategies, such as finding solutions to address isolation and depression, there is a significant improvement in mental health.

A healthy emphasis on emotional intelligence and resilience amongst management, staff and parents, ensures that there is no ‘putting up with things’ or ‘getting on with it’. Instead happy, connected communities anticipate events and plan for them, working together to ‘take meaningful, deliberate, collective action to remedy the impact of a problem, including the ability to interpret the environment, intervene, and move on.’ (Pfefferbaum, 2005)

“Building A Resilient Workforce in the Early Years” is a new publication that follows the “Minds Matter” report, published by Early Years Alliance. The book coincides with Ofsted’s new “Education Inspection Framework”, where the outstanding requirement is that leaders ‘ensure that highly effective and meaningful engagement takes place with staff at all levels and that any issues are identified. When issues are identified – in particular about workload – they are consistently dealt with appropriately and quickly.’

“Building a Resilient Workforce in the Early Years” demonstrates how to build both team resilience and a culture of support to tackle low mental health and wellbeing. It is full of advice on improving workplace practice and providing support to colleagues to ensure a proactive approach. It provides practical tools to help settings reflect on and make positive and lasting changes in their practice, and more importantly, in their positive attitude towards mental health.

Resilient communities build resilient children. A happy and thriving environment is central to a child’s development and wellbeing. Such an environment also supports parents/carer’s wellbeing. Once the daily stresses and pressures are recognised and lifted; individual skills encouraged; and abilities and confidence intentionally supported through a whole-setting approach, the levels of mental health and wellbeing for practitioners can be significantly raised, and in a relatively short space of time.

“Building a Resilient Workforce in the Early Years” is available to purchase here.

About the author

Helen Garnett is a mother of 4, and a committed and experienced early years consultant. She co-founded a pre-school in 2005 and cares passionately about young children and connection. As a result, she has written a book, ‘Developing Empathy in the Early Years: a guide for practitioners’ for which she won the Professional Books category at the 2018 Nursery World Awards. She has also co-written an early years curriculum and assessment tool, at present being implemented in India. Helen is also on the Think Equal team, a global initiative led by Leslee Udwin, developing empathy in pre-schools and schools across the world.


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