William Eichler 05 August 2020

Early years’ workers ‘overworked and undervalued’, study reveals

Low pay, a high workload and a lack of career development for early years’ workers risk impacting on the provision of care and education services for the under-fives, report says.

A new study published by the Social Mobility Commission has revealed that the average wage for early years’ workers is only £7.42 an hour, with as many as one in eight being paid under £5.00 an hour.

The research, which was carried out for the commission by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), also found that staff turnover was high, at 15%, mainly due to low pay, a lack of training and career structure and excessive overtime.

The 280,000 strong early years workforce – mainly young and female – provide education and care to children from birth to aged five. They can be self-employed, such as childminders, or work in a formal nursery.

Childcare professionals work longer hours than people in comparable occupations. Eleven percent of full-time early years workers reported working more than 42 hours per week, compared to 3% of retail workers and 6% of female workers in general.

The study also found that there were few training opportunities once people entered the workforce. Only 17 % of early years’ workers received job-related training and 37% leave their employer within two years.

Steven Cooper, interim co-chair of the Social Mobility Commission said: ‘The early years workforce is vital in helping to narrow the development gaps between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from more privileged backgrounds.

‘We must do everything we can to ensure that childminders and nursery workers are valued more by ensuring we pay them a decent wage, give them a proper career structure and ensure their workload is reasonable.

‘The commission will be pressing the government and employers to take urgent steps to improve the stability of childcare provision in these critical years.’

Dr Sara Bonetti, report author and director of early years at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), commented: ‘This research highlights the multiple barriers that early years workers face on a daily basis, with low pay, lack of career options and negative perceptions of their profession holding them back. The pandemic now threatens to exacerbate many of these problems.

‘We must do far more to support workers, otherwise we risk compromising the quality of provision and widening the disadvantaged gap.’

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