Is there a crisis?
There is most definitely a crisis in childcare. The bottom line is that there are just not enough childcarers entering the industry. It affects parents recruiting nannies, but to a much larger extent, it's crippling the nursery industry.
One of our branches in the Home Counties reports that they have over 50 nurseries on their books that are desperately and continually looking for permanent, qualified staff. And that's just one pocket of the country.
On the temporary side, we estimate that across the UK our branches are unable to fill hundreds of shifts for nurseries every week, because of the lack of qualified childcarers. That begs the question, how are the nurseries operating within ratios if they don't have enough staff?
Threat to the 30 hours free entitlement
We have been recruiting for nurseries for over 15 years. We are therefore in a good place to track changes in the market. And what we are discovering is that the decline in childcarers, which has been ongoing for a number of years now, has reached tipping point. Unless something is done to reverse the decline, we cannot see how the Government can implement the 30 hours free entitlement. The demand for places in nurseries will far outstrip the supply of workers to cover those extra hours.
And it's not just Tinies who are reporting a problem.
Nursery providers have long been shouting about the lack of quality childcarers. There were reports in the news last week on this and there's a campaign that has been started called Save Our Early Years.
And now the colleges that have been offering Level 3 courses in childcare are reporting such a large decline in the number of applicants that they are having to either cut the number of classes they offer, or stop running the courses all together.
So what is happening in the industry?
Why is there a crisis?
In our view, there are many different reasons for this significant decline in childcarers, but here are the main three:
1) The introduction of Maths and English GCSE. Admirable that it is for the government to raise the education standards of nursery practitioners, what is really needed is a workforce of caring, passionate childcarers. We are finding that the GCSE requirement is putting people off getting qualified. And those that do commit are struggling to get the desired mark of C or above. Some of the best childcarers I know are dyslexic or unable to recite all the times tables - does that make them not right to be working with nursery age children? And why do they need to have Maths at GCSE level? The children they are caring for are under 5 years old. Those children are not going to need help with algebra, probabilities and geometry for quite some years to come.
2) Poor pay and lack of career progression. This is nothing new, but it appears to be getting worse. Childcarers are one of the most poorly paid workers in the UK, yet they do such an important job. Why can't it finally be recognised as a proper profession?
3) Red tape. Workers in nurseries are required to fill out umpteen forms and prepare endless reports about the children in their care. Many leave their jobs because the administrative burden is too much. They entered the profession to care for children, but they end up spending more time writing about the care of children. That balance needs to be redressed.
What are Tinies doing to help?
We are passionate about childcare and don't want to see this vital industry implode. That's why we are talking to the government, to get them to re-think some of their childcare policies. One of our suggestions is to drop the GCSE requirement altogether. Or just teach some basic Maths skills alongside the childcare course to ensure those students are able to do adding, subtracting and times tables with the children in their care.
We are also launching our own initiative called "Inspiring The Future of Childcare". We are going to go into secondary schools to talk to children about a career in childcare. We don't want them viewing the profession as something that you do if you don't have other options. Sadly this perception is often the case.
A career in childcare should be a positive choice, and one that is well rewarded and well recognised.
Amanda Coxen, Working Mum and Tinies Director