In an ambitious move to address the acute shortage of childcare workers in England, the government has unveiled a comprehensive strategy that includes a £1,000 cash incentive aimed at new childcare workers. This initiative is part of a broader campaign designed to elevate the stature of childcare professionals within the nation. The urgency for thousands of additional nursery workers and childminders comes in anticipation of the forthcoming expansion of funded childcare hours, a policy change poised to significantly benefit working parents across England.
With over 100,000 working parents of two-year-olds already signed up for the April rollout, the Department for Education (DfE) is ramping up efforts to ensure that by September 2025, every pre-school child of working parents, starting from the tender age of nine months, will be eligible for 30 hours of childcare during term time. This policy aims to alleviate the financial and logistical pressures on working families, offering them much-needed support and flexibility.
However, this ambitious plan is set against the backdrop of a dwindling number of childcare providers, a trend primarily attributed to childminders exiting the profession. Despite a stable number of childcare places, the sector faces a pressing need for approximately 27,500 early-years professionals to cater to the anticipated surge in demand—an 8% expansion of the current workforce, as estimated by the think tank Nesta.
Addressing this pressing issue, the recruitment campaign will not only spotlight the critical role of early-years professionals but also feature a £1,000 tax-free cash incentive for up to 3,000 new hires or staff returning to the early years sector, after three months in employment. This trial, set to commence in 20 local authorities, is a direct response to the sector’s significant challenge of recruiting and retaining staff, as highlighted by Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA).
Despite these efforts, challenges such as low pay and limited career progression persist as primary factors behind staff attrition. Nonetheless, the early-years workforce has seen a 4% increase between 2022 and 2023, returning to pre-pandemic levels with a count of 347,300 professionals. This recovery is largely credited to the rise in staff within private providers and school-based nurseries, though the number of individuals in voluntary group providers and childminders continues to decline.
Apprenticeships have emerged as a crucial strategy for bridging the workforce gap, with the industry welcoming the government’s recruitment campaign as a vital step towards sustainable growth. Amidst scrutiny over the feasibility of the childcare expansion plans, the DfE has committed to adjusting regulations to ensure nurseries and childminders are promptly informed of the funding rates they will receive, promising clarity by the end of February.
Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, has articulated a vision where the success of this rollout is intrinsically linked to the dedication and expertise of childcare professionals across the sector. The government’s new recruitment campaign is seen as a pivotal mechanism to support these professionals in continuing to provide the flexible and high-quality childcare that parents desperately need.
The Workers Union Says…
“As this initiative unfolds, its impact on the childcare sector, families across England, and the broader socio-economic landscape will be closely monitored. The commitment to enhancing the childcare profession not only acknowledges the invaluable contribution of these workers but also underscores a significant investment in the future of England’s children.”