More nurseries and childminders likely to close due to cost pressures, MPs told

More nurseries and childminders are likely to close their doors due to cost pressures and staff shortages, childcare leaders have warned.

Childminders and nursery staff are leaving the sector as the “emotional” demands of the job are taking their toll, MPs heard.

Leaders of childcare providers told the Commons Education Select Committee that families are already “missing out” on childcare places due to closures of early years settings – and they warned the situation could get worse in the years to come as a result of funding pressures.

It comes as Ofsted figures, published in November last year, show that the number of childcare providers in England registered with the watchdog fell by 5,400 in the year to August 2022.

Changes in working patterns following the pandemic – as well as a desire to keep costs down – have led to parents looking for “more flexible options” for childcare, which has affected some early years settings, MPs were told.

Gemma Rolstone, director of quality at Puffins Childcare in Devon, told MPs: “I think a lot of those really important small providers who do give an awful lot more than the basics will close and it will be filled in other ways that may not necessarily be the best for children and families.”

The Government’s proposals to ease childcare staffing ratios in nurseries in England would lead to even more staff leaving the profession as it would become “crowd control and nothing more”, Ms Rolstone warned.

She said: “I think it’s probably better if you heard from my staff about the change in ratio, and that is that they would all leave the sector if the ratios were increased because they’re already stretched.

“There’s already a huge emotional toil on it.”

The Department for Education (DfE) ran a consultation, which closed in September last year, on proposals to change the early years staff-per-child ratio in England from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds.

Childminder Kara Jewell, who opened Sparkle Lodge Early Years nursery in Portsmouth last year, warned MPs on Tuesday that the situation around childcare settings closing is “going to get bleaker” due to funding rates.

She said: “There are a number of childminders locally who have closed. There are a number of families who have no childcare provision and I’ve done it because I feel it’s fair for the children. The children are missing out.

“It is not a good time to be opening a nursery and in fact there have been no profits in my nursery. I haven’t taken a wage myself. I have run that nursery from pretty much six in the morning until 10 at night because there are families out there who need the placement.”

MPs on the Education Committee heard that low salaries and high workload pressures were driving staff out of the early years sector as they can earn more stacking shelves in shops than caring for children.

Ms Jewell said: “My staff are paid £9.60 which, trust me, if I could pay them their worth I would be paying them in gold. They work all day. They do not go home and close off from this job. They go home carrying children, carrying families.

“We’ve had parents diagnosed with cancer recently. We’ve got children who are at risk. We’ve had children removed from families. We’ve got so many children that we have met and all of that for minimum wage.”

She added: “My staff would get paid more for putting a tin on a shelf.”

Celia Greenway, deputy pro-vice chancellor and professor in education (early years and child development lead at the University of Birmingham, told MPs: “Over the last 20 years I’ve trained around 2,000 people to be nursery practitioners or nursery teachers.

“Actually I don’t find it hard to keep in touch with them because I see them in local retail. I see them in shops, I see them in vets, I see them as dentist assistants. I don’t see them in the nurseries that I visit.”

Professor Greenway said low pay and a lack of status for the profession were some of the reasons why staff leave the sector, but she said the “emotional labour aspect” of the job is often “overlooked”.

“Often we are the first people that a parent sees after they’ve had a crisis,” she added.

Julian Grenier, headteacher at Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre in East London, said the pandemic had made the job harder for staff.

He told MPs: “It’s always been very difficult but it’s very, very difficult at the moment.

“I think people who aren’t working with two, three, four-year-olds, for example, who suffered so much during the lockdown period, whose families suffered so much, I’m not sure they’ve got the faintest idea how difficult it is.”

Mr Grenier added that childminders are “really struggling” as many families are looking for greater flexibility due to cost pressures.

He said: “There’s been significant changes in working patterns and many families now looking for more flexible options, bringing other family members in, they can’t afford it. But that undermines the business of the childminder.”

Ms Rolstone agreed that the “changing landscape of the workforce market” had contributed to closures of childcare providers.

She said: “Families are looking for cheaper options by doing shared childcare or balancing it with other things and that does have an impact.

“If people want to work part-time then they will try and have a longer weekend, so in nurseries often we are full in the middle of the week and then under capacity at the beginning and end of the week.”