Nursery staff leaving for better paid jobs ‘putting tins on shelves’ experts warn

The planned teachers’ strike could have “quite a serious knock-on effect” for nurseries, says a charity (John Stillwell/PA) (PA Archive)
The planned teachers’ strike could have “quite a serious knock-on effect” for nurseries, says a charity (John Stillwell/PA) (PA Archive)

Nursery workers are leaving for jobs in supermarkets, vets and dentists partly because the “emotional labour” of the job has increased since Covid, experts warned.

Children are taking longer to settle, are less able to “self-regulate” and parents are more anxious about leaving them, MPs heard.

At the same time more parents are asking for flexible childcare because they are working from home, which is undermining some businesses, experts said.

The low pay and low status of nursery and childminding work is also driving people out of the profession, early years experts told the education select committee.

Julian Grenier, head of Sheringham Nursery and Children’s Centre in Newham said people do not have the “faintest idea how difficult it is” working with young children after the pandemic.

Professor Celia Greenway, Professor in Education at the University of Birmingham, has trained 2,000 people to work in nurseries.

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

She added that the status of the job and the salary is part of the problem but added: “I often think the emotional labour aspect of early years is overlooked. “Often we are the first people a parent sees after they have had a crisis.”

Mr Grenier said: “It might seem quite simple spending your day with young children but it’s incredibly demanding. It is physically demanding, it’s emotionally demanding, it’s intellectually demanding to do this work.”

He added: “It has always been very difficult, but it is very, very difficult at the moment.

“People who aren’t working with two, three and four year olds who suffered so much during the lockdown period, whose families suffered so much, I am not sure they have got the faintest idea how difficult it is.”

He said staff in his school are offered time to talk with professionals adding: “I am not sure we could keep the show on the road if we weren’t able to meet some of the emotional needs of our staff team and give people a space for that discussion.”

Mr Grenier added that childminders he works with say it takes longer for children to settle since the pandemic, while parents are more anxious about leaving their children with someone else.

He added: “There have been significant changes in working patters and many families are now looking for more flexible options…it undermines the business of the childminder.”

Kara Jewell, a childminder and director of a nursery in Portsmouth said her nursery staff are paid £9.60 per hour. She added: “If I could pay them their worth I would be paying them in gold.

“You don’t go into early years for the money, you go into it for the children, but actually my staff would get paid more for putting a tin on a shelf.”

It comes after warnings of a crisis in childcare in London, with two children now for every childcare place available in the capital.

The drop in providers comes at the same time as the cost of childcare is spiralling.

The Evening Standard has previously revealed that parents in London are being hit with record childcare costs which are forcing many people to give up work.

Latest figures show a jump of 13 per cent over four years, to £7.30, in the average hourly cost of childcare in London for toddlers.

Similar rises were seen for other youngsters, leaving many parents having to spend a huge chunk of their wages on childcare.

All of the experts at the education committee were against increasing the ratio of children to staff, an idea championed by former Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Gemma Rolstone, Director of Quality at a nursery in Devon, said nurseries would become “nothing more than crowd control.

She added: “Two year olds are the most crucial age group so why would we take educators away from that age group, especially when they were born during covid, they are the trickiest and come with the most baggage?”