Hobson’s Choice for the Early Years means No Choice at all!

May 12th 2023

Things continue to be difficult for the sector, and we seem to have few choices as to how we resolve the issues which all revolve around the recruitment situation. I refuse to call it a crisis because a crisis has a peak; we have no peak but an unending Table Mountain of staff shortages.


What are our choices? Let me list them for you: 

  1. Close up shop because it is just not worth the effort. Clearly some people are making that decision as the numbers of closures continue to increase, particularly in areas of disadvantage and childminders’ numbers are decimated.

  2. Merge with other bigger settings, especially given the drop in the birth rate in many places including London.
  3. Move out of our areas and operate only in areas where there are staff – in a recent report by EYA I noticed over 70% were struggling with staffing but that means out there somewhere we have up to 30% of settings with staff…let’s find them.
  4. Reduce the proportion of qualified to unqualified staff from the currently regulatory 55%.
  5. Travel overseas to recruit staff. We have just recruited our first cohort of Australian staff and I hear other settings are going to South Africa where there is 35% unemployment amongst teachers.
  6. Continue to push the Migration Committee to ensure that early years is on their essential category.
  7. Request Ofsted to inspect Staff Agencies and the level of training they offer to prepare their staff for the realities of a setting.
  8. None of the above.


What will you do? 

None of these choices are easy or palatable and none are failsafe. There is a Jing for every Jang! 

We have already approached the Department for Education about some flex on how we delegate staff throughout the day so we don’t always have to have qualified staff on duty.  Instead, we have the freedom to delegate the staff members we think are most suited, but that has big risks – for example settings never having enough qualified staff and running their service with a team of unqualified staff. We know from all the research that qualified staff and, better still, graduate staff are associated with stronger pedagogical practice which is best for children. To make changes they will need to change the law so watch out for a consultation. 

There is talk about Core Hours during which qualified staff lead the nursery curriculum, but that challenges our understanding of how children learn and the whole premise of Early Years pedagogy where every moment is a teaching moment and education and care are totally integrated. It also puts children accessing funded-only hours at risk because they may not access the core hours. It happens now where funded children are slotted into gaps or in a separate part of the settings described as the “Funded Hours” section. 

We are all fed up with paying agency staff because they have a qualification, and we need them on site for compliance.  Yet some are very disengaged and inexperienced, therefore:

  • Do we get agencies to train their staff to a basic level so they come prepared and willing to jump right in?

  • Do we make a bigger effort to collaborate with schools which are also experiencing similar challenges?

  • Could we provide more services in schools but not so we are seen as a source of rent?

  • Do we need an Institute of Early Years to raise our profile as a professional group?
  • Do we sit this out and hope we can solve it by creative recruitment campaigns and ramping up our apprenticeship programmes?  


What do you think?  I would love to know!