So, many thousands of pre-school parents in England are ready and waiting for the Government’s 30 hours’ per week free childcare.

Our NDNA Free Childcare Survey, carried out on with Netmums, found that four in five families plan to take up extended free hours for three and four-year-olds in full, and many planned to work more hours, so would need more childcare than they do now.

Putting aside the funding issue that puts a big question mark over the sustainability of this Government flagship policy, if this is to happen, nurseries agree to increase their provision, and parents do take up more hours’ childcare, then the nursery sector needs to recruit.

Childcare providers will require thousands of extra staff members – and fast – in time for full roll-out of 30 free hours in September 2017.

But NDNA’s Workforce Survey 2015 revealed that half of nurseries are already struggling to find good candidates for their vacancies.

That’s without the forthcoming challenge of double the number of free hours for some families in the mix.

Coupled with retention trouble – staff turnover has increased to 14% – the sector is seeing widespread and wide-ranging problems with recruitment.

Childcare is a difficult, demanding job. In nurseries that must open from at least 8am to 6pm, to cover parents’ working days and commuting time, the hours are long and the pay is often low, given staff qualifications and experience.

I’m sorry to say we’re seeing situations in which people who always wanted to work in childcare and picked it as their career of choice, are leaving because they can earn more at a supermarket, offering family-friendly hours and less pressure.

Early Years Teachers are sometimes moving to school nursery settings for better pay and shorter hours.

Nurseries would love to pay their staff more but funding shortfalls constrain what they can afford.

School-leavers who are keen to make a rewarding career in the sector are now facing a different stumbling block.

Recent stipulation that new apprentices and level three childcare students must have GCSE English and maths at grade C is causing a barrier. A total of 43% of nurseries are reporting being unable to find apprentices as a result.

This is precisely why NDNA is supporting #SaveOurEarlyYears, alongside fellow childcare organisations, concerned parents and educators.

Together we are calling for one thing: a level playing field, in line with other sectors, for Functional Skills to be considered as an acceptable equivalent option to count in the ratios for Level 3 EYEs.

NDNA has long campaigned for better levels of funding for free hours, which nurseries currently have no choice but to treat as loss leaders.

But it’s clear that the area of workforce recruitment and retention – hand in hand with free hours funding – also needs the Government’s full attention.

Nurseries are keen to meet the new challenge and make the necessary space but we need the right support to be able to do it.

NDNA is engaging with the Government on its workforce strategy and we are focused on finding short and long-term solutions..

NDNA’s long-held recommendations include more flexible GCSE requirements for childcare training, greater investment to workforce development and better career progression pathways to attract candidates to the sector.

So, families are ready and eager. The nurseries want to make sure every child can get a high-quality place of their parents’ choosing.

Now the Government must work closely with the sector to make it happen.

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