Carnegie Education

Early Years Practitioners: Why 'goodwill' working alone should not be enough

Last week Tulip Siddiq MP quoted Sir Michael Marmot’s Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) worker report in parliament, asking for the Education Secretary to push for increased funding in the budget to pay Early Years staff fairly.

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Many Early Years practitioners have agreed that the sector should not be so significantly underpaid when it includes so many highly qualified and passionate experts that are left to do their jobs running on goodwill alone. Dr Sara Bonetti at the Education Policy Institute has recently explained how ‘44% of EYFS workers are benefits and tax credit recipients. These are the same people we want to be helping children from disadvantaged families do in fact come from disadvantaged families.’

Leeds Beckett first year Early Years undergraduates have found that current job advertisements in Leeds for the post of an Early Years practitioner, working between the hours of 8am and 6pm five days-a-week, where a degree is a requirement, alongside experience and a level one, two or three Early Years qualification. The post had a starting salary of £8 per hour. Within the student group, there was discussion about how some Early Years students currently working at Costa are being paid a higher rate, in a role that requires no qualifications or experience.

There is an irony that most Early Years practitioners are responsible for provision which supposedly ‘narrows the gap,’ yet are paid such low wages themselves. This irony seems completely lost on policy makers.

Many Early Years workers do a highly professional and responsible job, yet many rely on benefits. This results in many not being able to work in the sector in the long term. Therefore, making it unsustainable and arguably unethical.

Education leader and author Sue Cowley recently said: ‘I think people imagine EYFS wages are similar to teachers.  A great indicator of wages is how school leaders have to put them up for certain staff every time the minimum wage goes up.’

Demand in England for childcare is high yet the early years sector is struggling to retain qualified staff due to poor salaries, demanding workload and inadequate recognition.

Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of Early Years Alliance, remarked that ‘the first five years of a child's life are absolutely vital to their long-term development, but it is not remotely reflected in pay or recognition that professionals who support this pivotal stage of early life receive". In other words, Early Years Practitioners have to go through extensive training, work long hours, deal with increased paperwork and juggle daily challenges that working with young children bring. Yet still struggle to support living expenses on the poor pay progression and this can impact on their mental and physical health.

According to the report from the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) the number of qualified early years staff has fallen from 85% to 52% and university graduates has also fallen to 8.4% and has left the workforce to employ unqualified assistants/ apprentices which has made an increase up to 16%. These leaves a huge gap for professional to work in the industry.

To conclude, should this case of significant underpayment of EYFS practitioners continue, sector employees will be driven out by low pay and lack of professional recognition.

There is significantly more research needed in this issue. For example, Lloyd (2018) has discussed whether this low pay is linked to gender inequality given only 3% of the Early Years workforce are men. Another point she argues is that expanding the free 30-hours of childcare will be tricky as a result of a low retention rates of EYFS practitioners.

Therefore, without improving the pay and employment conditions of EYFS practitioners, the chances of creating an equal, equitable and sustainable childcare system seems remote.

Student co-authors Charlotte Ellis, Chioma Njoku, Rachel Clayton Hogg and Amira Shumari.


Gaunt, C., 2020. Low Pay Forces Early Years Workers to Quit Jobs They Love. [online] Nursery World. Available at: <> [Accessed 9 March 2020].

Lloyd, E., 2020. Underpaid And Undervalued: The Reality Of Childcare Work In The UK. [online] The Conversation. Available at: <https://www.> [Accessed 9 March 2020].