There are many challenges facing the early years sector – can technology help?
From underfunding to staff attraction and retention, there are many pertinent issues which have been affecting the health of the early years sector for a long time. And as we look ahead to the next year and beyond, many of these challenges are not only still present but they have been exacerbated and are now at breaking point.
Can technology go some way in helping these issues?
Our CEO and founder, Chris Reid, recently explored the state of the sector and shared his thoughts with NMT. If you missed the original article, catch up here…
The current early years landscape
Of course, no big change can happen overnight, but the sector has been pleading with the Government about underfunding and additional support for many years, and nothing seems to truly alter for the better.
According to a recent Cairneagle survey, staff recruitment and retention remain the number one issues, and there are many reasons at play as to why this is – one of which loops back to the wider sector underfunding problem.
Further to this, there is the cost-of-living crisis and perception of the sector to consider too. It is no secret that early years professionals are paid less, in comparison to their contemporaries in mainstream education – and this should not be the case.
But this is something only the Government can change and drive forward.
We know that the underfunding of ‘free’ childcare means that nursery providers are paid less by the Government than the cost that is needed for delivery, but as a result, this means providers have little – if not zero – ability to increase wages to remain competitive. This point is further compounded by the current staff-child ratios, which are under review.
By changing the ratio from 1:4 to 1:5, policymakers estimate this to save parents circa £40 per week on childcare fees. But there is still no additional revenue for educators’ wage increases, so a stark problem remains at large.
This domino effect then impacts how the sector is viewed.
If the Government treats early years as a low-paid profession and one which solely enables parents to work, it is fuelling this unfavourable perception among society.
Practitioners are incorrectly pigeonholed, and instead their profile as early years educators needs to be widely understood and appreciated. This would, in turn, aid recruitment and provide a higher-paid entry point into the industry.
The recent ‘The First Five Years Count’ campaign – launched by NDNA – also echoes this same messaging of celebrating the early years sector and all that it does, as well as bettering the perception of the early years workforce as educators of young children.
Can technology really help combat these issues?
The quick and easy answer is ‘no’. Technology alone cannot solve the longstanding challenges the sector is facing – but ‘alone’ is the operative word here.
What technology can do is help to alleviate some of the burden placed on childcare professionals – whether that be too much time spent on admin, worrying about whether data is safe and secure, wondering whether parents receive enough dialogue, or managing cost visibility, to name a few areas.
Nursery management software works to centralise a setting’s child records, learning journals, parent communications, financial invoicing and reporting, enquiries, staff ratios, registers, informed assessments, and more.
Therefore, it can go some way to ‘giving back’ time to nursery employees – enabling practitioners to spend more time developing the children in their care, and managers more time developing the staff in theirs.
There is also more headspace and accurate data reporting for managers, helping them make informed decisions for the future of their business.
It can also be argued that being able to digitise and automate lengthy paperwork tasks helps with job satisfaction and fulfilment too. That is not to say that technology can remedy the dissatisfaction with government underfunding and low-pay, but it can provide more time for staff to do what they are most passionate about, developing children and positively shaping the future of the sector.
So, what’s next?
Governmental action, undoubtedly, needs to be taken where staffing, underfunding, and sector reprofiling are concerned. Without adequate funding, more staff will leave the sector, leading to settings having to close rooms due to understaffing or shut completely.
This is evidenced within Cairneagle’s survey which reveals that over half of the 61 respondents have had to close rooms or reduce hours in recent months.
While technology works to support educators, the wider issues will never be truly fixed unless the Government reinvents childcare as a profession and its childcare strategy stops contradicting itself.