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Reports Part of series: Education & Covid-19: BERA Small Grants Fund research reports

The impact of Covid-19 on early years settings & their staffing decisions

This report shares insights into how Covid-19 impacted upon on the early years workforce in England, Wales and Scotland during the first year of the pandemic, focusing on how pre-existing issues in staff recruitment, retention, qualifications and continuing professional development have been exacerbated by the crisis.

Drawing from an online survey of early years providers in the private, voluntary and independent sector, the report’s findings set out the recruitment and retention challenges that must be addressed in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Report summary

The goal of this study was to provide insight into the impact of Covid-19 on the early years workforce in England, Wales and Scotland, and to capture the evolving nature of the challenges posed over the course of a year. We – the Education Policy Institute, in collaboration with the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) – focused on issues related to recruitment and retention of staff in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sector, and on the potential consequences of the pandemic for levels of qualifications among staff and opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD).

We used existing communication channels to promote an online survey to PVI providers in August 2020, November 2020, February 2021 and May 2021.

Key findings to date

  • Settings have faced considerable disruption, including repeated closures (full or partial) as well as lower attendance rates of children.
  • Early years settings have relied heavily on the government’s furlough scheme.
  • Early years workers who held lower levels of qualifications were more likely than others to be made redundant between March and November 2020. Along with staff with less experience, staff with lower qualifications were also more likely to be selected by settings when those settings were asked to choose who they would make redundant or whose hours they would reduce in a hypothetical situation.
  • While most settings appear to have continued to offer CPD to their staff, a small minority have not. Of those settings that have offered CPD to their staff, a minority have offered only training that is mandatory: most have offered training over and above this.
  • Settings report that there are insufficient opportunities available to access training on supporting children with special educational needs, and on trauma and bereavement.


Profile picture of Sara Bonetti
Sara Bonetti, Dr

Director of Early Years at National Day Nursery Association

Sara Bonetti joined the Education Policy Institute in July 2017 after completing a doctorate in Educational Leadership with a focus on early childhood education at Mills College in Oakland, California. She spent a decade working in the early...

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Joshua Cottell

Senior Researcher at Education Policy Institute

Joshua Cottell recently joined Centre for London after working at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), where he was a senior researcher in the early years team. At EPI he worked on a range of projects, including working in collaboration with the...