Owners and managers of children’s nurseries in Oxfordshire have been urged to embrace apprenticeships or face being badly hit by the recruitment crisis gripping the early years sector.

Research shows that nurseries and other early years settings in most towns and cities in the UK have at least one apprentice, but Oxfordshire is below that national average.

Recent research from the Education and Skills Funding Agency shows that the 402 early years settings in the county had just 219 apprentices in 2020-21.

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Karen Derbyshire, head of early years at training provider Realise, said: “It’s no secret that the early years sector as a whole has faced difficulties both recruiting and retaining staff in recent years.

"There are a number of reasons for that including Brexit, the pandemic and staff moving out of the sector to what are perceived to be better paid industries.”

She added: “One tried and tested way for early years settings to address these issues are apprenticeships.

“We work with a number of nurseries across the country where apprentices have been a lifeline and used as an opportunity to not only train new staff but also upskill existing employees to aid with their career development.

“It is worrying that Oxfordshire nurseries are lagging behind when it comes to embracing apprenticeships as it can make a huge difference when it comes to the development of existing staff and encouraging new talent into the industry.

“Not having at least one apprentice amongst their staff means a fantastic opportunity to future-proof a nursery is potentially being missed.”

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Government figures show there was a decline of more than 300 nurseries in England in the 12 months from July 2020, while the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has warned that nurseries across the UK are being forced to close or reduce their services at an alarming rate.

Ms Derbyshire said: “As well as aiding recruitment, there are numerous benefits to establishing an apprenticeship programme.

“Government support schemes means it is financially beneficial for employers to recruit apprentices, with up to 95 per cent of the programme being funded, while learners are also getting paid while training.

“Apprenticeship programmes also ensure staff employed who are new to the early years sector can be trained on a programme that enables the culture and requirements of the setting they are working for to be built into the curriculum.

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“I would urge all nurseries in Oxfordshire to strongly consider engaging in an apprenticeship programme to help address the recruitment issues facing the sector.”

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This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Andy.ffrench@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailAndyF