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Government must reverse qualifications policy that is 'decimating early years sector'

Article By: Julie Hyde, Executive Director, CACHE

In 2014 the Government changed the requirements so that all Level 3 Early Years Educators (EYEs) must have at least a C grade in GCSE English and in GCSE maths to count in the ratios. Before this, Functional Skills had been accepted as an equivalent or alternative to GCSEs.

Julie Hyde, Executive Director, CACHE

We agree that English and maths are important for the childcare workforce - but Functional Skills in English and maths also provide staff with essential soft skills and must be accepted as an alternative for Level 3 EYEs.

The workforce has already reported concerns in recruitment – just two years following the introduction of this statutory requirement.

This is alarming and impacts significantly on any investment in the early years care and education of children.

Other sectors have functional skills as an accepted equivalent qualification and the early years sector should have parity.

Enormous decrease in level 3 recruits

As already identified there has been an enormous decrease in numbers of level three recruits since September 2014 and whilst it is crucial to continue to raise the status of the early years workforce, one must question the insistence of GCSEs here.

The changes experienced by the sector as a result of the National College Teaching and Leadership full and relevant criteria must surely be considered as sufficient to raise and maintain quality when accompanied by a Level 2 qualification in literacy and numeracy.

It is about transferring these skills into emergent literacy and emergent numeracy that then becomes the important factor, and one which, when undertaken skilfully, contributes to the child’s future disposition to learning.

Let’s look at one fact: A total of 43 per cent of nurseries are reporting being unable to find apprentices as a result of the GCSE requirement.

We know if this issue is not addressed, we will not be able to provide the workforce required to provide the places for the 30 hours free childcare regardless of further financial support from the Government or indeed contribute fully to the target for apprenticeship starts. In addition, the skills shortage vacancies create additional pressure on settings.

We need more flexible Maths and English requirements for childcare training, greater investment for workforce development and better career progression pathways to attract learners to the sector.

If ever a policy was designed to decimate a sector, this is it

And this is hard to rationalise as more than 80 per cent of early years settings are performing well according to Ofsted feedback - so why is this not a question of sustainability rather than experimentation and insistence with policy that is simply detached from the real issues?

We support the Save Our Early Years campaign. Our sector has to be heard.

There have been 1,368 individual letters sent to Nicky Morgan, and more than 1,200 sent to respective MPs by their constituents. There has been support from across the sector:

• From membership organisations including Pre-school Learning Alliance, NDNA, PACEY and AELP

• From nursery groups including Montessori, Busy Bees and London Early Years Foundation

• From colleges including: North Liverpool Community College and Stamford College

• From training organisations including Access, Hawk, TQ and Skills First

• From unions including Voice

• From politicians including Julie Cooper (Labour MP for Burnley), Nick Small (Liverpool Assistant Mayor and Cabinet Member for Education, Employment & Skills), and Labour shadow ministers Sharon Hodgson and Nic Dakin

• From parents – with a ComRes poll finding that 72 per cent parents agree that qualifications in English and maths that also equip learners with practical skills in these areas should be accepted as an alternative to GCSEs for Level 3 Early Years Educators

Thousands of messages on Twitter, with 219,000 page impressions.

'One size does not fit all'

We are a workforce that recognises “one size does not fit all”; we encourage children’s learning and development and support children to thrive. We must do the same for the young people we train as Early Years Educators.

More Great Childcare stated 'it is our aspiration that over time, group childcare will increasingly be delivered by Early Years Teachers and Early Years Educators'. Yet the University of Winchester and Leeds Beckett University have dropped their provision for early years teacher status (EYTS) from September 2016. There is a need for a more coherent career pathway for Early Years with equitable teaching status! We must also be mindful of the rich diverse settings that provide opportunities for babies and young children and how the early years teacher will be supported in the private sector.

To raise the status and the quality of the workforce we must remember our purpose; meeting the holistic needs of children and families and embedding the prime areas of learning and development. The widening gaps between educational attainment and social disadvantage must continue to be challenged through an engaged, motivated and effective workforce through meaningful and relevant policy.

Four-fifths of early years provision Good or Outstanding

Parents can choose between private, voluntary, independent and public nursery and pre-school provision or a home-based setting with a childminder. The latest Ofsted annual report celebrated how more than 80 per cent of each of these types of provision is now good or outstanding.

Eighty per cent of this provision is good or outstanding. This is fantastic as all of these practitioners qualified prior to the introduction of the maths and English entry requirement on the 1st September 2014.

CACHE work closely with many organisations to ensure our learners are; competent and confident in skills and knowledge, they are mentally resilient in order to cope with stressful work patterns, well-prepared for the sectors they work within, have developed team-working and communication skills, feel safe, worthwhile, well-prepared for job interviews, in short, they are equipped to be employed.

This sector has fantastic practitioners. Adding functional skills in numeracy and literacy to the NCTL’s list of equivalent qualifications will remove this barrier; will enable progression for young people, recruitment for settings, provide childcare places for families and allow the future of our children to flourish in the early years. It is time to reflect and think again, children deserve better!

To have your say in a debate on this issue, go to


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Simon Holmes

18 Jun 2016 11:58 PM

Julie Hyde is absolutely correct here. The Government made a mess of this by, from what I can see, misinterpreting the research they initially undertook. My wife is late 30s, has 9 GCSEs from A to C, went to College, went to University and then worked in the Finance industry (Pensions) before taking time out to raise our two young children. She is also very creative and a good artist, something equally overlooked by our narrow minded politicians (namely Truss and Gove, now fortunately elsewhere away from the education area!). My wife now wishes to return to work and would love to work in childcare, yet the one and only GCSE she scored a D in was Maths. Given this was over 20 years ago, and has since worked in a Finance sector doing complicated calculations, it's a mockery that she can't be counted in level 3 ratios, yet someone with just 2 C Grade GCSEs in Maths and English, and potentially nothing else whatsoever, can count. It's putting off not just my wife but a number of people we know, some of them Graduates with high quality education. What they should do is either reinstate Functional skills or bring in a relatively complex Maths test as part of the level 3 Diploma course. There is hope they might change this ruling. They need to and quickly as the play schools in our area are struggling now.

Nikki Palmer

Nikki Palmer

09 Jun 2016 4:35 PM

Although when this first came out I agreed with the concerns expressed in this article and strongly agreed that functional skills qualifications were a better alternative for the work that Early Year’s professionals actually do, I’m now not so sure. What worries me more than anything is the increase in practitioners opting for apprenticeships. Although I have always believed that every practitioner needs to gain their licence to practice through very structured and assessed work placements, I worry that the academic side is being forgotten. As a teacher on the foundation degree programme for Early Years services I see practitioners who have the ability to work with children on a basic level but who lack the full understanding of how children learn effectively and how to use this knowledge to enable them to provide the best possible outcomes for children and their family. Does this mean that GCSE qualifications are better for this; I don’t really consider that to be the case but what I do hope that what this does is to maintain the higher level of academic ability gained through higher level qualifications. We cannot afford for the professional standing of our workforce to be any less respected than it already is, especially when our pay scales are often less than people who have to gain no qualifications to do the job they do. If we want to see an improvement in our educational standards we need to maintain our focus on increasing the level and quality of the qualifications that our practitioners complete, it’s a crying shame that we have lost the old BTEC National Diploma CCLD. I want to strive for a better qualified workforce not a less qualified one.