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GCSE entry requirements creating an early years recruitment crisis

Article By: Ellie Spanswick, News Editor

There has been a worrying decline in the number of people in enrolled in Level 3 Early Years Educator (EYE) courses, research conducted by Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) has revealed.

Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of further education colleges who participated in the study reported a decline in the number of people enrolled in Level 3 EYE courses this year (2015-16) compared to last year (2014-15). More than half of colleges surveyed (56 per cent) reported that enrolments had decreased a lot.

Changes to GCSE requirements have been highlighted as main factor in the decline, with 94 per cent of survey respondents saying that if functional skills equivalents in Maths and English were allowed in place of GCSEs, more Level 2 learners would go on to complete Level 3.

Chief executive, Liz Bayram of PACEY comments: “This research has reinforced the key challenges that the sector is facing – and it is clear that urgent action is needed. Now that the Childcare Minister has agreed to review the GCSE requirements at Level 3, PACEY will be keen to ensure the review recognises the important role robust, improved functional skills qualifications can play as equivalent to GCSEs in Maths and English, just as they are for other professions.

“We also need to face the reality that there is a failure in the schools system to support individuals to achieve these GCSEs whilst they are at school. It is vastly unfair if children are being failed at school and then punished again as they try to forge themselves a career in the early years.”

A catastrophe for the sector

Further education college leaders in England were invited to submit their views on GCSE requirements and sector-wide recruitment issues. 75 responses were received and highlighted a need for a functional skills equivalent to counteract the decline in early years professionals.

A leader of a college in the Midlands described the GCSE requirements as ‘ridiculous’. They said: “Some students do not do well under the GCSE exam format. It does not mean they cannot perform well in English and Maths when assessed differently. Currently, we are turning away potentially excellent practitioners because they cannot do well in an exam hall. It is ridiculous.”

The study highlighted that 90 per cent of colleges in England think that more Level 3 learners would gain EYE status if there was a functional skills equivalent in Maths and English, in place of GCSEs.

More than half of respondents (57 per cent) predict that fewer Level 3 learners will successfully complete the EYE course and receive EYE status this year (2015-16) compared to those who successfully complete the course last year (2014-15).

Furthermore, survey participants raised concerns about challenges that learners face in achieving Maths and English GCSEs, revealing that students who are ‘exceptional with children’ are leaving the professional because of the strict GCSE requirements. Some raised concerns over the difficulty in achieving a grade C in English when English is a second language, while others said the complexity of GCSE Maths was a barrier to progression.

Almost three quarters of respondents said they were personally in favour of scrapping the GCSE requirement in Maths and English in favour of functional skills equivalents for learners aiming to gain Level 3 EYE status.

The survey also highlighted the negative perceptions around working in early years, with almost half of respondents (49 per cent) revealing that they thought that a career in early years is viewed as a less attractive career option today, that it was in the past.

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has voiced concerns over GCSE entry requirements for apprentices in childcare, saying that 'there is no way through’ for many good recruits.

'Not enough Level 3 candidates'

Recently, director of quality and workforce development at the (NDNA) Stella Ziolkowski, gave evidence to the House of Commons sub-committee on education, skills and the economy, as part of an apprenticeships enquiry.

Ms Ziolkowski said: “For those wishing to enter early years as a career, apprenticeships have been the best route.

“But the introduction of maths and English GCSE at grade C or above as a requirement means employers and training providers are reluctant to take on learners who do not hold those GCSEs.

“For many childcare practitioners in the sector at Level 2 wanting to progress to Level 3, or looking to get into early years as a career, there is no way through.

“In today’s debate on school readiness in Westminster Hall, it was highlighted that universities are removing Early Years Teacher programmes due to a lack of candidates. This is also a good indication that we are not getting enough Level 3 candidates through to progress to being Early Years teachers.”

While earlier this month it was revealed that hundreds of 'ineffective' childcare courses are being scrapped, with new courses having a core of English, Maths and digital skills.

The NDNA is campaigning for functional equivalents to GCSEs to be accepted at least until a greater number of school leavers attain GCSE maths and English at grade C or above, currently just 58 per cent.

Referring to the NDNA’s most recent workforce survey, Ms Ziolkowski highlighted the significant drop of around 70 per cent, in the number of students signing up to Level 3 qualifications and lower take-up of Early Years Teacher qualifications at universities.

'Barring potentially outstanding practioners'

At the NDNA’s conference on 1 July, Childcare Minister, Sam Gyimah announced his commitment to a review of the GCSE requirements at Level 3.

He said: “I have heard the concerns from significant parts of the sector for swift action to remove the GCSE requirement and I want to ensure you that I will be revisiting the options on how to make sure the sector has both the right number of staff and the right quality of staff to deliver 30 hours alongside the workforce strategy.”

CACHE, the organisation behind the Save Our Early Years campaign is calling for the Government to accept Functional Skills as GCSE equivalent qualifications for Level 3 Early Years Educators.

Writing for in June 2016, executive director of CACHE Julie Hyde raised concerns over the Government’s changes to GCSE requirements. Commenting on the PACEY’s new report, Ms Hyde said: “These figures are further compelling evidence that the Government’s decision has caused a recruitment crisis in the early years sector. By only accepting GCSEs for Level 3 Early Years Educators, the Government is barring potentially outstanding childcare practitioners. This is catastrophic for the sector, for nurseries up and down the country, and for parents who will be short of high-quality provision for their children.

“We need the Government to work with us so we can attract more practitioners into the sector, not deter them. We are pleased that the Government has announced it is reviewing the GCSE-only policy and it deserves real credit for listening to the sector. But the review will be of no use unless the policy is reversed, for September – any later will be too late. Childcare is the only sector where Functional Skills are not accepted within the apprenticeship framework, so we simply want a level playing field for our sector.”


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