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Nurseries hopeful of U-turn on GCSE requirement after minister's comments

Article By: Angeline Albert, News Editor

Nurseries and leaders of the early years sector have been cheered by the childcare minister’s view that exam grades "are not the only proof of quality" - an admission she made when asked about GCSE requirements for early years practitioners.

Childcare minister Caroline Dinenage with pupils at Leesland Junior School

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 in English and Maths (so called essential ‘soft skills’) had been accepted as an alternative to GCSEs. Recruitment difficulties have increased in early years settings as a result of the Government’s requirement, but leaders in the sector have warmly welcomed Caroline Dinenage's pledge to review the requirement.

An interview with, revealed the minister's promise: “I have committed to looking at the GCSE requirement and I’ll be seeking input from the sector on this shortly".

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance is among those calling for a reversal of the GCSE requirement, which would see Functional Skills accepted as an alternative. Neil Leitch, said: “It is encouraging to see that Ms Dinenage is so enthusiastic about her new role. Her acknowledgement that quality in the early years means more than just good academic achievements is very much welcome.

“We hope that, in light of this, the minister will look to review and reverse the Level 3 GCSE requirement, which is having such a detrimental impact on recruitment in the sector, as soon as possible.” The early years sector and the general public have voted overwhelmingly for the Government to reinstate Functional Skills. Some 92 per cent voted for reinstatement out of more than 1,000 people who responded (as of 10 October) to the poll question: ‘Should the Government reinstate Functional Skills as an alternative to GCSE English and maths for Level 3 nursery practitioners?’.

'Prompt action'

Responding to the minister's comments, Claire Schofield, director of policy, membership and communications at National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said: "As well as facing financial uncertainty linked with more funded hours, nurseries are also facing a recruitment crisis due to rules on GCSE requirements for level three childcare students.

“Far fewer people are coming through at level three, the sector’s ‘industry standard’, making it very hard for employers to fill vacancies.

“We’re pleased the Minister says she is looking at this issue and would urge prompt action to allay the sector’s fears.

"Many nurseries are struggling to deliver 15 hours as things stand and the danger is now that they will be unable to deliver 30 funded hours all together. That could mean that families looking for a place to take up their entitlement will have very limited choice.”

On the subject of the minister’s comment that getting 30 hours right is the ‘biggest ask’ Ms Dinenage faces in her role, Ms Schofield said: “The Minister is right to talk about 30 hours as the sector’s biggest challenge and we’ve widely shared the PVI nursery sector’s disappointment on the provisional funding levels being offered to providers to deliver it.”

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) said: “PACEY have been very involved in the Save our Early Years campaign to raise concerns about how the GCSE issue is causing a recruitment crisis in the early years.

“PACEY and its members are keen to work with Caroline Dinenage on the implementation of the extension to the free early education entitlement; the development of a workforce strategy and much more.

Ms Bayram added: “All children benefit from high quality early education and it is vital the planned extension of free entitlement to 30 hours a week for working families does not place at risk the huge improvement in quality our sector has achieved in recent years.”


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