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Nurseries are breathing 'a huge sigh of relief' after being told by the childcare minister that staff with Functional Skills can go on to become Level 3 early years practitioners.
Functional Skills are to be reinstated as an alternative qualification for Level 3 early years educators, the childcare minister Caroline Dinenage announced at the Childcare Expo in London on 3 March.
In a speech, launching the Government's Early Years Workforce Strategy, the minister promised to include Functional Skills alongside GCSE grade C or above in Maths and English as requirements for the Level 3 early years' educator qualification.
The Government’s long-awaited U-turn on its previous policy (which had recognised only GCSEs), is part of its wider plans to implement a sector workforce strategy and amend the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).
The new Level 3 qualification requirements comes into force from Monday 3 April, at the same time as the new EYFS framework comes into effect.
The U-turn is in direct response to more than 4,000 views raised during a consultation last autumn.
Caroline Dinenage told attendees to the Childcare Expo: ''After carefully considering the consultation responses, I do not think that staff should be restricted to undertaking a GCSE qualification.
"Many people have asked me why it has taken so long - but it takes ever such a long time to change legislation and this has been done very quickly."
The minister's announcement was applauded by attendees at the Childcare Expo who gathered to listen to her speech.
Level 2 staff left to work in call centre
Many sector leaders believe the U-turn will help ease the sector’s recruitment crisis. Speaking from the Childcare Expo, Cheryl Hadland, the founder of Tops Day Nurseries, was in celebration mode.
“I’m ecstatic!" she said.
"As the minister was speaking, I was emailing my recruitment, telling them to look for candidates who don’t have GCSE C grades."
The former chair of the Government’s Apprenticeships Trailblazer Group, which recommended the Government scrap GCSE requirements, added: “Just this last week, I heard of two girls who got Level 2 but went to work in a call centre because they didn’t have a Maths GCSE C grade.
“I was at Havant nursery yesterday, where five people have Level 2 and couldn’t progress to Level 3 because they didn’t have the GCSEs."
Ms Hadland is now focused on “getting my staff on in-house Functional Skills courses" over the next few days.
’We don’t need Shakespeare’
“Functional Skills in numeracy, literacy and verbal communication are practical, transferable skills for the sector. We don’t need Shakespeare.
“Verbal communication (adapting how staff communicate with children, staff etc) is not in the GCSE.
“Learning Functional Skills teaches staff to work out,for example, the 3.5 sq. metres needed per baby, 2.5 sq. metres per two-year-old and 2.3 sq. metres per three-year-old.”
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said: “This change will allow the sector choice. For those wanting to progress further to early years teacher status, they will still need grade Cs in GCSE Maths, English and Science to be accepted onto a programme of study.
"For others who aim for Level 3 qualifications with Functional Skills, they will now be able to demonstrate their knowledge of supporting young children in their literacy and numeracy skills.”
'Huge sigh of relief'
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: "This change is not in any way about lowering standards in the early years, but rather, about giving talented and dedicated practitioners the opportunity to progress their careers.
"This decision will come as a huge relief to providers currently facing significant recruitment challenges, and so we welcome the fact that the Government has listened to the sector on this issue.
"This was a particularly necessary change in light of the roll-out of the 30 hours’ scheme in September, as it is critical that the sector has enough quality staff if the scheme is to have any chance of being viable."
‘More men' likely to join sector
Caroline Dinenage also spoke of plans to get more graduates into childcare settings, incentivising them to train and work in disadvantaged areas and expanding the career opportunities available to them.
She said: “This strategy is an investment in the dedicated professionals who help shape children’s earliest experiences of education."
The minister called on the sector to encourage more men to work in early years and continue to support those already doing a great job. Ms Hadland said of the u-turn: “This move will attract more men to the sector as well because they had been put off by the lack of career structure.”
Ms Dinenage's workforce strategy aims to promote early education roles through improved careers advice to attract young people to the profession.
Minister promises to review criteria for Level 2
The strategy also looks to take a fresh look at Level 2 childcare qualification requirements. It is also looking to consult on allowing those with Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS), and its predecessor Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) to lead nursery and reception classes in maintained schools.
In addition, the minister is focused on developing a qualification in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), so that staff can get recognition for these specialist skills.
Ms Tanuku welcomed a revision of the current Level 2 qualification but warned of “fresh opportunities for early years teachers in schools could be a negative development without support for the day care sector to match schools’ pay and conditions.”
30 hours: 'Nurseries can charge for extra'
Caroline Dinenage also announced revised statutory guidance had been published for local authorities and childcare providers on the Government's 30 hours free childcare scheme.
"Providers can absolutely charge for meals and additional services, as well as hours outside the free entitlements. However, this must be optional for parents, and parents must not be required to purchase a meal or take up extras in order to access a free entitlement place", the minister said.
Ending her speech, Ms Dinenage told the early years sector: "I hope you will continue to be as honest and thoughtful in your conversations with me as you have been to date. I will always be responsive to anyone who wants to engage with me."
‘Dinenage deserves real credit’
Julie Hyde, associate director of CACHE, the organisation that led the Save Our Early Years Campaign, said: “We are delighted that the Government has taken the decision to reinstate Functional Skills as an alternative qualification for Level 3 Early Years Educators - it takes leadership to change tack, and Caroline Dinenage deserves real credit for genuinely listening to the sector, hearing our concerns and changing the policy.
"There is no doubt that the GCSE-only policy has impacted on recruitment – and that is why CACHE launched the Save Our Early Years campaign.
"Reinstating Functional Skills will enable early years settings to again hire the brilliant practitioners they need, and will again allow staff to progress, and remain in the workforce. Parents and their children will directly benefit from a greater choice of high-quality care.”
To read the DfE’s Early Years' workforce strategy visit: www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-years-workforce-strategy