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Should the Government reinstate Functional Skills as an alternative to GCSE English and maths for Level 3 nursery practitioners?


Julie Hyde, executive director, CACHE (Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education)

Nikki Palmer, assistant head of Early Years education at City of Wolverhampton College

Poll: Should the Government reinstate Functional Skills as an alternative to GCSE English and maths for Level 3 nursery practitioners?



To view the results of the poll, you need to vote!

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.

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.

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.

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.

This sector has excellent 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!

When this first came out I strongly agreed that functional skills qualifications were a better alternative for the work that early years 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 (Children’s Care, Learning and Development).

I want to strive for a better qualified workforce not a less qualified one.


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