College investigated after complaint over Level 3 advert

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A distance-learning college is being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following a complaint that an advert on its website for a Level 3 qualification in childcare was misleading.

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Some distance learning courses are not recognised by the DfE as 'full and relevant' Level 3 qualifications

The qualification was the Children and Young People's Workforce Early Learning and Childcare Level 3 Diploma offered by Stonebridge Associated Colleges, offered in 2011.

Last year, Nursery World revealed there was confusion over the status of the same Level 3 diploma offered by Stonebridge and approved by the awarding body NCFE. We were subsequently contacted by students, nurseries and training organisations with similar stories about Level 3 childcare qualifications, on offer at other distance-learning colleges.

The courses are accredited at Level 3, but can be typically completed in just a few months, without a requirement to have any practical experience of working with children.

Crucially, these qualifications are often not recognised as 'full and relevant' by the Department for Education (DfE), which means that some students are unwittingly studying them in the belief that they will be able to apply for Level 3 posts.

The problem was highlighted by Professor Cathy Nutbrown in her review of early years qualifications, which cited 445 different qualifications, but only 223 deemed 'full and relevant'.

Joanna Doggett contacted the ASA to make the complaint against Stonebridge, after her daughter Laura found herself in this position.

Laura studied for eight months and was awarded the Level 3 diploma and a distinction, which entitles her to use the letters SAC Dip (Child Care), in August 2011.

After gaining the diploma, a job opportunity became available at a pre-school where Laura had previously done some work experience.

Joanna Doggett told Nursery World that her daughter was offered a job at the nursery where she had been working part-time, based on her work experience and the Level 3 qualification from Stonebridge. But after a couple of weeks it came to light that her qualification was not recognised.

'By rights, the nursery could have let her go,' said Ms Doggett. 'It's only down to her great passion and success in the job she does that the owner kept her on and is putting her through a recognised Level 2 course at her own expense. We are so grateful to her.'

Jessica Green, owner of Scribbles Pre-School in Tonbridge, where Laura works, said that it was only when the business adviser from Kent County Council was helping her to prepare for her Ofsted inspection that she realised that Laura was not fully qualified.

'I was going through the staff qualifications and checking them against the qualifications finder on the DfE website and realised it didn't recognise it. I had to tell Laura, who was mortified. In the space of two months she went from thinking she was a qualified Level 3 to being completely unqualified.'

A spokesperson from the ASA said, 'I can confirm that we received a complaint that an ad on the Stonebridge Associated Colleges website misleadingly implied that the course was accepted by potential employers such as nurseries. We are investigating and will publish our decision in due course.'

Fortunately, the pre-school already had a sufficient number of fully qualified staff to maintain the minimum qualification requirements of 50 per cent qualified to Level 3, and could afford to keep Laura on.

Ms Green added, 'I think it's very unfair - students pay good money for these courses, and it's unfair on providers. I support training 100 per cent. If students are being misled from the beginning it's bad for the industry. The Government is putting a huge emphasis on training and then you have this problem. It could have been a huge issue.

'I am prepared to train Laura and give her the support she needs, but if I couldn't do that she would be without a job. It has really knocked her confidence, even though she is more than capable of looking after children.'

Stonebridge Associated Colleges said, 'We are currently in contact with the ASA in relation to this complaint and have made it aware that our course description is sufficiently clear and in no way misleading.

'Unfortunately, we cannot comment further while we work with the ASA to resolve this issue.'

In a statement, the ASA said, 'It's unfair, both financially and time wise, for people to be misled into paying towards a qualification that doesn't suit their intended need.

'We don't receive many complaints about ads for online qualifications, but it's important that ads are not misleading.

'We encourage anyone who is concerned about an ad to lodge a complaint with us.'

A spokesperson for the awarding body NCFE said, 'NCFE offers a wide range of childcare qualifications that are nationally regulated and are on the Qualifications and Credit Framework.

'However, we also offer non-regulated training solutions through our Accreditation Services - the particular course referred to falls into this category. Each centre that NCFE works with for non-regulated training signs an agreement that clearly stipulates how they should market their courses in order to avoid confusion.

'Ultimately, the learner is at the heart of all we do and we want to help our learners fulfil their potential and meet their career goals.

'Therefore, if any learners are unsure about the status of their course, we would encourage them to ask their centre for the NCFE course code for the programme that they're registered on or to get in touch with us directly.

'We understand that some employment sectors require specific qualifications as part of their entry criteria and we want to help learners make the right choice for them.'

FURTHER INFORMATION FROM THE DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION

The National College for Teaching and Leadership provides a ‘qualifications finder’ tool on its website and will offer advice through its “contact us” page for potential recruits who want to check whether the qualification they intend to study for will be considered ‘full and relevant’.

The qualifications finder tool can be found here

The Sector Skills Council, Skills for Care and Development, also provides workforce/employer advice and careers information to potential recruits.
 
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) requires the National College for Teaching and Leadership to set criteria which specify the content and assessment requirements for a qualification to be considered ‘full and relevant’. Those achieving a ‘full and relevant’ qualification can be counted in the required workforce ratios as specified in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).
 
It is the role of Ofqual to maintain standards and confidence in qualifications. Ofqual regulates by recognising and monitoring organisations that deliver qualifications and assessments as set out in the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act (2009) and Education Act (2011).