Employers fear apprenticeship rules will force out thousands of early years students

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Thousands of early years students could drop out of the sector if entry plans for apprenticeships go ahead, nursery employers have warned.

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In an attempt to raise the standards of the early years workforce, ministers intend to make GCSE English and Maths at Grade C an entry requirement for starting an early years apprenticeship at Level 3.

But sector representatives are ‘deeply concerned’ that rather than raising standards it could lead to a mass exodus of students and fewer staff qualified at Level 3, forcing settings to take on more Level 2 staff.

Earlier this year, the DfE confirmed that from 1 August 2014 students receiving Government funding to undertake the Level 3 Early Years Educator qualification will require GCSE English and maths at grade C or above on entry. Functional skills will not be accepted as equivalent to GCSEs.

The Early Years Trailblazer Group - tasked with producing the draft standard for the early years apprenticeship - is questioning the Government’s decision to make GCSE passes in English and maths an entry requirement and said that there needed to be a longer transition period.

The group has submitted the draft standard, which will now be scrutinised by skills and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

It said there needed to be more flexibility to allow students who do not yet have these qualifications, but want to progress to Level 3, the chance to study for them alongside their vocational training and instead be allowed to show that they have achieved them at the end of their apprenticeships, rather than the start.

Group chair Cheryl Hadland said, ‘Thousands of students will complete Level 2 qualifications this summer and as employers we recognise the very real risk they will be taking by putting their career plans on hold because they do not have the relevant GCSE passes. 

‘As well as the knock-on effect for employers it may mean potential practitioners leaving the sector to follow a different path, which can offer real career progression.  In quite a short period there will be far fewer Level 3 staff in the sector so employers will be forced to have a higher percentage of Level 2 staff, the opposite to what parents, employers and the Government  want for our children. 

‘We are deeply concerned that a GCSE entry requirement will, instead of raising the level of literacy and numeracy and leading to more highly qualified professionals in the early years sector, in fact have the reverse effect.’

The strict entry requirements are also at odds with the conclusion of the Richard Review into apprenticeships, which concluded that apprenticeships should be designed and led by employers.

‘From the beginning we were told the apprenticeship framework should be employer led and as employers we know the value of vocational qualifications,’ Ms Hadland added.

‘While we all want to see a well-trained, qualified workforce for early years, there must be flexibility in how we achieve it. The sector wants to see raised levels of numeracy and literacy but people learn in different ways and we need to allow time for this transition to GCSEs.’

The early years trailblazer is one of eight groups of employers working together to design new apprenticeship standards for occupations in their sectors.

Early years is one of five sectors to be included in the second round of the BIS Trailblazers initiative, launched in March.

As part of the reforms to the apprenticeship programme - in response to the review led by Dragon's Den entrepreneur Doug Richard - BIS set up eight trailblazers, groups of employers working together to design new apprenticeship standards for occupations in their sectors.