DfE unable to clarify contradictory GCSE rules for apprentices

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The DfE has been unable to say why it published the early years employers apprenticeship standard and then imposed its own contradictory qualifications requirements.

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Last week, the Level 3 early years standard was published saying: 'Employers who recruit candidates without English and maths GCSE at Grade C or above… must ensure that the candidate achieves this standard prior to the completion of the apprenticeship.' 

But on the same day, the National College for Teaching and Leadership confirmed that these rules will only be in place for funded learners until August 2015 when the rules will change.

Asked why the standard was published with an exit requirement if this is only going to last for a year, a spokesman said, ‘We are raising the standard of our Early Years Educators, who are responsible for leading nurseries and educating and caring for young children, by requiring them to have at least a C in GCSE English and Maths.’

Self-funded apprentices will be able to complete the relevant GCSE qualifications by the end of their course after August 2015, but Government funding will be not be available to those who don’t have them when starting an apprenticeship after this date.

The spokesman acknowledged that the year-long reprieve on GCSE entry requirements for apprenticeships was won by pressure from employers.

 ‘We have listened to the sector's concerns and concluded that a phased approach would be helpful. Allowing early years apprentices to get their literacy and numeracy qualification while training is an interim arrangement until August 2015,’ he said.

 ‘After next August, they will have to achieve these minimum grades before they start their course’.

This puts paid to assumptions by some parts of the sector that the entry requirement is to be ‘reviewed’ after the first year.

The DfE and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which leads on apprenticeships, are both involved approving the entry requirements, but DfE is known to have a more stringent position on entry requirements than BIS.

Under the new standard, it will be possible for someone to start an apprenticeship with an equivalent qualification to the GCSE grade C or above in maths and English.

Functional skills, which were once in the list of equivalencies, have now been removed.

The list of GCSE equivalencies is now:

• UK recognised predecessor qualifications: ‘O’ level A – C or CSE Grade 1

• Recognised Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh equivalents

• AS and A/2 levels

• Accredited iGCSEs which count towards the English Baccalaureate

• International qualifications defined by UK NARIC[1] as meeting GCSE A*-C.

The separate, interim framework, which will be used from September until the new apprenticeship standard becomes operational in 2015, is to be issued ‘shortly’, according to the DfE spokesman. It is understood that functional skills (which were an exit requirement under this framework) have also been removed as an equivalency to GCSEs, though this has not yet been confirmed by DfE.