It is hoped the long-awaited strategy, which was first announced as a ‘key priority’ 13 months ago by the former childcare minister Sam Gyimah, will help tackle the current crisis in recruitment.
A spokeswoman for the Save Our Early Years campaign, which wants functional skills reinstated as an alternative to GCSEs for Level 3 childcare courses, said, ‘We heard from the Department for Education yesterday that they are working on the Government response to the [literacy and numeracy qualification requirements] consultation, which closed in December, and that it may not be published until the end of February.’
The strategy was originally expected in 2016, with early years minister Caroline Dinenage saying ‘I’m pushing to get the workforce strategy out before Christmas’ at the Nursery World Business Summit in November.
June O' Sullivan, chief executive of LEYF, wrote on Twitter in December to Ms Dinenage: ‘Where’s workforce strategy? Please make decision, recruitment crisis will close nurseries’.
Julie Hyde, associate director at CACHE – which leads the campaign, called the delay ‘extremely frustrating’.
She said, ‘The sector has been attempting to absorb this catastrophic recruitment crisis for months now, and every day that passes, that becomes harder.
‘Childcare settings, managers and staff are stuck in limbo, not able to move forward until the Government makes its long-awaited announcement.’
The lack of Level 3 staff is widely believed to have been exacerbated by the removal in 2014 of functional skills as an option for English and maths qualifications needed to complete Level 3 childcare courses. A decision on whether these will be reinstated will be announced when the strategy is published.
Analysis of Ofqual figures, produced from analysis by Nursery World and CACHE in September, showed the effect this had had, with number of students completing Level 3 childcare courses between January and March 2016 dropping by a third compared with the same period in 2015. These latter students would have started their courses before the requirement was introduced.
‘There is an immediate solution to the problem, the reinstatement of functional skills,’ said Ms Hyde. ‘[This] move is supported across the sector, including by the National Day Nurseries Association, the Pre-school Learning Alliance, LEYF and PACEY. Good literacy and numeracy are vital for early years practitioners – and alternative functional skills qualifications in these subjects provide these skills, as well as the practical soft skills so vital to be a high-quality early years practitioner.’
The Public Accounts Committee said in June that the DfE ‘does not have robust plans to make sure there are enough qualified early years staff so that providers can continue to offer high quality childcare’ and said the delivery of the 30 hours of ‘free’ childcare for parents was in jeopardy because of underfunding. Nursery owners also say that there may not be sufficient staff to deliver the 30 hours. The 30 hours will roll out in September.
The DfE was unable to confirm precisely when the strategy will be published. A spokesman said it would be ‘in due course’.