Early years apprenticeship group dismissed in GCSE deadlock

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The Government has dispensed with the Early Years Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group following a long-running stand-off over the inclusion of ‘reasonable equivalents’ to GCSE English and Maths in the new Level 3 apprenticeship standard.

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Several members of the Trailblazer Group spoke about the GCSE issue at NW's Business Summit 2015

The DfE told the group that the slow rate of progress with the standard put the group in an unsustainable position.

The employer-led group, including the Pre-school Learning Alliance, the National Day Nurseries Association, Tops Day Nurseries, Kids Allowed, Bertram Nursery Group and the Co-operative Childcare, submitted a proposal for GCSE equivalences to be allowed in November 2015 after sector-wide consultation and amid a growing recruitment crisis.

The group said that it had received no formal response, although the DfE launched a consultation on Level 3 qualification requirements in November 2016, the findings of which have not yet been released. The Government has insisted that only GCSE English and Maths could be in the standard, despite holding the consultation on whether equivalents should be accepted in response to pressure from early years employers struggling to find enough Level 3 staff.  

The group said that it could not meet the 19 January 2017 deadline to submit the standard without a response to its proposal or the consultation findings, and was told this week that it was no longer part of the Trailblazer programme.

The DfE denied that an alternative employer group has already been established to take over the apprenticeship standard work.

A DfE spokesperson said, 'Quality is at the heart of all our apprenticeship reforms. Given the very slow progress of this particular Trailblazer, the decision has been taken to terminate its work on this apprenticeship standard. We remain committed to employers developing apprenticeship standards for use in the early years sector.

'Our public consultation on the GCSE requirement for Level 3 early years educator roles received over 4,000 responses. We will respond to this, and publish our workforce strategy, shortly.

Chrissy Meleady, chair of the Early Years Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group, said, ‘It is very disappointing that we have reached this position. At all times, the Trailblazer Group has acted within its remit to develop early years apprenticeship standards that reflect employers’ views on what was needed for their workforce. The group’s proposals were in line with the sector’s views, but the lack of a Government response to our submission has led to an impasse.

‘We are not willing to let the early years sector and those employers who worked with us in good faith and trusted us to represent their voices and experiences down by endorsing a standard that we do not support.'

Cheryl Hadland, founder of Tops Day Nurseries, said, ‘Efforts to professionalise the early years workforce are welcome, but the skills required to care for and educate young children, and to communicate effectively with them and their parents or carers, are not predicated by having an English and Maths GCSE at C grades.

‘This is why the early years sector has very clearly said to the Government that GCSE requirements are a barrier to the continuation of top quality childcare.

‘It is unfortunate that the Government has not responded to the Early Years Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group suggestions of amending the GCSE requirements, and I call on the Department for Education to include our proposals in the Early Years Workforce strategy it is producing.’

Julie Hyde, CACHE associate director, said, 'It is extremely disappointing that the Early Years Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group has been asked to stand down, especially at this point in time. Trailblazer groups are specifically set up to create the standards needed by employers in the sector. The Early Years Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group has worked hard to develop the apprenticeship standard employers require and that reflects the needs of the early years workforce.

'The government’s anticipated decision to add Functional Skills as an alternative to GCSE maths and English for Early Years Educators will enable the current proposed apprenticeship standard to be accepted, reflecting the specific needs of the sector.'

A spokesperson from the Save Our Early Years campaign, which has been fighting the GCSE rule, said: 'This decision by the Government is wrong and must have no bearing on the outcome of the consultation on Level 3 Early Years Educators, which we understand the Department for Education has accepted should see the reinstatement of functional skills as an equivalent.

'The Trailblazer group was set up to reflect the views and needs of employers, and its members represented almost the entire childcare sector. That they want equivalent qualifications including functional skills reinstated is the fundamental point that the Government needs to hear and act on.'

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