The move is a response to overwhelming pressure from the early years sector, which has faced a growing recruitment crisis over the post-2014 requirement for Level 3 Early Years Educator staff to hold GCSEs above grade C in maths and English.
The new Level 3 qualification requirements will come into force from 3 April, at the same time as the new Early Years Foundation Stage framework, also published today, will come into effect.
The minister confirmed that the Government was broadening the English and maths requirements as a direct response to more than 4,000 views aired during the consultation last November.
The Government response to the consultation found that just 4 per cent of respondents believed that the GCSE requirements had improved quality. Some 77 per cent said they had had 'significant' or 'some' difficulties with recruiting staff in the past two years, with the biggest reason given that applicants did not have the required GCSEs.
This means that nursery staff qualifying at Level 3 EYE will be allowed to count in staff:child ratios with any suitable Level 2 English and maths qualifications, including Functional Skills as well as GCSEs.
The early years minister has also launched the Early Years Workforce Strategy.
Ms Dinenage said, ‘This strategy is an investment in the dedicated professionals who help shape children’s earliest experiences of education. They are helping our youngest generation to learn and develop, so it is absolutely right that we make sure they have the right expertise. As someone who has managed my own business, I know how important it is to have people with the right skills working for you.
‘This Government is spending a record £6 billion per year by 2020 to support hard-working families with the cost of childcare. Our ambition to raise the status of the profession and spread quality around the country will mean all children get the best start to their education, regardless of where they live or their background.’
The Department for Education said that the Early Years Workforce Strategy, sets out Government plans to recruit more graduates into childcare settings, recognising their specialist skills and providing incentives for them to train and work in disadvantaged areas, expanding their career opportunities.
The DfE will also make £3m available to expand the early years teaching school grant, set up to link schools and colleges with childcare providers in disadvantaged areas, as part of the education secretary’s commitment to boost social mobility.
The Government will also hold a consultation on allowing those with Early Years Teacher Status or Early Years Professional Status to lead nursery and reception classes in maintained schools.
A qualification in special educational needs and disabilities will also be developed with experts so that teaching staff can gain recognition for these specialist skills.
The workforce strategy will also set up a panel of professionals to help develop early years career routes, as part of the Government’s Skills Plan; raise the profile of early years careers by linking providers with schools and colleges; promote early years as a career for men through new and existing networks for men in childcare.
There will also be a new online training portal and training courses funded by voluntary and community sector grants, and funding projects to bring early years professionals and schools together to share learning.
Early years organisations and campaigners celebrated the minister’s announcement to bring back recognition of functional skills.
Julie Hyde, associate director of CACHE, the organisation that led the Save Our Early Years Campaign, said, ‘We are delighted that the Government has taken the decision to reinstate Functional Skills as an alternative qualification for Level 3 Early Years Educators - it takes leadership to change tack, and Caroline Dinenage deserves real credit for genuinely listening to the sector, hearing our concerns and changing the policy.
‘There is no doubt that the GCSE-only policy has impacted on recruitment – and that is why CACHE launched the Save Our Early Years campaign.
‘Reinstating Functional Skills will enable early years settings to again hire the brilliant practitioners they need, and will again allow staff to progress, and remain in the workforce. Parents and their children will directly benefit from a greater choice of high-quality care.
We would in particular like to thank the thousands of organisations and individuals who have supported the Save Our Early Years campaign – they have been instrumental in persuading the Government to change the policy, and without them we could not have done this.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘The Alliance has long campaigned for equivalent qualifications such as functional skills to be accepted as alternatives to GCSEs and so this announcement, while overdue, is very welcome.
‘We’re clear that this change is not in any way about lowering standards in the early years, but rather, about giving talented and dedicated practitioners the opportunity to progress their careers, and it’s of course vital that we continue to work to ensure that functional skills qualifications are robust and meaningful.
‘That said, we know that this decision will come as a huge relief to providers currently facing
significant recruitment challenges, and so we welcome the fact that the government has listened to the sector on this issue.
‘This was a particularly necessary change in light of the roll-out of the 30 hours scheme in September, as it is critical that the sector has enough quality staff if the scheme is to have any chance of being viable.
‘That said, the fact remains that while this decision will go some way to supporting this policy, a sustained increase in early years funding remains vital to ensuring that the 30-hour offer is able to succeed in the long term.’
Purnima Tanuku chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said, ‘We are delighted and very relieved to hear that the Minister and the Department for Education have listened to the sector’s very real fears and are doing something about it.
‘This change will allow the sector choice. For those wanting to progress further to early years teacher status, they will still need grade Cs in GCSE maths, English and science to be accepted onto a programme of study.
‘For others who aim for level three qualifications with functional skills, they will now be able to demonstrate their knowledge of supporting young children in their literacy and numeracy skills and understanding through a more appropriate work-based route.
‘We have been campaigning for the choice of GCSEs or functional skills since 2013 and are pleased that this new measure will soon be put in place to enable the sector to move forward.’
On the Workforce Strategy, Ms Tanuku said, ‘This has been in the pipeline for many months and we are really pleased that we will begin to see it implemented. We look forward to working with the Department for Education and the sector in developing better career pathways.
‘A review of level two requirements and the introduction of local grants for language and SEND support is very good news but new opportunities for early years teachers in schools could lead to them leaving the day care sector.’
Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said, 'We are delighted that the minister has today announced the decision on GCSE requirements for Level 3 practitioners.
'Recognising functional skills qualifications as equivalent to GCSEs in Maths and English is a major step forward in helping to address the recruitment crisis facing the sector.
'PACEY has been pleased to have played a part in the cross-sector call for action on this important issue which will help ensure that talented practitioners working in the sector are able to progress and develop their skills. We will continue to raise the need to strengthen functional skills so that practitioners have the skills they need to support children’s numeracy and literacy early learning.'
Nursery owner Cheryl Hadland, founder of Tops Day Nursery, which operates 17 nurseries, said, 'It is great news that the Government has scrapped the GCSE requirements for Early Years Educators, and we thank Caroline Dinenage, the early years minister, for listening to the sector and acting on our concerns.
'It is vital that we recruit and train well-qualified early years professionals, but the GCSE requirements were becoming a barrier to the continuation of top quality childcare. They were also a threat to the Government being able to deliver its 30 hour free childcare policy as we simply wouldn’t have been able to employ enough staff to meet the increased demand.
'Early years provision is critical to a child’s development, and we now look forward to working with the Government to ensure all young children that are eligible for the 30-hours free childcare policy are able to access it and get the best start in life thanks to brilliant staff at great nurseries.'
Voice, the union for education professionals, said it supported quality and qualification standards for the profession, but they should not prevent good, experienced people from progressing their career in childcare.
Senior Professional Officer Tricia Pritchard said, 'Over-reliance on academic qualifications failed to consider how to retain the wealth of experience, talent and potential within the workforce, especially those dedicated individuals with career aspirations who lack the academic qualifications but who can ably demonstrate they have the equivalent functional skills.
'Employers, training providers and awarding bodies had flagged the issue as a barrier, not only to progression within the profession, but also to initial entry to it, adding to the recruitment and retention crisis.'