EXCLUSIVE: Apprenticeship trailblazers 'bullied' over GCSEs, claim former members

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The Government ‘bullied and threatened’ the sector's trailblazer group in a row over GCSEs, two ex-members have claimed.

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Chrissy Meleady (far left) with other early years representatives and Nursery World editor Liz Roberts (centre)

The early years trailblazer group’s refusal to change its stance on the need for GCSE equivalents at Level 3 led to several threats from DfE officials that it would be sacked, its former chair has said.

The early years trailblazers were eventually sacked in February, following three years of deadlock over the issue. The government said that the group had made 'very slow progress', with only one of nine standards published.

Just two weeks later, functional skills were reinstated as alternatives to GCSEs for the Early Years Educator qualification because of a crisis in recruitment at level 3.

Chrissy Meleady told Nursery World the trailblazers had a ‘three-year battle’ over the issue. She said, ‘We held the line at the request of employers in this three-year battle to get this result …. just two weeks before the Government backtracked on the GCSEs they stood us down.

 ‘I felt we were bullied, threatened and intimidated to drop the sector employers’ requests for reasonable equivalents [to GCSEs]’.

She added, ‘I have been seeking legal advice for some time about how we were being treated and the more recent decision to stand us down.’

The Level 3 standard is the only one to be published since the group’s creation in March 2014. This had the trailblazers’ original wording ‘all reasonable equivalents’ removed by the Department for Education to leave GCSEs as the main literacy and numeracy option, in line with the policy at the time.

Another former trailblazer chair, Cheryl Hadland, said she thought the group had been ‘victimised’, adding, ‘To now blame us for their refusal to accept no to GCSEs being mandatory, with no equivalents, is no surprise given their behaviour throughout.’

Ms Hadland added, ‘Less than a week after accepting chair of the group it was made clear that the trailblazer brief did not apply to early years, instead we were expected to ratify decisions already made by the DfE.’

Carolyn Silberfeld, chair of the Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network, said the group’s work had been ‘robust’, and added ‘The trailblazers have been put in a very difficult situation by the government, with the uncertainty about GCSEs.’

An alternative trailblazer group, led by Fay Gibbin, Busy Bees’ training manager, will now review and develop the Level 3 EYE standards produced by the former trailblazers as well as developing standards at levels 5 (Early Years Senior Practitioner) and 6 (Early Years Lead Practitioner).

The group comprises 13 nurseries plus Birmingham City University and was first set up last year.

Ms Gibbin said, ‘We were always fully aware that the original trailblazer group had the rights to develop the apprenticeship standards from Level 3 through to level 6. However, following the dispersal of the group in February 2017, Busy Bees were then approached by the Department for Education to review and develop the Level 3 EYE standards, which we have now agreed.’

She added that the group was going to carry out a wider consultation with employers across the industry on the level 3 standard.

A DfE spokeswoman declined to comment on the claims of bullying. She said, ‘Quality is at the heart of our apprenticeship reforms. In recognition of that, we have approved a proposal led by Busy Bees Childcare to develop standards covering Early Years occupations.

‘The trailblazer will build on existing work on the standards, ensuring that they are up-to-date and meet the needs of the sector.’

The spokeswoman also said that standards are not necessarily needed at every level and that the new trailblazers would carry out ‘mapping work’ to identify the sector’s requirements. ‘We will be supporting the trailblazer to ensure they can make quick progress’ she added.

For more on this story, see Nursery Management, out today

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