While there is clarity around requirements for continuing professional development under the revised EYFS, the early years sector continues to protest that Level 2 and 3 qualifications are simply not up to scratch.
In her final report on qualifications, published in June, Professor Cathy Nutbrown was emphatic in her rejection of the move to a single qualification as a licence to practice. The report delivered a raft of recommendations designed to return to the standards of the old NNEB.
On the whole, the sector has responded positively - particularly to Professor Nutbrown's recommendations that Level 3 should be strengthened with more child development content, and that college tuition and work placements should be of a higher quality. Some people feel slightly less comfortable with her proposal that GCSE English and maths A-C grades should be required for entry to a Level 3 course and should become the sector standard.
While views are inevitably divided on the report's more controversial proposals, there is a groundswell of opinion that qualifications need to be more robust and fully support the revised EYFS.
BACK TO BASICS?
At Bright Horizons, the UK's second largest nursery group, there is a determination to tackle the perceived skills gap. The UK's second largest nursery group is currently building on the training model developed by Casterbridge Care and Education which it acquired in May, so that all of the group's nurseries will ultimately have access to an in-house training centre.
Sue Pumffrey has come to Bright Horizons from Casterbridge. She is now charged with the task of leading this ambition as director of accredited learning for the Bright Horizons Institute of Learning and Development.
Ms Pumffrey feels that the Diploma in the Children and Young People's Workforce, for example, does not deliver all-important, basic skills.
She says, 'By this I mean that practitioners are no longer taught how to mix up paint or tell a story, as current qualifications are prescriptive on policies and procedures. We have lost how qualifications used to be and we need to go back to the basic "fun and creative" element.'
Like many others, Ms Pumffrey believes this means giving learners a sounder grasp of practical skills. 'For example, practitioners need to know how to set up practical activities and follow-on activities, such as setting up the home corner, observing the children and understanding how this links to the EYFS,' she says.
'Practitioners also need to be able to work creatively around PSED and communication and language; they need skills in evaluation and observation and a strong underpinning knowledge of child development. They need to be able to identify, for example, why a child is engaged in a certain activity and why it is important to support them.'
As both a training provider and a privately owned day nursery owner, Jenn Farrell feels she is well placed to respond to the Nutbrown review's recommendations. In partnership with her husband John she owns Stone Eden Nursery School in Carlisle, and its associated training division, Stone Eden Training.
'In terms of the key 19 recommendations, there are only two that I fully agree with,' says Ms Farrell. 'These are that only settings rated outstanding or good by Ofsted should be able to host students, and that colleges and training providers can only put students in high-quality placements.'
Ms Farrell says that a deeper issue with colleges and private training companies is that the quality of delivery is often poor. 'They are motivated by completions rather than the quality of the practitioner,' she says. 'I believe that in-house training is the best way forward, as employers have a vested interest in ensuring that quality remains exceptionally high and is tailored to meet the needs of the business rather than the needs of the college or training provider.'
She adds, 'If smaller employers are unable to afford their own in-house training, this should be co-ordinated by either local groups of employers or set up in conjunction with industry associations.'
At Jace Childcare Training, which is part of the Jancett Group incorporating Jancett Day Nurseries and Playsafe Clubs, proprietor Chris Pritchard believes that apprenticeships can be an excellent route to an early years career.
She says, 'When the Level 3 Diploma follows on from the Level 2, and is taught to the right depth and all outcomes are successfully achieved, this is a good foundation for moving on to Level 4. But unless apprentices are allowed a day per week out of the workplace, they will not gain enough underpinning knowledge to give quality childcare.'
In line with this, an increasing number of nurseries are supporting apprenticeships with in-house training as a way of ensuring their workforce has the skills they want.
Kids Allowed, for example, has just opened its own training academy where apprentices work four days in its nurseries, with one day out to study for either a Level 2 or 3 qualification. This addresses what chief executive Jennie Johnson identifies as a lack of 'enough practical, hands-on, deep learning'.
At Stone Eden, (pictured) the training company works in tandem with the nursery to ensure that it maintains a flexible, adaptable, high quality and motivated workforce.
Since Stone Eden Training opened in 2007, the nursery has seen 47 work experience students from local schools coming through the setting on a day release programme that has been specially developed to blend practice and theory. Some of these students have progressed to the Modern Apprenticeship scheme, which Ms Farrell thinks is ultimately developing practitioners who are of a much higher standard than the current Level 3.
'It is a cost-effective route to deliver high quality, work-based training for both employer and employees,' she says. 'Here we also offer staff the opportunity to move on to Level 4 and potentially EYP and QTS at Level 6.'
kidsunlimited has also benefited from taking on around 30 apprentices in its London nurseries over the last couple of years. It is about to extend the scheme to its settings in and around Oxford. Young people, straight out of school, it has found, provide a vibrant source of talent.
'Essentially, we are growing our own people and we are taking them on from a wide variety of backgrounds,' says Emma Moses, a key member of the kidsunlimited Talent Development team. 'We have a very good success rate, with around 90 per cent of candidates having completed the apprenticeships and being offered a job at the end.'
The beauty of an apprenticeship, according to Ms Moses, is that it starts employees off on the right foot. 'We are not prescriptive about the precise qualities we are looking for in someone,' she says. 'We are receptive to young people in their first job and we like to give them opportunities. We start from a child-centred position, gauging whether the individual is right to work with children, rather than thinking about leadership credentials.'
Potential candidates have initial interviews with kidsunlimited and with Hawk Training, the training provider with which it works in partnership.
Ms Moses says, 'The candidate will come in and carry out a work trial and the manager will see how they are engaging with the children. We tend to find that those who are shy at the interview become more pro-active when they are interacting with the children. In this way we can really gauge their potential as an employee.'
Added value to level 3
At Bright Horizons the aim is to take its apprenticeship scheme to the next level. Sue Pumffrey says, 'After achieving Level 2 in the space of a year, candidates have another interview to go on to Level 3. Those who reach this level are very high quality practitioners, trained to a standard that reflects the quality of delivery we provide within our group.'
Bright Horizons is also going one step further than the apprenticeship framework by introducing six projects as an adjunct to the Level 3 CYPW, and these have to be completed by all candidates.
'This is a move which very much reflects Cathy Nutbrown's recommendations,' Ms Pumffrey says. 'Learners have to undertake the projects in addition to the Level 3 units to ensure we are providing them with the correct skills to be an all-round effective and professional practitioner. The projects span the key person role, parent partnerships, observation, planning and assessment, and inclusion. We've just introduced this to this year's cohort. The aim is to embed this model of approach to apprenticeships throughout.
'And we don't want to stop here. We want to develop our CPD training within the group so that we can enhance our workforce and ultimately introduce higher qualifications.'
A place for level 2
While Ms Pumffrey has a clear idea of how standards can be raised, she still feels there is a place for the Level 2 practitioner.
'Sometimes the people with the pieces of paper are not the best practitioners,' she says. 'And not everyone wants to work as a leader or in a supervisory capacity. These are still people who can make a real difference.'
Where maths and English GCSEs are lacking, Ms Pumffrey feels that the functional skills aspect of apprenticeships can plug the gap. This is a sentiment that Crawford Knott, director of Hawk Training, fully supports.
'Many talented candidates could miss out on the chance of an early years career, if GCSEs A-C are automatically required,' he says. 'Apprenticeships are currently strengthening maths and English proficiency, and in future will cease to call them functional skills.
'Some young people have negative experiences at school but flourish in a work environment. These candidates are then well placed to succeed through an apprenticeship.'
PREPARING FOR THE REVISED EYFS
Sarah Wallace, manager of Stondon Massey Pre-school in Brentwood, Essex, says the Pre-School Learning Alliance's free training for members has been effective in helping staff to gear up for the revised EYFS.
She recognises that its emphasis on safeguarding and children's rights provides staff with strong background knowledge that translates across practice
'Initially we held a staff meeting and talked about what was available. The staff were very happy to discover that they could follow the programmes at their own pace. From a management point of view, it was helpful that staff did not have to be released from the setting and that the training was entirely without cost.'
Ms Wallace says most staff have now finished the training and the rest are scheduled to complete it imminently. Mentoring has been available to help some staff, and for one individual it has been a spur to moving up to Level 3.
Ms Wallace adds, 'The training has also benefited our volunteers and it increases their chances of ultimately getting a job with the Alliance.'
The Alliance nursery has six staff and is registered for 30 children to attend each day. Ms Wallace believes that staff members need to 'walk before they can run'.
'These training courses really address the fundamental skills we need,' she says. 'Observation is key for us and practitioners need to have a thorough understanding of this - not only to carry it out effectively but to also know how to record it. It's not about sitting in the corner with a piece of paper.'
BTEC NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS
The BTEC National in Children's Play, Learning and Development (CPLD) is currently rolling out in colleges nationwide. It has been welcomed by the sector for its emphasis on child development and play.
It focuses on young children up to the age of seven, and the importance of understanding development and supporting play is at its core. The qualification is currently awaiting confirmation from the Teaching Agency that it is full and relevant.
- National Certificate suits part-time study by those taking it alongside A levels or people already working in the sector.
- National Diploma equivalent to three A levels. Carries UCAS points so is a route to higher education.
- Certificate and Diploma both require 800-hour placements to cover three different settings and working with different 0-eight age groups.
- Awards carry skills for practice logs to ensure learners acquire necessary skills.
- External and teacher-led assessment ensure rigour.
- Awards include exams to test underpinning theory and knowledge.
- Diploma made up of 840 guided learning hour core and mandatory units plus 240 GLH specialist units devised in consultation with employer groups and organisations.
- Diploma core units include Child Development, Play in Early Years Settings, and Child Protection.
- Diploma mandatory units are Research Skills, Health Education and Social Services for Children and Their Families, and Food and Meal Times in the Early Years.
- Diploma optional specialist units include Working with Children Under Three Years, Working with Children in Home-Based Care, Promoting Children's Development Outdoors, and Introduction to Working in a Montessori Setting.