Nursery Management: Training - Under one roof

Charlotte Goddard
Monday, March 21, 2016

Settings are trying to GCSE-proof future staff via bespoke training. Charlotte Goddard investigates

Childcare has always been associated with a high staff turnover. Last year, a survey from the Government’s apprentice ‘trailblazer’ group found more evidence to back the stream of anecdotes that early years recruitment is less than healthy, because GCSE requirements for Level 3 childcare courses are forcing yet more practitioners out of the profession.

Taken last November, the survey found a third of settings had at least two Level 2 employees leave over the previous year, with 58 per cent saying this was because they didn’t think they would be able to achieve the requisite English and maths GCSEs to progress to Level 3. It also found that 29 per cent of managers said their Level 3 vacancies had remained unfilled for at least six months. This comes on top of awarding body CACHE saying that registrations for Level 3 courses dropped by a massive 44 per cent between 2013-14 and 2014-15.

This September will herald the arrival of the first Early Years Educators. Beverley Capewell, area manager at The Co-operative Childcare, says, ‘The sector is predicting a recruitment crisis in September this year when the first cohort of EYEs are coming out of college. Further education colleges were our bread and butter in terms of where early years practitioners were coming from, but colleges are reluctant to risk taking on students who don’t have English or maths on a Level 3 course.’ The employer currently has more than 100 apprentices, most at Level 3, around half of whom need both English and maths GCSE to count in the legal staff:child ratio.

In partnership with Hawk Training, the childcare group came up with a programme that would allow practitioners to study for the GCSEs at the same time as working for their EYE qualification. The programme is delivered through interactive webinars and online lessons, and a tutor visits the setting monthly, focusing on early years practice but also offering one-to-one support with English and maths.

Colleges have long reported recruitment crises their end, but it is not putting some off from imposing further entry requirements. Lesley White, CACHE Level 3 course leader at Kidderminster College, says childcare students need no fewer than five GCSEs at grade C or above, including English and maths, in order to start the course. ‘If they are only a few marks off the C in maths we will take them, but they have to re-sit alongside their main programme,’ she says. But ‘it is proving to be extremely hard for them to do this and complete the higher grades for their main programme’, she says.

Jennie Johnson, chief executive of Kids Allowed, can testify. The childcare company has its own training academy delivering EYE qualifications, with EYE tutors employed directly by Kids Allowed and the GCSE tutor hired from a local college. She reports that despite intensive support, only one of 12 employees who recently took the maths GCSE passed. ‘We have tiny class sizes – a one-to-three ratio,’ she says. ‘It is just devastating for them. They are fantastic people who have great childcare skills but are prevented from progressing.’

Under the scheme, trainees were studying for their GCSE at the same time as they were working on the EYE qualification, but future cohorts will work on them one after the other. ‘Our way was too much work,’ says Ms Johnson. Kids Allowed has taken the practitioners on at Level 2, on the understanding that if they can pass the relevant GCSEs in the future, they will move up to Level 3.

Another company, Lifetime Training, is piloting a 20-month programme that delivers GCSE maths or English alongside the Level 3 Diploma in Early Learning and Childcare – the key word here being ‘or’. Lifetime Training has opted to deliver only one GCSE alongside the programme, the most common option being maths. Sarah Mackenzie, quality and training director at Childbase Partnership, with whom the programme was developed, believes this is a more realistic approach, saying, ‘We don’t want to set people up to fail.’

Potential Level 3 candidates are assessed for literacy and numeracy before signing up to the course, and if a candidate needs both maths and English GCSEs, they won’t make it on. ‘We didn’t want to send people to evening classes, we wanted something to blend into the working week,’ Ms Mackenzie adds.

Instead, settings release students for two hours a week to access webinars, and a regional trainer will visit every four to six weeks to work through any concerns they have. ‘We felt that having purely remote delivery would not work for this group, it has to be supported by the face-to-face team,’ says Alison Simpson, managing director of health, social care and early years at Lifetime Training, adding, ‘Eventually we want to upskill all our trainers to be able to deliver GCSEs.’

Offering both GCSEs alongside the childcare qualification does work for some. People and Business Development (PBD) has offered online tutoring in English and maths GCSEs since late 2014. The company delivers GCSE training to its own cohort of childcare apprentices, as well as offering tutoring to those training with other companies, including 150 Level 3 Learndirect apprentices. It also offers tutoring to students who are undertaking GCSEs for other reasons – recently two of PBD’s experienced EYE assessors passed GCSE maths with the organisation, although, ironically, they don’t actually need the GCSEs to do their job.

‘From an education point of view, we are confident that we have the model right,’ says Ross Midgley, director of PBD. He is seeing results: all six candidates in January achieved English passes – one A*, two As, one B and 2 Cs – while the last round of August results saw 50 per cent of candidates obtaining a C grade or above for maths, and 75 per cent for English. Nationally comparable rates for GCSE re-sits are 14 per cent for English and 13 per cent for maths.

Like Hawk Training and Lifetime Training, PBD’s GCSE support is delivered in the form of webinars, video lectures and online presentations, with support from a personal tutor. ‘For a lot of those who struggled with maths and English and school, the last thing they want is to be put back in a classroom,’ says Mr Midgley.

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Susan McGhee, director of BNG Training, owned by Bertram Nursery Group, agrees. She is considering registering BNG as an exam centre so that candidates can take exams in a familiar place. ‘Often people come to vocational qualifications because they didn’t like school,’ says Ms McGhee. ‘Students are nervous when they are sent into a school they don’t know.’

And, she adds, ‘The process doesn’t seem as hard as I thought it might be, but you do have to have secure storage facilities to hold exam papers.’ Examination centres must have a safe or secure cabinet in which question papers can be locked, a stringent requirement that might be difficult for some early years settings to meet.

Motivating students is another question. ‘Many apprentices aren’t particularly motivated to be doing GCSEs,’ says Mr Midgley. ‘To improve engagement we are trying to integrate maths and English more with the apprenticeship training, by improving communication between assessors and GCSE tutors and by giving the assessors data about progress across the whole framework, including maths and English.’

Recent changes to government budgets have also had an impact, he says. ‘Previously apprentices whose EYE training provider didn’t offer GCSEs could simply go to another training provider for GCSE support, and each provider would access funding for what it delivered.

‘Now the training organisation offering the apprenticeship framework must apply for all the funding itself and pass on the GCSE element to the other provider, under a formal and complex subcontracting agreement.’

That’s a difficult process for small training providers. ‘The door has been slammed on a lot of people wanting to do an apprenticeship purely because the provider does not offer maths and English under one roof,’ says Mr Midgley.

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