Training Today - Aiming for the top

Karen Hart
Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The new management-tier Level 5 and proposed Level 6 apprenticeships have been broadly well-received by the sector’s employers, reports Karen Hart

Rebecca Phillips at Busy Bees Stevenage is undertaking the Early Years Educator Level 3 apprenticeship and is planning to go on to further study in SEND
Rebecca Phillips at Busy Bees Stevenage is undertaking the Early Years Educator Level 3 apprenticeship and is planning to go on to further study in SEND

Although apprenticeships have long been associated with getting a foothold in an early years role, the launch of the Level 5 Early Years Lead Practitioner apprenticeship and the development of a Level 6 Pedagogical Lead is highlighting the strong rationale for building leadership skills on the job. Apprenticeships can be more persuasive than straight degrees by putting theory into practice.

So far the sector is embracing this, with more than 500 early years staff currently undertaking Level 5 apprenticeships in the current academic year. These candidates now have the opportunity to grow their existing jobs and move into roles such as SENCO, room leader, senior practitioner and moreUpon completion of the 18-month programme, learners can also progress to degree-level courses.

With its ability to create a bridge to management and hopefully higher-paid roles, the Level 5 has the potential to retain good staff, something that is desperately needed in the current climate.

Meanwhile, with the decline in graduate-level practitioners, the creation of a Level 6 Pedagogical Lead is a welcome development. Work on it is currently under way by the early years trailblazer group, which developed the Level 5, and if all goes according to plan, the sector should be able to feed into a consultation on it this summer.

While early years university courses are still popular and interest in the Early Years Initial Teacher Status (EYITT) is growing again, there is a very real need for a progression route that does not take practitioners away from the children they are working with.

The Level 6 Pedagogical Leadis being identified as a potentially important professional development pathway and also a way of recognising the value that these Early Years Pedagogical Leads have for the sector and for all children’s outcomes.


At Hawk Training, early years curriculum lead Cheryl Prior believes that the standards developed across apprenticeships in the past three years are increasing the quality and currency of skills, due to the requirement for strong employer input.

She says, ‘The End Point Assessment process that concludes these programmes has increased the need for employer buy-in as there is more requirement on gathering evidence of practice, which includes employer feedback and observations of practice across the learner’s journey.’

Prior believes that the introduction of the Level 5 is meeting current challenges. ‘Apprentices are looking at both current and contemporary schools of thought, reflecting on how these impact on practice and the changes that can be made to support positive outcomes for both children and families. This has never been more necessary than now, when children who were born during the Covid pandemic have struggled in socialisation and speech.’


At Busy Bees, apprenticeships have proved a strong route for building a pipeline of talent within the business, which sees experienced childcare professionals moving up through its ranks. Its current drive to recruit 700 apprentices strengthens this strategy.

Anthony Bromirski, chief operating officer at Busy Bees Education and Training, says,‘Not only do we want to create opportunities for young people, but we find that Busy Bees colleagues who join as apprentices often stay on for a long time, undergoing training until they become a centre director, for example. This means that by backing young talent, we can continue to support children in getting the best start in life.

‘We’re also putting our money where our mouth is, as we are offering £6.50 per hour, which is above the minimum wage for apprentices.’

At Best Practice Network, Sian Marsh, director of early years, ITT and designated safeguarding lead, believes the new Level 5 apprenticeships spell a step-change in early years training.

‘The Level 5 is now being seen as a viable alternative to a foundation degree – without the debt, and a clear pathway to progress your career. Apprenticeship training, and the Level 5 in particular, show a commitment from both businesses and trainers, who are showing they want to grow their talent.’

She adds, ‘Employers are already reporting a positive impact on their settings – I’m seeing real passion, a fire, for the early years sector in general.’

CASE STUDY: Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller of St Christopher’s Academy in Dunstable undertook the Level 5 Early Years Lead Practitioner apprenticeship through Best Practice Network.

She says, ‘My experience at present is very positive, and my tutor, Sarah Bishop, is available for support whenever I need her, by phone or email; she is very approachable and very friendly.

‘I particularly enjoy the monthly webinars, as these are full of information to support your assignments and build your knowledge. I also like that they are interactive; it feels as if your ideas and knowledge are important, that everyone is listened to; it’s also a great way to pick up new ideas to incorporate into your own practice.

‘I am extremely lucky that everyone at my setting is very supportive; it was the early years lead that introduced me to this course and gave me the confidence to apply – in fact, the whole school has proved to be an amazing support network, with everyone working together, supporting and encouraging.

‘This really helps with training; having people you can share ideas with and get advice from. This apprenticeship is definitely going to give me the confidence and tools to use in my setting with my own group of children. I would highly recommend the Level 5 apprenticeship.’

Funding apprenticeships

The Apprenticeship Levy is a pot of money a business pays into to ensure it can pay for the training of new apprentices. A business pays into the levy if its pay bill is over £3 million a year.

Since its launch in 2017, the Apprenticeship Levy has been criticised for being too complex, and the rules have changed frequently. Since the end of this January, employers have no longer been able to claim a £3,000 incentive provided for onboarding new apprentices to a business. However, there is still funding available, whether a business pays into the levy or not.

Non-levy-paying employers will share the cost of training and assessing their apprentices with the Government (co-investment). The co-investment rate is 5 per cent towards the cost of apprenticeship training. The Government will pay the rest (95 per cent) up to the funding band maximum.

If fewer than 50 employees are employed, the Government will pay 100 per cent of the training costs for apprentices aged 16 to 18, those aged 19 to 24 with an Education, Health and Care Plan provided by their local authority, and those who are in the care of their local authority.

Diana Lawton, apprenticeship campaigner

Diana Lawton, who is managing director of Our Monkey Club, was one of a number of people in the sector who developed the Level 5 Early Years Lead Apprenticeship standard.

The trailblazer group is now working on the Level 6 apprenticeship standard.

She says,’I have been working with two training providers for my learners and they have both created very flexible programmes to match settings’ needs. My practitioners are loving the opportunities the programme offers and, while they were all daunted at first to study at Level 5, they have all been able to develop work plans that use their interests and motivations and enhance their current practice, rather than the work being separate and in addition to their daily role. They have all chosen projects to improve the settings and then will use these projects to develop leaderful practice as they share their findings, changes and understanding with other practitioners and management.

‘They worked through the knowledge, skills and behaviours to ensure their project was designed to meet the standards, and were quite surprised to see that a project they would naturally choose to do within practice would meet so many of the criteria.’


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