The Department for Education (DfE) said the consultation, set to last a little over three weeks, would inform the Government’s awaited workforce strategy.
The news follows increasing concern from early years professionals over the impact on recruitment of the maths and English GCSE requirement, and overwhelming calls for a functional skills alternative.
Views are sought on how to build a skilled workforce to best deliver the 30-hour free childcare offer from next September.
In addition to the launch, the DfE has published a response to an earlier consultation on how the 30-hours would work in practice, which opened in April.
Feedback from parents, professionals and local authorities pointed to the need for more flexible hours, and so the offer will be available over an extended period, increasing to 6am-8pm (from 7am – 7pm).
Early years minister Caroline Dinenage, said, ‘Making sure our children learn, develop and flourish at this critical time in their lives is vital – we want to recruit and retain the very best staff for this, that’s why we are looking at the skills needed.
‘The findings will help inform my upcoming workforce strategy which, along with our record investment in the sector, will support nurseries, preschools and other early years providers to offer high quality, free childcare for thousands more families across the country.’
Julie Hyde, Associate Director of CACHE, the organisation leading the Save Our Early Years Campaign, praised the minister for ‘listening to the sector and to our concerns, and for launching the consultation’.
Ms Hyde said, ‘This is very encouraging and we hope it paves the way to remove the barriers to recruitment in the early years.
‘I would encourage everyone to respond to the consultation so that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is amended to again include functional skills.’
The calls were echoed by Stella Ziolkowski, director of quality and workforce development at the NDNA, who added, ‘NDNA has long campaigned for a review of these requirements as part of wider strategies to make sure the nursery sector has a well-qualified, professional and highly-trained workforce.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, also welcomed the news the DfE is reconsidering the requirement, adding, ‘Of course, it’s important that those working in the early years are literate and numerate, but we do not believe that GCSEs are the only way to measure this.’
Liz Bayram, PACEY’s chief executive, said, ‘PACEY is keen to work with government, regulators and others to ensure quality is supported, career progression is improved and practitioners fairly rewarded in England's childcare system.’
In her speech at the Nursery World Business Summit on 8 November, Ms Dinenage will detail each of these and look to delegates for their support in making the free offer a success.
James Hempsall, national programme director of Childcare Works, will also be speaking at the summit.
The DfE awarded Hempsalls the contract to provide tailored support to councils to help them ready themselves for the 30-hour rollout.
A new toolkit is also being developed by the Family Childcare Trust to help drive creative and innovative approaches to the challenge of delivering the free places among councils.