GCSEs U-turn praised, but questions remain

The sector has welcomed the early years minister Caroline Dinenage’s decision to reinstate functional skills as alternatives to GCSEs in English and maths for Level 3 qualifications.

The sector has welcomed the early years minister Caroline Dinenage’s decision to reinstate functional skills as alternatives to GCSEs in English and maths for Level 3 qualifications.

The minister has also published the Early Years Workforce Strategy, describing it as ‘an investment in the dedicated professionals who help shape children’s earliest experiences of education…it is absolutely right that we make sure they have the right expertise.’


The move to bring back functional skills is a response to overwhelming pressure from the early years sector, which has faced a growing recruitment crisis since the 2014 requirement for Level 3 Early Years Educator staff to hold GCSEs above grade C in maths and English.

The new Level 3 qualification requirements will come into force from 3 April, at the same time as the new EYFS framework, published on the same day, will come into effect. They will apply to any qualifications started since September 2014.

Ms Dinenage said the Government was broadening the English and maths requirements as a direct response to more than 4,000 views aired during the consultation last November.

The Government response to the consultation found that just 4 per cent of respondents believed the GCSE requirements had improved quality. Some 77 per cent said they had had ‘significant’ or ‘some’ difficulties with recruiting staff in the past two years, with the biggest reason given that applicants did not have the required GCSEs.

Nursery staff qualifying at Level 3 EYE will now be allowed to count in staff:child ratios with any suitable Level 2 English and maths qualifications, including functional skills, as well as GCSEs.

Stella Ziolkowski, NDNA’s director of quality and workforce development, said, ‘A feeling of worth and value has been restored now many Level 2 practitioners are able to progress.

‘However, practitioners have been asking us many questions, such as: “I have GCSE C in English and Level 2 functional skills in maths – will I be accepted to progress to Early Years Educator?” Another is: “When will training providers be funded and geared up to start?”

‘We don’t fully understand the extent of the damage caused by the stringent GCSE policy. It takes around 18 months to gain Early Years Educator and functional skills. Some may have already achieved EYE but failed GCSE, in which case they only need functional skills to be counted in ratios. These will be relatively quick conversions. However, I expect that, due to reluctance of training providers to take on students who don’t hold GCSEs, numbers won’t be huge.’


There is concern among training providers that there has been no information from the DfE about the changes that will need to be made to the Early Years Educator apprenticeship framework.

Jenny Simanis, operations director at People and Business Development, told Nursery World that for apprentices, everything hinged on whether there would be changes to the EYE framework.

The framework currently in existence does not allow functional skills and must be amended in order for the changes the DfE has made on the GCSE rule to take effect for Level 3 EYE apprentices. Otherwise, those without GCSEs will not be able to complete their apprenticeships and will be left in limbo.

There is concern that FISSS – which issues apprenticeship completion certificates – will say that it has to enforce the terms of the framework that each individual signed up to.

‘Functional skills need to be funded,’ Ms Simanis said. ‘The Skills Funding Agency funds what’s on the EYE framework. So the framework has to change to include functional skills so the agency will start funding it. Only then will providers offer it.’

She added that training providers need to know when this is going to happen.

‘From our point of view we’d really rather know in advance. We’d like notice that the EYE framework is definitely going to be retrospective. We want to be able to tell our learners. All our GCSE learners are booked on exams in June. And we have until mid-April to cancel them.

‘Potentially we would have to pay for these exams. Our learners don’t understand the difference between the DfE’s changes to the EYFS and the need to change the EYE framework.

‘It looks like this will happen – and it would be very shocking if they didn’t change the EYE framework to be retrospective – but until we see it in black and white, we can’t guarantee our students anything.’

The DfE was asked for clarification, but Nursery World did not receive a response.


There is also concern that the proposal for Early Years Teachers to teach Reception classes will mean that more graduates will leave nurseries.

‘Employers have financially supported practitioner development because they recognise the value of employing graduates. Nursery providers will be concerned that their Early Years Teachers will move on and in the future there will be a reluctance to continue to financially support progression to teacher and graduate level,’ Ms Ziolkowski said.

These concerns were echoed by academics at Newman University in Birmingham.

Allison Tatton, interim head of Early Childhood Education & Care at Newman University, said, ‘Although having specialist graduates in the maintained sector may be seen as raising the status of EYPs and EYTs, attracting these graduates to work in the maintained sector could have a detrimental effect on the PVI sector that already struggles to attract highly qualified staff.

‘The introduction of EYPS was not to have specialist graduates working in schools but to lead and develop practice within the PVI sector. This “brain drain” could adversely affect the availability of graduates to the PVI sector.

‘While we welcome this initiative and believe that having specialist graduates in the maintained sector is a positive move forward, there needs to be recognition of the impact on and equity for all stakeholders.’

deborah-harrisCommenting on Government plans to consult on allowing those who have achieved EYPS and EYTS to lead nursery and Reception classes in maintained settings, Deborah Harris, (right), senior lecturer in Early Childhood Education & Care at Newman University, said, ‘This begins to acknowledge the value that specialist graduates can have on the early years sector and the provision for our youngest children and their families.’

But, she added, ‘Currently graduates who have gained EYPS or EYTS are not on a nationally negotiated pay framework, unlike teachers who work in maintained schools and who have QTS.

‘Does this mean that EYPs and EYTs who go on to lead practice in maintained nurseries and Reception classes will be paid the equivalent of their QTS peers?

‘Furthermore, will the EYPs and EYTs enjoy the same terms and conditions as QTS colleagues – pension rights, working hours and annual leave entitlement?’


  • Plans to recruit more graduates into childcare settings, recognising their specialist skills and providing incentives for them to train and work in disadvantaged areas, expanding their career opportunities.
  • £3m from DfE to expand the early years teaching school grant, set up to link schools and colleges with childcare providers in disadvantaged areas, to boost social mobility.
  • A consultation on allowing those with Early Years Teacher Status or Early Years Professional Status to lead nursery and Reception classes in maintained schools.
  • A qualification in SEND will also be developed so that teaching staff can gain recognition for these specialist skills.
  • Set up a panel of professionals to help develop early years career routes, as part of the Government’s Skills Plan; raise the profile of early years careers by linking providers with schools and colleges; and promote early years as a career for men through new and existing networks for men in childcare.
  • A new online training portal and training courses funded by voluntary and community sector grants, and funding projects to bring early years professionals and schools together to share learning.

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