Julie Dervey, an Early Years Professional (EYP) from Hull in East Yorkshire who holds a first class degree in Early Childhood, Education and Care and has 13 years' experience working in the sector, contacted Teach First last month about applying for its early years programme.
But she was told that her early childhood degree does not make her eligible for Teach First early years.
The Government announced in April that it would be extending the Teach First Leadership Development programme to the early years from September, to attract high-calibre graduates to work with children from the age of three.
Teach First's graduate recruitment team told Ms Dervey that her degree does not make her eligible to apply for the programme. This is because the early years aspect of the programme (ages three to seven) falls under the primary category, requiring graduates to hold a 2:1 degree in a 'core subject', such as geography, maths, music or religious education.
Teach First later told Ms Dervey in writing that, 'We are currently reviewing our subject eligibility criteria.'
Furthermore, participants offered a position on Teach First will only be placed in London or neighbouring Kent and Medway as the programme's expansion into early years teacher training is currently in its first year of a three-year pilot.
Ms Dervey also said that the Department for Education's (DfE) Schools Direct scheme is 'limiting its cohort for early years professionals' by requiring candidates to have primary school experience.
DfE's Get into Teaching webpage states that candidates need classroom experience, either voluntary or paid, to support their application to the Schools Direct scheme.
A DfE spokesperson told Nursery World that candidates with early years experience, GCSE Grade C in English, maths and science, and who pass a skills test are eligible for the Schools Direct scheme. However, individual schools can set their own criteria.
Ms Dervey has started a petition calling for the DfE to 'stop discrimination against early years professionals'. Her petition, which so far has gained 136 signatures and the support of MP for Beverley and Holderness Graham Stuart - also chair of the Education Select Committee - argues that QTS training providers should recognise early childhood-based degrees or EYPS as relevant or equivalent core studies.
Ms Dervey told Nursery World, 'It remains a bone of contention that the skills, experience and status of EYPs continue to be perceived as less valuable than those from other areas of the education sector.
'EYPs were promised that their status would be equal though different to that of QTS. Clearly they will continue not to be valued as equal in status or in financial terms.
'If qualified EYPs are not to be paid an equivalent rate to those with QTS then those that wish to must be enabled to be fast-tracked to access local, free, additional training to achieve early years QTS.'
She added, 'Unless EYPs are able to self-fund further training through the early years PGCE, they encounter a total block to accessing QTS and receiving teachers' pay.'
Writing on Nursery World's Linkedin page, Ross Brown from Park Avenue Nursery School in Kettering, who also holds a first class degree in early childhood studies, said, 'I made a tentative enquiry about primary and was told, "unfortunately we do not accept early childhood studies as eligible", which seems bizarre.'
Alongside Ms Dervey's petition, the Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network, TACTYC and Dr Lyn Trodd from the University of Hertfordshire's School of Education, have together written a letter to the chief executive of Teach First, Brett Wigdortz.
In the letter, they ask for Mr Wigdortz's reassurance that high-level graduates of early childhood studies degrees and similar early years degrees will be considered for entry to Teach First.
They go on to argue that early childhood degrees provide students with a strong foundation for working with young children, and ask for urgent and careful consideration to be given to amending the stated requirements.
- www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/department-for-education-stop- discrimination-against-early-years-professionals
COMMENT FROM TEACH FIRST
A spokesperson for Teach First said, 'Teach First is currently reviewing this issue. While we have recently expanded our reach to allow successful candidates to train in early years settings, this took place halfway through our recruitment season.
'We therefore continued recruiting based on our existing degree criteria for primary and secondary; these vary according to the needs of our partner schools and university training providers and are set out on our website.
However, we are now reviewing our eligibility criteria for applicants interested in early years and will be in touch with the candidate concerned to update them.
'Teach First was given the go ahead from the Department for Education to train 20 early years participants this year. Our partner universities completed an expression of interest to deliver Initial Teacher Development for this programme. This was a competitive process and Canterbury Christ Church University and the Institute of Education were both successful, hence the programme running in London and the South East. Depending on the outcome of this pilot and future funding, we may well look to place early years participants in other Teach First regions in the future.'