Confusion over Early Years Educator GCSE requirements

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The sector has raised concerns over conflicting advice from the Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on the requirement for those starting the new Early Years Educator courses to have GCSE English and maths.


The aim of the reforms is to raise the quality of the workforce

At the end of last month, the DfE confirmed that from 1 August 2014 students receiving Government funding to undertake the Level 3 Early Years Educator qualification will require GCSE English and maths at grade C or above on entry. Functional skills will not be accepted as equivalent to GCSEs.

This follows on from the education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss's intention, as stated in More Great Childcare, to raise the overall quality of literacy and numeracy skills of the sector.

However, students who want to do the new BIS Trailblazer apprenticeship for early years (see below for more information), will not be required to hold GCSE English and maths A*-C because they can meet the English and maths requirements of their apprenticeship through Functional Skills qualifications.

Under paragraph 35 of the BIS guidance for Trailblazers it states that, 'Apprentices can meet the English and maths requirements of their apprenticeship through Functional Skills or through GCSE qualifications.'

It goes on to say, 'It is our ambition that in the longer term, once the reformed GCSEs are implemented, apprentices will use GCSEs rather than Functional Skills to meet the English and maths requirements.'

Cheryl Hadland, managing director of Tops Day Nurseries and chair of the Trailblazers Leadership Group, said, 'There is a direct conflict between the two Government departments and they need to iron out the ambiguity surrounding entry requirements.'

Ms Hadland went on to say that she knew of a number of people who have written to their MPs concerned about this issue.

A source told Nursery World that the DfE had not been aware of the BIS Trailblazer apprenticeship, but now the discrepancy has come to light it is understood that they have agreed to try to resolve the issue.


Alongside this, there is also widespread confusion among awarding bodies and the sector about the Early Years Educator entry requirements for self-funded learners and the accepted equivalents to GCSEs.

Warren Cresswell, funding manager for awarding body CACHE, said, 'We understand that for anyone not receiving Government funding through the Skills Funding Agency, GCSE English and maths will not be an entry requirement. This includes self-funded learners. However, we are awaiting further confirmation from the DfE about this.'

Awarding body City and Guilds shares the same understanding of the issue.

Mr Cresswell said that learners receiving Government funding through the Skills Funding Agency and the 24+ Advanced Learning Loan would need GCSEs in order to start the Early Years Educator qualification.

He added that the requirement would affect mature students more than younger learners as colleges and training providers are required to work with learners aged 16-19 on vocational programmes to achieve English and maths GCSE A*-C if they have not already.

According to the DfE, training providers will be required to confirm that a learner has a A*-C pass in English/English language and maths and record it in the learning agreement before enrolling a student on to Early Years Educator training.

Mr Cresswell went on to stress that while self-funded learners may be able to start the Early Years Educator qualification without GCSEs in English and maths, they would need at least a grade C in both subjects by the time they finished the qualification otherwise they wouldn't count within a nursery's ratios at Level 3.

This change will be reflected in the amended Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in April 2014.

Suzi Gray, national adviser of City and Guilds, said self-funded learners who start an Early Years Educator course with City and Guilds will be made aware of the requirement in the EYFS to have GCSEs in order to count towards ratios.


Another issue is the lack of clarity over the entry requirements for students receiving funding through other means, such as European funding or local authority bursaries, said Mr Cresswell. This could also be an issue for more mature students with O Levels (GCE), or Certificates of Secondary Education (CSE).

The same questions have been raised on Facebook by those working in the sector.

According to CACHE, the DfE is expected to confirm GCSE equivalents in April.

While the aim of the reforms to entry qualifications is to improve the quality of those entering the workforce, worries have been raised that existing practitioners with a Level 2 could find career progression difficult.

Jennie Johnson, chief executive of Kids Allowed, said, 'For people new to the sector, they are entering with eyes wide open that if they want to pursue a career beyond basic practice they will need the relevant GCSEs. However, those currently in the sector on Level 2 will in effect have no option but to pass their GCSEs before they can progress further, effectively closing the door on promotions or even being counted in the qualified ratio until they do.'

Ms Gray said learners currently doing their Level 2 who don't have GCSE English and maths and are receiving Government funding would be delayed from starting their Level 3. She questioned how quickly the Government expects people to achieve the GCSEs, with Early Years Educator courses starting in September.

Keith Appleyard, treasurer of Fiveways Playcentre, a charitable pre-school in Brighton, said that having members of staff who have common sense, and can care for the children, read to them and count up to 20 is more important than practitioners holding a A*-C GCSE in English and maths.

'Only 30 per cent of our members of staff that work with children under five have both GCSE English and maths,' he said.

'Our priority is that staff are numerate, know their colours and shapes and possess common sense.'

Although the DfE did not comment directly about the conflicting entry requirements, a spokesperson said, 'We have been clear that we expect all entrants to the Early Years Educator training courses to hold GCSEs in English and maths at grade C or above.

'From this summer, this requirement will become mandatory for all those who start Government funded Early Years Educator courses.

'From September, all new staff with Early Years Educator qualifications will need to have the required grades in English and maths to be recognised as Level 3 qualified for the purposes of management, staffing and Ofsted inspections. Those previously qualified to Level 3 will be unaffected.'

Nursery World contacted BIS for a comment but it failed to respond in time for the press deadline.


Early years is one of five sectors to be included in the second round of the Department of Business, Innovations and Skills (BIS) Trailblazers initiative, launched on 6 March 2014.

As part of the reforms to the apprenticeship programme, BIS has established eight trailblazers, groups of employers working together to design new apprenticeship standards for occupations in their sectors.

It follows on from The Richard Review, conducted by former Dragon's Den entrepreneur Doug Richard, which found that there were key areas of the Government's apprenticeship programme where significant improvement could be made to make it more rigorous and responsive to the needs of employers.

The skills and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock has asked a group of leading early years employers to develop new standards for apprenticeships and report to him by the summer. They will create models of effective practice before full adoption in 2017/18.

The members of the group are:

  • Cheryl Hadland, managing director of Tops Day Nurseries (chair)
  • Ross Midgley, owner of Blois Meadow Day Nursery in Haverhill, Suffolk
  • Chris Pritchard, owner of Jancett Childcare in Surrey
  • Gillian Fawcett, director of nursery group Puffins of Exeter
  • Chrissie Meleady, chief executive of Early Years Equality
  • Susan McGhee, commercial director of Bertram nursery group
  • Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Pre-School Learning Alliance
  • Stella Ziolowski, director of quality and workforce development at the National Day Nurseries Association
  • Nicola Amies, director of early years at Bright Horizons Family Solutions.


Read Ross Midgley's comment.

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