Government U turns over apprentice GCSEs

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Apprentices have been handed a lifeline after the Government climbed down over GCSE rules yesterday.

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Childcare minister Sam Gyimah

From 1 August, level 3 apprentices were due to need minimum C grades in English and maths to start their Early Years Educator course, but now they can gain them alongside it.

The move, which extends the 'exit' requirement currently in place, comes after trainers have reported drops of up to 96 per cent in those taking up apprenticeships, and pressure from the employer ‘trailblazer’ group involved in devising the new apprenticeship standard.

The group submitted a revised version of the standard on 4 June in a bid to get the rule changed. A previous draft, published in August, also had the GCSEs as a course exit requirement, but Government rules were imposed which meant GCSEs were needed at the start to receive funding.

Childcare minister Sam Gyimah linked the change in heart to the need for 'high quality childcare', saying this meant it was ‘imperative’ that practitioners have ‘crucial literacy and numeracy skills’.

He said, ‘We’re totally committed to raising the bar and improving the care children receive in the early years so parents can have the strongest confidence in the people who are teaching our youngest children.

‘However, unnecessary barriers shouldn’t stop skilled people joining the workforce, and it makes much more sense to have an exit standard rather than a barrier to entry. That’s why I’m pleased to say that we will offer people the chance to study their maths and English GCSEs alongside their childcare apprenticeship training.’

Functional skills will still not be accepted.

While sector experts have welcomed the new rule, they have pointed out that different GCSE requirements are in place for those doing EYE qualifications outside an apprenticeship.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, called the previous situation ‘a serious barrier to entry’ for students, and added,  ‘The fact that this decision only currently applies to EYE qualifications undertaken as part of an apprenticeship risks creating an unbalanced position where practitioners wanting to undertake an EYE as a standalone course will still be required to have GCSEs on entry. In the interests of fairness and consistency, we would urge the government to reconsider its position on this issue.’

National Day Nurseries Association chief executive Purnima Tanuku added, ‘We look forward to a continuing dialogue with the Department for Education on the steps needed to recruit, retain and develop the early years workforce to meet the challenge of delivering the high-quality early learning and childcare that we know makes such a positive difference to the lives of children.

'With the free 30 hours on the horizon, it is very important that we have a clear workforce strategy and the investment to support it in place.’

The standard is to be approved by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. It should come into effect on 1 August 2015.

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