This is despite the fact they are accepted by nearly 200 universities across the country - including the University of Oxford and University of York - and are widely recognised by those running early years and childcare courses, few of whom appear to be aware of the change.
The rules could mean someone who believes they are at Level 7 (postgraduate) will actually only able to practise at Level 2.
All those with a GCSE equivalent from a company called Equivalency Testing for Career Development, and who started a child qualification at Levels 3 to 7 from September 2014, will be affected. The company says it has put 600 Early Years Teachers (EYTs) through these exams since 2013.
Chrissy Meleady, chair of Early Years Equality, said, 'We asked the NCTL about GCSE equivalents when we thought it was just going to affect people at Level 3. We were told that they are not on the approved qualifications list. They said they can't guarantee and quality assure these qualifications.'
A Government spokesperson refused to spell out the Government's position on equivalents for Levels higher than 3, but Government guidance states: 'To count in the ratios at Level 3, graduates must also have achieved GCSEs in English and maths at grade C or above.' Other equivalents, such as O Levels, are accepted, but the Equivalency Testing equivalents are not on the 'recognised' equivalents list.
Ian Barron, vice-chair of the national Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network, which is mainly concerned with training for EYTs, said there was conflicting guidance about these tests. 'The Department for Education (DfE) is saying that early years initial teacher training providers can choose to accept evidence from equivalency tests, but that equivalency tests will not be considered equivalent to GCSEs for the purpose of inclusion in ratios. Thus someone could legitimately qualify as an EYT but not be eligible for inclusion in the ratios as qualified. This will make it very difficult for such teachers to secure employment ... it is likely to affect some students who were accepted in good faith on the basis of equivalency tests.'
He added that the effects were 'only just being understood' by training providers.
Ms Meleady agrees that universities are generally unaware of the Government's new position. She took the equivalency tests with the company herself last month to test the theory that students were wrongly being accepted. She has since enquired about courses at Levels 3 to 7, including an MA in Education, EYTS and Early Years Educator. No provider allowed her to take a Level 3 course with an equivalency, she said. But she was told she could apply for various courses for Levels 4 to 7, to 80 institutions: 43 universities, 16 colleges, and 21 training companies. She received no rejections for these courses.
Ms Meleady said she is hearing from students coming to the end of EYT Status or in the first year of degrees or about to start one, who are finding that they will not be able to count in ratios. 'Those with equivalents who are completing EYTS or starting a BA in Childhood Studies degree are desperately concerned that their qualifications will now not be worth the paper they are written on because they cannot get a job as a full and relevant qualified practitioner.
'People are asking, "How the Government could do this to me? How could my university mislead me?" It's heartbreaking and just goes to show what a farce the whole qualifications situation in early years has become.'
Bridget Coyne, managing director of Equivalency Testing, said, 'We provide people who missed out on their GCSEs the first time with an alternative exam, based on mostly the same curriculum. We have never been contacted by DfE and we have no idea what is going on. We are very concerned if there is a change - it will have a dramatic impact. What provision will there be now for people if equivalency testing is not allowed? I honestly think the EYT courses will be empty.'
She added that, ironically, some of these exams are funded by local authorities.
While the Government's position is that practitioners with Levels 4 to 7 childcare qualifications still need to have GCSEs or 'recognised equivalents', many universities set entry criteria that include minimum GCSE grades, thus making this irrelevant. One that does not is Cathy Nutbrown's MA in Early Childhood Education at the University of Sheffield, which has no GCSE entry requirements at all. However, Professor Nutbrown, who was chosen by the previous Government to undertake a flagship review of childcare qualifications in 2012, said it was not likely to be an issue because people taking it would, 'be practising on the basis of the earlier initial qualifications they took, prior to the masters'.
A DfE spokesperson said the rules were:
- All new staff who have started a qualification from September 2014 and want to count in ratios at Level 3 must have at least a C in English and maths (or the recognised equivalents). These include, for example, O Levels and regulated IGCSEs. The full list can be found at www.education.gov.uk/eypqd/GCSEs.shtml.
- Staff with a qualification at Levels 4, 5, 6 and 7 do not need at least a C in English and maths - if they are not going to count in Level three ratios.
- The change was announced in July 2013, and introduced from September 2014. Staff holding qualifications started before September 2014 will still be able to practise. The new criteria and entry requirements have not been applied retrospectively. This will ensure that practitioners already holding qualifications are not disadvantaged by the changes.
He added, 'We have improved early years qualifications and raised the bar by requiring Level 3 staff to reach improved literacy and numeracy, so parents can have confidence in the people who are teaching our youngest children.'