A campaign, Save our Early Years, has been launched by CACHE, with backing from the likes of the Pre-school Learning Alliance and PACEY. It calls ‘for the Government to reverse its decision that all Level 3 Early Years Educators (EYEs) must have at least a Grade C in GCSE English and maths to count in the ratios - with no equitable alternative at Level 2 such as Functional Skills allowed.’
The campaign has been launched today (5 April) on social media, with supporters urged to write to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and raise the campaign’s profile on Twitter.
The GCSE regulations have hit apprentice numbers particularly hard, with trainers reporting year on year drops of up to 96 per cent in the number of level 3 apprentices starting the course. CACHE, which has a majority share of the childcare qualifications market, has told Nursery World that the number of registrations for Level 3 courses dropped 44 per cent year-on-year for 2014/15.
Julie Hyde, executive director of CACHE, said the impact of the reforms was both a swelling in the number of Level 2s and an increase in the number of students finishing a Level 3 without being awarded a completion certificate.
She said that the body was awarding 'Level 3 qualifications, but without GCSE maths and English so they are not going to get employed at Level 3 because they will not count in the ratios.
‘We have always said functional skills should be allowed because one size doesn’t fit all. People learn in different ways and need to be given an alternative.’
Just 7 per cent of those re-sitting their maths and English achieve their desired grades. The campaign cites a study from the Education and Training Foundation: Making maths and English work for all, describing how GCSEs tutoring can, for some students, present real problems – often leading to disappointing results.
Ms Hyde added, ‘Childcare is the only sector where functional skills is not allowed. If they are accepted for other sectors they should be accepted for the childcare sector. You can do a health and social care apprenticeship without having the maths and English GCSEs.’
As a result of the changes to rules over GCSEs, ‘there has been a significant increase in the number of Level 2s. My concern is that there is going to be a Level 2 workforce as the sector is being left woefully short of Level 3 EYEs. Young people who have done their Level 3 qualification will be paid as a Level 2. That is just wrong.'
Some of the students ‘that should be EYEs’ are now being put on teaching assistant courses instead – because laxer entry requirements for TAs mean the GCSEs are not required.
Ms Hyde added that the recruitment crisis plus the 30 hours policy – where working parents will be given double the existing amount of weekly childcare for three- and four-year-olds - was causing ‘a perfect storm’.
‘How can the government offer the 30 hours if they haven’t got the staff? We would love for the 30 hours to be in place. It should be affordable to settings and available, to enable parents to have choice about how they care for their children. But they way things are that choice is being taken away.’
Jane Barnes, manager of Dicky Birds, Claremont Hall branch, said she had written to Nicky Morgan in support of the campaign after being alerted by her local authority. She said the issue of recruitment ‘is something that we feel very strongly about, because we see staff on the shop floor that we think are potentially great practitioners and it is very frustrating that they may be unable to get to Level 3. It’s also better for us as they would have a better understanding of child development.’
She said that she had about five Level 2s at one nursery who were caught by the requirements. ‘They are all considering their options, but being unqualified they might be dissuaded from working in childcare or leave the sector to do something else. In reality doing three evening classes a week alongside working or studying is really difficult.’
The Department for Education (DfE) has said that it is ‘not going to apologise for raising standards’ and that not allowing Functional Skills to be an equivalent will 'raise the overall quality of literacy and numeracy skills of those entering the workforce.' It has previously told Nursery World ‘Implementing this reform will take time but with 87 per cent of the existing workforce holding a Level 3 qualifications we are confident that there will be sufficient qualified staff in the workforce.’
The government is also going to produce a workforce strategy later this year, while it has also said it will increase the funded hours rate to £4.88 for the 30 hours, including the Early Years Pupil Premium.