Job applicants confused over status of online Level 3s

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Recruitment agencies and nursery groups have raised concerns about significant numbers of early years job applicants who have undertaken online childcare courses and mistakenly believe they have full and relevant Level 3 qualifications.

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Some online distance learning courses are not 'full and relevant'

Recruitment agencies and nursery groups have raised concerns about significant numbers of early years job applicants who have undertaken online childcare courses and mistakenly believe they have full and relevant Level 3 qualifications.

Kate Mundle, director of Purple Dove Recruitment, said the company had seen a recent rise in the number of people who have completed online distance learning courses and assume they hold a Level 3 qualification that gives them a licence to practice.

One nursery group director said she would never consider applicants with these qualifications for employment.

A search by Nursery World revealed a variety of childcare courses available, including the NCFE CACHE Level 3 Award in Childcare and Education, the Nursery Nurse Diploma, and Child Care Level 3. Unlike the full and relevant Level 3 Early Years Educator qualifications, these courses are ‘knowledge-based’ and do not require any practical work experience or GCSEs/functional skills.

While some providers’ course details state that the qualification is not a licence to practice, others are less specific, with some claiming that doing the course will help employment prospects.

There is no requirement for online training providers to state whether their course is or isn’t full and relevant, and Ms Mundle said there is a lot of confusion among learners, many of whom have just left school.

Even where the course explicitly states that it is not a licence to practice, the complex regulations in the EYFS about the ratios of qualified staff to children, as well as what constitutes a ‘full and relevant’ qualification, appear to be little understood by those looking to enter the sector.

Course providers

Oakwood Home Learning runs an NCFE CACHE Level 3 Award in Childcare and Education.

The course description states, ‘In the CACHE Level 3 Award in Childcare and Education course you will find essential information which will be beneficial to you should you either already be working in a childcare environment, or hope to.’

It appears that in the past few days, links to a page on the CACHE website with a qualification summary for the course have been added, as well as a link to the Ofqual register.

The course, which costs £359, significantly less than the thousands of pounds that a full course normally costs, is made up of 12 written assignments with a study time of 180 hours. It has two units, the first on child development from conception to seven years, and the second on children’s health and well-being.

Oakwood Home Learning is the parent company of the Online Learning College. While the Online Learning College also runs a CACHE Level 3 Award in Childcare and Education, the website states that it is a ‘knowledge only qualification’ and ‘gives a foundation for the Level 3 practitioner, but not a licence to practice.’

A spokesperson for Oakwood Home Learning said, ‘Oakwood Home Learning is the parent company of Online Learning College and both offer high-quality distance learning courses with full tutor support throughout. Our CACHE Level 3 Award in Childcare and Education is clearly advertised on each website with the name of the course, the qualification code and links to the awarding body shown to ensure that learners completely understand the qualification they are embarking upon. The course is designed as an initial qualification for people looking to enter a career in childcare, it is regulated with Ofqual and allows learners to progress to the Level 3 Diploma. The way in which the course is nested by the awarding body and Ofqual can be confusing if this is not fully explained, therefore our course advisors work to explain the course fully and will give any advice to potential learners on what the course can be used for.

‘Naturally we have no control over the way the course is nested with other qualifications, but ensure that we explain the qualification fully to learners in line with CACHE advertising guidelines. We encourage anyone looking to start a childcare course to research this as much as possible to ensure they are not misled by any college that does not include the same depth of information in their advertising as we do.’

A CACHE spokesperson said, ‘Alongside our wide portfolio of high-quality regulated qualifications, CACHE also works with delivery centres who wish to gain endorsement from us to recognise the quality of their own unregulated bespoke courses. In line with their Centre agreement and mandatory documentation obligations, all providers are made fully aware that they are required to clearly distinguish between regulated and unregulated qualifications and to ensure that learners are fully aware of the course or qualification that they are undertaking.’

Another online training provider, NCC Home Learning, which runs a Nursery Nurse Diploma Level 3 course, accredited by ABC Awards, does not state that the qualification isn’t full and relevant.

NCC has a deal on Groupon for its online childcare and early learning course at a cost of £29. Again, the deal on Groupon does not make it clear the qualification is not full and relevant.

The information on Groupon states it is an ‘Online course developed for those working or hoping to work in early learning and childcare. Educators will be able to gain the knowledge and skills that will help them to work effectively.’

NCC Home Learning had not returned a request for comment at the time of going to press.

The CourseMix runs a number of ‘CPD certified courses’, including a Child Care course, reduced in price from £249.99 to £19, about which it says, ‘What’s more the course is accredited through CPD Certification Service, so upon completion of the course, you’ll receive an industry recognised CPD Level 3 Certificate that you can showcase to any employers, academic institutions or for your portfolio.’

It states the courses ‘help to add real value to CVs and personal development’.

Ms Mundle said, ‘We are working in a sector that is reliant on qualified practitioners. The term qualified means Level 2 or above, full and relevant under the Government and EYFS guidelines. The difference between a qualified and unqualified practitioner under the Government guidelines is clear; however, we consistently get candidates who have completed online training assuming they have successfully gained a full and relevant qualification, only to find out they have not. It does not matter whether they state it somewhere less obvious, if the course is not full and relevant then you are an unqualified practitioner – it adds no value.’

Qualifications check

Cheryl Hadland, managing director of the Hadland Group, which owns Tops Day Nurseries and is a training provider, told Nursery World its nurseries regularly receive job applications from people without an appropriate Level 3.

She said, ‘Once we had a person transfer into our employment under TUPE who thought they had a Level 3, and whose previous employer thought they did, but they actually didn’t.

‘We have a two-fold process for checking their qualifications – at screening for interview, and then again in compliance. We copy candidates’ original certificate, check it is a relevant qualification title and that it is a genuine certificate via the awarding organisation.’

She added, ‘We would never consider someone for a job who has done their Level 3 [solely] online. We would rather take someone who is unqualified and train them ourselves.

‘If these courses are to be treated as taster sessions, learners would be better off buying a book on childcare theory and practice, or better still, do work experience in a nursery.

‘We do use online learning for basic hygiene for employees as it is cost-effective. However, after completion of the course, they are not just let loose in the kitchen, they are shown what to do and observed/assisted to ensure they work correctly.’

Nursery World reported on misunderstandings about the status of online Level 3 courses in 2012 and 2013, when Stonebridge Associated Colleges was investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority after one mother reported that her daughter nearly lost her job because her employer discovered that her qualification was not full and relevant.

Full and relevant qualifications

Full and relevant Level 3 qualifications on the DfE’s approved post-2014 list include Early Years Educator in their title, for example:

  • CACHE Diploma in Early Years Education and Care (Early Years Educator) (VRQ).
  • CACHE Diploma for the Early Years Workforce (Early Years Educator) (QCF).
  • City & Guilds Diploma for the Early Years Practitioner (Early Years Educator) (QCF).
  • Skillsfirst Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce (Early Years Educator).
  • Pearson UK BTEC National Diploma in Children’s Play, Learning and Development (Early Years Educator).

To check whether a qualification is full and relevant, use the Ofqual Register of Regulated Qualifications ; or the DfE-approved qualifications list, pre- and post-2014.

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