DfE sets out new criteria for Level 2 early years qualifications

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The new Level 2 early years practitioner qualifications criteria have been welcomed by the sector for 'raising the bar'.


New qualifications for Level 2 practitioners will be available from 2019

The criteria set out the minimum requirements that the new Level 2 qualifications, which will be available from 1 September 2019, must meet.

They set out the minimum knowledge, understanding and skills that a Level 2 early years practitioner needs to demonstrate to be considered qualified to support young children from birth to five years old.

Sector organisations have welcomed the strengthening of areas such as safeguarding, parental involvement and SEND support.

The job title of ‘Level 2 assistant’, which had initially been proposed by the Government, has also been replaced by ‘Level 2 practitioner’, after feedback from the consultation.

All Level 2 early years practitioner qualifications will require candidates to demonstrate skills, knowledge and understanding in the following areas:

  • Knowledge of child development
  • Safeguarding
  • Health and Safety
  • Wellbeing
  • Communication
  • Support the planning of and deliver activities, purposeful play opportunities and educational programmes
  • Support children with special educational needs and disabilities
  • Own role and development
  • Working with others – parents, colleagues and other professionals

Separately, the department has also published a specification for a Level 2 Early Years SEND qualification.

Government response to Level 2 consultation

The DfE has also published its response to the 12-week Level 2 consultation, which had received 164 responses by the time it closed in February.

Following feedback, the Government has amended, added or strengthened the following:

Stakeholders did not like the title ‘assistant’ and would prefer to use ‘practitioner’. The title has been changed to ‘Level 2 Practitioner’.

  • Additional content has been added to strengthen the safeguarding section: knowledge of the legal requirements and guidance on safeguarding, security, confidentiality of information and promoting the welfare of children
  • types of abuse
  • explanation of own role and responsibilities in relation to safeguarding and security, including child protection, reporting and confidentiality of information.

Addition to the child development section of:

  • Reference to Key Person role
  • How children learn

Addition of oral hygiene and dental care references to health and safety and wellbeing sections.

Strengthened communication section to ensure communication with all children and to include children with ‘delayed speech’.

Reference to curriculum changed to ‘statutory guidance’ for clarity/ accuracy.

Strengthened parent/ child involvement in planning/assessment and SEND support sections.

The ‘Health and Safety’ and ‘Health and Welfare’ sections have been revised to move all healthy aspects into one section to reduce duplication. ‘Health and Safety’ and ‘Wellbeing’ sections have been created.

Sector response

Stella Ziolkowski, the National Day Nurseries Association director for quality and training, who sat on the panel of experts looking at the standards, said, ‘These standards are now really relevant and up to date. Following consultation with the sector, we know that these changes mean that Level 2 practitioners will have the skills and knowledge that employers need them to have.

‘We have made sure these standards are realistic and fit-for-purpose. They really raise the bar for Level 2s and bring them much closer in knowledge and skills to level 3 practitioners.

‘They will have a deeper understanding of the EYFS and how to support children’s development. Once these new standards come in, it should raise the level of quality of the early education on offer in our nurseries.’

Velda Bartholomew, training operations manager at the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 

‘The development of robust and comprehensive Level 2 qualification criteria is vital to providing a solid basis on which early years practitioners can prepare for a career in early years, and so we welcome steps taken by Government to strengthen the proposed criteria in several key areas, such as safeguarding, parental involvement and SEND support.

‘With this qualification playing such an important role in recruitment and retention in the sector, we’re also pleased that the Government has decided to replace the proposed title of ‘Level 2 assistant’ with ‘Level 2 practitioner’ in response to consultation feedback.

‘Of course, this is only one part of building a high-quality early years workforce, and with the recent decision to scrap early years graduate proposals, it remains to be seen how much progress will be made on the implementation of the early years workforce strategy as a whole. Nevertheless, the development of this new qualification, which will provide learners with the skills and understanding they need to support the delivery of high-quality care and education in the early years sector, is a welcome and positive step.’

Early Years Level 2 SEND qualification specification

The Early Years Level 2 SEND specification is part of a commitment to developing a SEND qualification, which was stated in the Early Years Workforce Strategy.

This will be a qualification focusing on supporting children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) in the early years. The DfE says that it will be especially useful as  top-up for Level 2 practitioners who achieved a qualification before the introduction of the Level 2 early years practitioner criteria.

The qualification was designed by the DfE with early years experts and stakeholders, including Nasen, The Communication Trust, and Action for Children.

It will be used by awarding organisations and training providers to develop qualifications and training courses.

Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi said, ‘Our ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is exactly the same as it is for all children – we want them to be able  to do their best throughout school and college, and live happy, fulfilled lives where they can reach their full potential.
‘That’s why the reforms we have made to the system, including the introduction of Education, Health and Care plans, put children at the heart of the process and we are investing a record £6 billion on high needs funding for councils this year – an increase of £1 billion since 2013. 
‘We are providing teachers with the tools and training to support children with SEND throughout school and have introduced new qualifications for early years professionals to provide tailored help to those with SEND in their early education.’

Early Years Careers Map

The DfE has also published the Early Years Careers Pathway for staff already working in the early years sector to support their career development and for those interested in working in the sector to see the range of job roles and opportunities on offer. This includes an Early Years Career Progression Map.

Ms Ziolkowski, who sat on the panel of experts looking at the new pathways,  said they would help careers advisers, schools and colleges to be able to support people working in the sector because it outlines what it means to work in early years.

‘This is a good starting point for practitioners, both new entrants and those already working in the sector, to understand the direction of travel they can expect,’ she said.

‘The Government’s next priority needs to be how to attract more talented people into the system in the first place. First and foremost, decision-makers need to look at increasing funding for the “free” entitlement to try to increase wages generally for practitioners.
‘Employers must be supported to be able to pay adequate salaries and be able to reward their high-performing staff in order to motivate them to progress further.’

More information

Early years practitioner (level 2) qualifications criteria

Strengthening level 2 qualification for the early education and childcare workforce

Level 2 SEND qualification specification

The Early Years Careers Pathway

Download the Early Years Career Progression Map

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