EXCLUSIVE: Busy Bees quits trailblazer group as 'process not employer-led'

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Busy Bees has sensationally resigned from the chair of the early years trailblazer group after trying for 18 months to get the Level 3 apprenticeship standard released, Nursery World can reveal.

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The news comes just a month before the Level 3 Early Years Educator standard is expected to finally be available for new apprentices, and follows the sacking of the first trailblazer group in 2017 after years of delays.

Sources say the trailblazers were at loggerheads with the Institute for Apprenticeships panel - which is chaired by Camberwell Park Specialist Support School head Mary Isherwood - responsible for approving the apprenticeship standards. One of the bones of contention is that the panel is believed to have tried to impose a GCSE requirement on apprenticeships.

Trailblazer groups were set up ‘to put employers in the driving seat’, but now the training academy arm of Busy Bees, which led the group, has released a statement saying ‘We are stepping down because we truly believe it should be an employer-led process and unfortunately this has not been the case.’

CEO of Busy Bees Training Academy Fay Gibbin said, ‘To reach the outcome we all desire as practitioners who really care about the industry, these decisions should be made by people at the coalface.

'Childcare is, and should be, a highly regulated sector. Therefore, our industry input and knowledge should be vital when agreeing new measurements that ensure future standards work effectively alongside any mandatory regulations. I would urge the IfA to listen to the views of employers and give them more involvement in setting the overall standards being discussed.’

The latest hold-up is over the assessment plan, which is believed to have been submitted to the IfA panel several times, the last time being on 26 September. Ms Gibbin said a compromise had now been reached, which ‘will result in a stronger, more skilled workforce'.

A source said, ‘The DfE has been a good critical friend, but the IfA panel has been a problem. They proposed a GCSE requirement – that was quickly squashed by the trailblazers. Now they can’t agree on what the end point assessment should look like. The problem is the panel doesn’t understand the way the early years sector works as it has very little early years representation on it.’ 

Ms Gibbin added the group 'initially wanted to be involved in the process of determining the most appropriate requirements for our Level 3 practitioners so that we could help create a framework that incorporates robust training and effective, meaningful qualifications with agreed standards in place' adding they had gained 'incredible insight' into the IfA and have 'thoroughly enjoyed working with our fellow early years industry experts to this end'.

Ms Gibbin has said she won’t officially leave the group until the level 3 standard is approved, and will stay on for a time in the event it is rejected. She added there will be a handover in October, when the new group chair will be announced.

The current trailblazer group took the reins from a trailblazer group led by Cheryl Hadland of Tops Day Nurseries, and then Chrissy Meleady, of Early Years Equality, who later threatened to take the Government to Judicial Review. The group first formed in March 2014, and also proposed a Level 3 standard, but the process was hampered by the Department for Education’s insistence on a minimum GCSE requirement for apprentices, which was revoked last March following a sector campaign prompted by a huge decline in Level 3 qualified staff.

Stella Ziolkowski, Director of Quality and Workforce Development at the NDNA, has been acting in an advisory capacity to the current group, and sat on the former group. She said, ‘We still don’t have a Level 3 standard and this process started in 2014. This is a massive issue.

'Before any new group is set up, we need to stop and reflect. There are many questions about the remit of not only the trailblazers but also the IfA and how DfE who are responsible for qualifications and regulatory requirements fit into this. The panel has been saying that they want inclusions that the sector do not want, or need. It is just an absolute mess. It isn’t working for the early years.  

‘At a time where we have a recruitment crisis, the IfA should be listening to the sector. Qualification development should encourage new entrants into and progession for the workforce through an apprenticeship route making qualifications achievable and role relevant.’

The IfA has been contacted for a response.

  • This story was amended at 13.57
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