Editor’s view - On the level

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Liz Roberts looks at the lasting impact of the fall in numbers of Level 3 students

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We can now see the full impact that the requirement for Level 3 early years practitioners to hold GCSE English and Maths at grade C or above has had.

As part 2 of our Workforce Strategy series and our news story in this issue of Nursery World show, the numbers of students finishing Level 3 courses halved from 2014, when the rule was implemented, to 2016.

The requirement has now been scrapped, to the relief of most, but the fallout from the policy is huge and will have detrimental effects on sector recruitment for quite some time.

Some 17,350 Level 3 practitioners qualified in 2016 compared to 35, 275 in 2014 – no wonder that nurseries were struggling and failing to find enough staff. Sector research indicates that the percentage of Level 3 staff in nurseries dropped from 83 per cent in 2015 to 75 per cent in 2016, which is a significant backward step.

The reintroduction of Functional Skills as an equivalent to the GCSEs has seen an initial rise in applicants, but obviously it will be quite some time until they qualify. And changes to the apprenticeship system are also likely to lead to a decline in sign-ups.

All in all, it’s the last thing the early years sector needs right now. Well-qualified staff are crucial to high-quality provision that will lead to improved outcomes for children – otherwise, the case for more investment in young children’s earliest years will not be listened to.

And the capacity to offer sufficient 30-hours places for working parents – putting aside all the other constraints and challenges for a moment –will also be hit by this shortfall of qualified staff. Maybe there’s no point in saying ‘we told you so!’. But, well, we did!

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