Moving ahead

Nursery World
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Level 3 Qualifications in Early Years Education and Childcare


T-levels are the Government’s new big idea for vocational education. A T-level is the name for a new vocational programme of study at Level 3, so-called to denote technical qualifications of equivalent status to three A levels.

A T level takes two years and contains a new qualification within it. T levels are expected to replace other vocational qualifications such as the Early Years Educator, which was introduced in 2014.

From 2020, Level 3 students will be able to take a T-level called ‘Education and Childcare’. The T-level will contain core content, which all students must complete, covers ages birth to 19 and will take up between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of the overall programme. Students then opt for one of three specialisms: ‘early years education and childcare’, ‘assisting teaching’, and ‘supporting and mentoring students in further and higher education’.

Within the T-level there is a technical qualification. This should meet Early Years Educator requirements for the early years education and childcare specialism (see below).

The idea behind T levels is that students who don’t yet know what they want to do, but know they are interested in education and/or childcare, can start with some core content and then specialise later.

The outline content has been designed by a panel of professionals.

One Awarding Organisation, or a consortium, delivers each T-level qualification under exclusive licence. Cache NCFE won the bid for this. Each licence would last about five years. Cache will be responsible for designing the detailed content of the qualification, upskilling providers, providing materials, and assessing qualifications.

There are fears that a T level won't give enough placement time to give a licence to practice, though the Government has said it will.


All full and relevant Level 3 childcare qualifications currently available should clearly state they are ‘Early Years Educator’ qualifications (although for those wanting to work in children’s residential care or children’s social care there are alternatives to the EYE.)

EYE students will be expected to meet the six criteria set out by the National College for Teaching and Leadership. Published in July 2013, they aim to reflect recommendations made in Cathy Nutbrown's review of early education and childcare qualifications.

A controversial rule stipulating that a minimum grade C in GCSE English and maths would be necessary for Level 3 candidates to count in ratio, was introduced with the EYE in September 2014. This was first an entry requirement, then later changed to be an exit requirement after pressure from employers. The rule was deemed to be at least partially responsible for a recruitment crisis. Then, when the early years workforce strategy was published in February 2017, the Government announced that functional skills and key skills are once again acceptable equivalents.

The full list of acceptable qualifications demonstrating literacy and numeracy can be found here. These are a workforce requirement, i.e. they are needed to count in the level 3 ratios (and not technically needed to complete the Level 3 course itself. The Government's wording on this can be found in a footnote on p.21 of the EYFS: 'To count in the ratios at level 3, staff holding an Early Years Educator qualification must also have achieved a suitable level 2 qualification in English and maths as defined by the Department for Education on the Early Years Qualifications List').


The NCTL criteria for all level 3 Early Years Educator qualifications require candidates to demonstrate that they can:

1. Support and promote children’s early education and development

2. Plan and provide effective care, teaching and learning that enables children to progress and prepares them for school

3. Make accurate and productive use of assessment

4. Develop effective and informed practice

5. Safeguard and promote the health, safety and welfare of children

6. Work in partnership with the key person, colleagues, parents and/or carers or other professionals


A full list of all approved EYE qualifications can be found here.

Early years educator qualifications are offered by Pearson, Cache, City & Guilds, FAQ, IAO, Skillsfirst, BIIAB, TQUK and ICQ.


No playwork qualifications at level 3 carry the Early Years Educator stamp, meaning they will not enable a candidate to count in the level 3 ratios.

However candidates may wish to take a playwork qualification alongside a ‘full and relevant’ Level 3. These are particularly appropriate for jobs at after-school or holiday clubs and can enable staff to work with children up to the age of 16.

A variety of providers including Cache, City and Guilds, and Pearson all offer playwork courses.

For more information on Playwork, see

Historic qualifications

Practitioners who completed or registered for a qualification before 1 September 2014 must hold a qualification that meets the full and relevant criteria to be counted in the level 3 ratios.

Health and social care qualifications are not considered to be full and relevant.

SEND qualification

A level 3 early years special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) qualification specification has been developed for the early years sector.

The qualification does not attract government funding but is intended as guidance for early years practitioners to help to clarify the role of the early years SENCO. They should be read alongside the ‘Special educational needs and disability code of practice’.

The SENCO qualification specification and job description are available here


Apprenticeships are on-the-job learning. Many nursery chains see them as a way of ‘growing their own’ talent by employing people on apprenticeship contracts, training and mentoring them and then offering them a job with the company. They are packages of qualifications, and include a qualification at the relevant level, and literacy, numeracy and ICT qualifications.

The apprenticeship system has been reformed recently, with new rules for funding, and the way apprenticeships are assessed. Under the previous system, apprentices were informally assessed on-the-job, but now apprentices must undertake an assessment with an external examiner from an independent company at the end of their course. Apprentices must spend 20% of their employment hours in off-the-job training, which the Government has said can include studying, practical training such as shadowing, and time to write assignments. The rest of the time is the employment part of the apprenticeship.

Level 3 apprentices will take an early years educator qualification as part of their apprenticeship.

The level 3 standard, which has been subject to multiple delays and problems, was finally published in April, but is not expected to be ready for delivery until this September. Apprentices have to sign up to a framework until that is ready – for which funding has been reduced.

T Levels and apprenticeships

The standard created by trailblazer groups is the basis for both apprenticeships and T-levels. In the case of childcare, because the draft Level 3 standard is based on the Early Years Educator qualification, it is expected that the T-level will also be based on the EYE, with the chosen AO using the standard to develop a full technical qualification specification. What will then be awarded will be a T-level in Education and Childcare, not an EYE.

Which framework?

Apprenticeship frameworks are set nationally in the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE). On top of this lie sector-specific frameworks, such as the early years apprenticeship framework, which provides information on sector-specific standards, such as the GCSE requirements.

An interim version of SASE is currently in force and will be until a new standard supercedes it (the framework is expected to be in place until August 2020).

The EYE GCSE requirements for apprentices have been amended so that all apprentices, regardless of age, will now need GCSEs to complete, rather than start, the framework.

The existing framework has been amended to reflect the re-addition of functional skills. This means that new starters to the framework (from 3 April 2017) will be able to use GCSE equivalents such as functional skills qualifications to demonstrate literacy and numeracy.  Students who signed up to the old framework will also be able to complete it with functional skills.


Early years qualifications had been migrating from the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) to the new Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) since 2010.

Now however both are being replaced by RQF, Regulated Qualifications Framework, which is designed to be simpler, and will help people understand 'better how qualifications relate to each other, by setting consistent measures of size (how long, typically, a qualification takes to study and be assessed for) and level of difficulty', according to the Government.


For more information about early years level 3 qualifications, see here

The Early Years Qualifications List is here.


Definition of full and relevant

This is deemed as being a qualification which demonstrates depth and level of learning appropriate to specified outcomes of full early years, childcare or playwork qualifications, has valid, reliable assessment and awarding procedures, and include an element of assessed performance evidence.

Only qualifications which are deemed full and relevant will enable a practitioner to count in ratio.


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