This month, Jo Morris of Playsteps in Swindon discusses the far-reaching impact that the Government’s GCSE-only ruling has had on the early years sector and her own setting since it was introduced.
This month saw the launch of a consultation on the literacy and numeracy requirements for the Early Years Educator qualification.
In 2012, Professor Cathy Nutbrown published her review of Early Education and Childcare qualifications called ‘Foundations for Quality’ in which she highlighted the importance of having a well-qualified early years workforce to drive up the quality of early education.
Nutbrown specifically highlighted maths and English as areas in which practitioners’ skills should be strengthened and recommended that students must already hold maths and English at Level 2 before they began a childcare course.
In 2014, the then Government announced that from that September, maths and English GCSEs at grade C or above would be a requirement for anyone wishing to undertake the new Early Years Educator qualification.
Since then, training providers have been highlighting a sharp decline in the number of candidates signing up for early years qualifications; this has led some in the sector to declare that there is a recruitment crisis looming.
This crisis is happening at a time when the Government has introduced the 30-hour childcare policy and is encouraging settings to consider extended opening hours, including weekends. In order to do this, settings will need more staff to cover these extended hours but – with fewer and fewer people entering the sector or continuing with their professional development – many early years managers are citing recruitment difficulties as a barrier to extended opening.
At Playsteps, we’ve seen a decline in the numbers of candidates applying to undertake Level 2 and 3 courses. As a setting, we are very keen to support our practitioners with their Continuous Professional Development, with seven of us achieving either the Foundation Degree or the BA in Early Years in the last five years. Of those seven, only one held both maths and English GCSEs at C or above. The majority had English but not maths, does that make us any less as practitioners? I would argue not.
A sad consequence of this policy is that we’ve seen some very dedicated practitioners leave the profession because they cannot face retaking their GCSE(s). In my experience, practitioners are more concerned about undertaking maths than English.
We had an amazing practitioner who had achieved her Level 2 qualification and was on course to continue to Level 3 just as this requirement was brought in; she didn’t have her maths GCSE and was so worried about the idea of retaking it that she left Early Years, the huge irony being that she went to work in finance and was able to do so without the GCSE.
The drive for more highly-qualified staff must also be viewed in the context of the wider issues in the sector. The low funding rates and our desire to keep fees competitive for parents means there is less money available for us to retain these highly-qualified staff by being able to pay them salaries that reflect their qualification.
This, along with the Apprenticeship Levy that will come into effect in April 2017 and the rise in National Living Wage to £9 an hour for those over 25 by 2020, means that upskilling, retaining and keeping a realistic salary gap between higher and lesser qualified staff will only increase the financial strain on settings.
I don’t believe that anyone in Early Years is against the notion of raising standards in the sector and certainly, having highly-qualified staff is a huge step in the right direction. The evidence shows that children in settings such as maintained, teacher-led nursery schools generally do very well in the EYFS. There are around 400 such settings in England, of which 97% are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, but GCSEs are not the ‘be all and end all’ for early education.
Love, patience, dedication and a genuine desire to care for and educate young children can’t be taught; these natural attributes are essential in a good practitioner. It is worth noting that, as at 31st August this year, the proportion of the 82,696 providers on the Early Years Register rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ had increased to 91%.
Given that the average time taken to achieve the Early Years Educator qualification is 18 months to 2 years and it was only introduced in September 2014, it is too early to be able to attribute this rise in standards to the first set of Early Years Educator practitioners entering the sector. So, again, this calls into question how essential maths and English GCSEs are in raising standards.
I have the utmost respect for those who have completed higher level qualifications such as Early Years Professional Status, Early Years Teacher Status, a Master’s degree or a PhD in early education and I don’t wish to diminish the importance of their qualifications.
But, equally, I have huge respect for the practitioners who are now deciding to stay at Level 2 because they do not have the GCSEs to progress to Level 3. These practitioners arguably have less opportunities for professional development open to them, yet they continue to work hard day in and day out to provide the best start for the children in their care.
I hope that once the Government has had a chance to review the responses to the consultation, they decide to do a U-turn on this requirement to enable dedicated individuals to continue to join and progress within the sector.
Opportunities for students to work on their maths and English skills as a part of the Early Years Educator course would have the desired effect of upskilling the workforce, without the risk of losing these much-needed future practitioners purely because of their GCSE results.
Do you agree with Jo? Leave your comments below!
My daughter has just failed her maths gcse for the 4 th time now and she is has just finished her first year of level 3 childcare but is worried she is going to be kicked off the course is this likely to happen ? Surely she should be able to finish the course !!! I really don’t understand why it’s necessary to have this exam !! Everywhere she has been placed she’s been offered work she loves the job her grades in childcare are all distinctions surely that’s more important than algebra ,equations or Pythagoras . She has her level 2 can that not be counted towards as a gcse ? Maybe I should tell her to go straight to level 4 like your previous person mentioned .
I currently work in a setting taking my level 3 qualification, since this new rule of needed a c in maths has seriously had an effect on me, i constantly stress as I’ve resat my gcse exam and got the grade F, iknow that I’m not going to be able to get a c and due to this I may have to leave the setting, I can’t understand why practitioners need a grade c in there maths when we only teach basic maths in a nursery setting, this rule needs to be scrapped!!!!!
I totally agree with Jo and would like to add that those with higher qualifications such as a degree in another field should be adequate for individuals to take on level 3 childcare without GCSE’s English and Maths. For instance, if a practitioner with level 2 holds additional higher qualification in any other field should be equivalent to GCSE qualifications or at least GCSE’s should be enforced at level 2 not level 3 otherwise, it feels like people are wasting time if they don’t want to be retaking it.
Does anyone know if a decision has been made on this? I have scoured the Internet but as yet I cant find any mention of it. A decision was supposed to be made at the end of November / beginning of December.
This artical is spot on. Early Years is the only sector that has this stipulation, which to me, seems ridiculous. I would have thought Supporting Teaching and Learning, and Engineering apprenticeships would be better supported by GCSE at C or above.
It is clear to me that this was not considered very carefully, especially in light of the new government 30 hours free childcare promise. Recruitment has been hit hard, and will continue to suffer until a rethink is considered !!!
Well said Jo, as a setting manager I whole heartedly agree.
I also agree with what Jo has said. We have recently supported 4 members of staff to attain GCSE maths, including myself. We all feel we have gained from the experience as have the children. One of the hidden benefits is in how it improves the self esteem/well-being of the student. As the manager of a voluntary run setting I feel the barrier to recruiting an unqualified employee and supporting them through Early Years Educator is the exorbitant cost of the course and the £1000 (20%) we have to contribute towards it and that it can take two years to qualify and be included in ratios. To top it all we now have to pay £85 for a fist aid course for a EYE when we already have 50% of key people qualified as first aiders and with experience to back it up. We are being pushed to our financial limits.
I agree entirely, the financial commitment involved in suppporting CPD is another factor which makes it very difficult for us to do.
The fact that the EYE qualification doesn’t include First Aid makes no sense at all to me as any newly qualified staff member (from Sep 16) can’t be included in ratios without it! As you say, that’s another financial outlay for settings!
I also agree that CPD has a positive effect on staff in terms of their self esteem, but sadly the other side of that coin is the negative effect if a practitioner fails to pass the course they are taking; as I said, I have huge respect for anyone deciding to stay at Level 2 because of this huge barrier to progression.
I remain hopeful that this requirement will be scrapped, I hope we hear something very early in the New Year! 🙂
Wonder when we introduce algebra and percentages to under 5s! We can all count to 100, introduce mathematical conversation in our activities, bake and weigh ingredients, measure, add and subtract small numbers with small children. It’s heartbreaking seeing good staff leave.
Hope they change this ASAP as an owner this is a real problem?
This article is spot on. Well said. I have done this job for nearly 30 years. I have owned my nursery for over 5 years and yes my qualification is old. I however love my job and i love going to work. But the ironic thing is if i left and wanted to work somewhere else an 18 year old, just out of college level 2 could be considered more qualified than me. I feel very under valued and demoralised.
Fantastic letter. Agree with every word. Requirement for GCSE should have been brought in at level 4 where there is nothing!
Yes I agree with Jo 100%!!! Absolutely the GCSE’s rule must be abandoned!! The letter is beautifully written and I completely make sense in every way!!