Experts have stated that the GCSE rule introduced in September 2014 for the Early Years Educator qualification is the reason behind a ‘cliff-edge drop’ in the number of young people entering the sector.

It is also expected that changes to the proportion of students expected to get a ‘good pass’ in English and maths under the new 1-9 grading system could worsen the recruitment crisis in Early Years.

The DfE is now consulting on the possibility of allowing functional skills equivalents to count in place of GCSEs for an ‘interim period’ until more school leavers get the required grades.

However, figures show that GCSEs in maths and English are not set to pick up over the coming years, with one in four pupils currently gaining a C grade expected to get a 5 grade next year – which slips below the gold standard.

If more skilled Early Years Educators are not recruited, it is feared that pupil attainment could spiral downwards. Statistics published by the DfE last week show 31% of under-fives are already behind in communication, maths and social skills when they start primary school.

Independent early years consultant Laura Henry said: “Rather than penalising the sector, which is already seeing a recruitment crisis, why aren’t we asking why these individuals are leaving secondary school without those GCSEs? This could have an ongoing ripple effect.”

Ken McArthur, a member of the NDNA, said he welcomed the chance to reinstate functional skills as an equivalent to GCSEs. He said: “In children under five, you don’t need to be able to do GCSE-level algebra.

“I’ve had people come from university doing a degree in early years who don’t know one end of a baby from the other. Of course we want highly skilled staff, but it’s a hands-on industry, not just an academic one.

“The GCSE requirement has caused a cliff-edge drop in the number of teenagers leaving school to do early years at college.

“With the current recruitment crisis and very low wage levels, which are mainly due to historically low levels of support and funding for early years, the problem of children being ‘school ready’ will only be exacerbated. A solution to both these issues needs to be urgently found.”

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