Due to what has been described as the government’s “catastrophic” demand for childcare staff to have GCSEs in English and maths at level 3, nursery schools are facing a staffing crisis.

Now, 25 supporters from the “Save Our Early Years” campaign have called for urgent action from the Government in an open letter which has been published in a national newspaper. 

The letter is being backed by some of the largest organisations representing the sector, including the Pre-school Learning Alliance, PACEY and the NDNA.

The group have stated that nearly half of all nurseries are struggling to recruit and that “talented potential new recruits, capable of contributing so much to childcare, [are being] blocked from joining the early years workforce”.

To combat the staffing crisis, campaigners want the Government’s GCSE-only requirement for Level 3 Early Years Educators to be scrapped and functional skills reinstated as an acceptable equivalent. 

Julie Hyde, associate director of awarding body CACHE, warned the staffing crisis could force working mothers to stay at home to look after their children as the number of under-five places reduces. She said:

“The crisis is significant and nurseries are not able to provide the additional places. This is a simple fix and it is so frustrating. The position will force one parent to stay at home and as women are often the lower earner, they will lose out.”

The open letter to the Government reads:

“There is now an overwhelming need for the catastrophic qualifications policy for early years staff to be scrapped – and for Functional Skills to be reinstated without further delay.

“The Government promised earlier this year to respond on this issue before 2017 and a consultation re-opening the debate closed last month – we now need the Government to make its decision urgently.

“Nearly half (43%) of all nurseries say they are struggling to recruit because of the requirement that Level 3 Early Years Educators must have GCSEs at C or better in English and maths. The situation is worsening all the time with talented potential new recruits, capable of contributing so much to childcare, blocked from joining the early years workforce, and existing staff are prevented from progressing.

“There is no doubt that English and maths are important for those working in childcare – but early years practitioners also need those real-life skills that help them solve the everyday problems that their jobs entail. Functional Skills provide not only good standards of literacy and numeracy, but also the all-important soft skills that all early years staff should have.

“Nursery places are in ever greater demand because of an increasing number of working parents.

“The 30 hours a week free childcare promise also means there is a need for additional staff to meet this demand, but the difficulty of recruiting these extra staff is having a negative impact on childcare settings’ ability to deliver this care. Hard working parents are therefore left with increasingly limited childcare choices.

“We must not forget that early years is primarily a care and child development profession, where knowledge of developing children and the quality of that care, alongside good English and maths, are the key attributes for successful, professional practitioners. The Government can solve the problem by reinstating Functional Skills now, before it is too late.”

A government consultation on the issue closed last month and it is expected to make a final decision soon.

A representative from the Department for Education said strong literacy and numeracy skills were “essential” for those working with young children. He stated:

“That is why we introduced GCSE requirements for those early years staff working for ‘level three early years educator’ status.

“We are continuing to look at what more can be done to encourage talented staff to forge a career in the early years.”

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