The new GCSE requirement is having a devastating effect on the numbers of Level 3 learners and apprentices – our training centre has seen a 50% decrease in numbers this year and nationally the decrease has been 40%. In my nursery settings, I am already experiencing difficulties recruiting Level 3 qualified staff, and there has been a real drop in the number of enquiries for jobs this year. Significantly our excellent Level 2 learners, whom we had from the previous academic year, were put off from progressing to Level 3 because of the GCSE requirement – it is likely that they will now be lost to the sector forever.
Early Years is a “care” profession – and academic ability in English and maths does not guarantee a good quality Early Years practitioner. The emphasis should be on strong communication skills, empathy, a good knowledge of child development and the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum and an ability to “play”. In Early Years we are supposed to support children to be “school ready” – resilient, social, happy little people who are inspired to learn. A good quality practitioner must have the ability to support this “school ready” focus and GCSEs in English and maths do not provide this.
Functional Skills are much more suitable – it is not as if Early Years practitioners will be introducing theoretical concepts in maths and English to children under five, but strong practical skills, which is what Functional Skills offer, while providing the requisite standards of English and maths.
I have worked in the sector for over 20 years and have seen an ever-increasing number of strategies introduced by the Government with the intention of raising the quality of Early Years settings. I absolutely support the importance of raising quality – but this current strategy will not only not do this, it actually threatens the quality. There will inevitably be a skills gap in early years due to a massive shortfall in Level 3 qualified practitioners, it will take at least five years to overcome this – and the quality will inevitably fall.
For parents, it is also a disaster – not only does the policy threaten the quality of care that can be provided for their child, but their childcare costs will rise – and at a time when the National Living Wage and the 30 hours free childcare are being introduced.
It’s a perfect storm – and I really hope the Government will see sense on this. It is no shame to change policy – and indeed I, and I am sure the sector as a whole, would give the Government real credit if they did.