The Government’s decision that you need to achieve a C or better in GCSE English and maths to become an Early Years Educator has made a bad situation even worse.

As a result of this, according to a survey undertaken by the Trailblazer group late last year, the number of students progressing to Level 3 has dropped by 70% since 2013/14, while the pool of qualified practitioners is also rapidly decreasing, with 43% of nurseries reporting that they’re struggling to find suitable candidates for vacancies.

At the end of last year, the Skills Funding Agency published their data for all apprentice starts in the last academic year, which revealed that the number of Level 3 starts for Children’s Care Learning and Development (CCLD) apprentices for the 2014/15 academic year was 11,180. This compares to 15,280 in the 2013/14 and 17,480 in the 2012/13 academic year. So, in two years we have seen a fall from almost 17,500 new Level 3s being trained to just over 11,000 (and the fall in 2013/14 was due to adult apprenticeship funding for Level 3s being replaced by 24+ loans for a period – until that was u-turned).

The bad news gets worse. National completion rates for CCLD are 71.7%. The numbers quoted above are for starts in the sector, not completions. If we multiply the number of starts by the national completion rate, we would expect circa 12,500 completions from the 2012/13 intake, and 8,016 from the 14/15 intake.

Now, here’s the really bad news. The minimum duration of an apprenticeship is 12 months, with many Level 3 apprenticeships taking 18 months. So, the staff shortages we are dealing with today are the result of the reduction in starts from the 2013/14 academic year, as it is they who completed their studies in 2015. Those who started their studies in the 2014/15 academic year will, in the main, still be studying.

Hence, as these fewer numbers complete, so the shortage of qualified staff will increase significantly.

What frustrates me the most is that it was completely obvious that this Level 3 staff shortage could be the only consequence of the Government’s insistence that we move from Functional Skills to GCSEs.

The sector as a whole is shouting loudly that there is a significant recruitment issue for Level 3 staff. With the above data in mind, I think it’s fair to say that the recruitment issue is about to become a recruitment crisis.

We were recently told that we were entering the Golden Age of Childcare. Well, that simply isn’t going to happen if we don’t have enough staff to run our early years settings.

I strongly believe that the present policy of requiring Level 3 students in our sector to have GCSEs puts an unnecessary and grossly unfair ceiling for those who are passionate about childcare and are warm and exceptional child carers, simply because they are not academically gifted. Ultimately, I believe this insistence on GCSEs will reduce quality in the sector not improve it, simply because not enough people are being trained.

It’s time for a change.

We need Nicky Morgan and the Department for Education to acknowledge that the GCSE rule was launched with the best of intentions but has, in fact, led to unintended consequences.

We need the entry criteria for our Early Years Educator Level 3 qualification to be returned to Functional Skills, as they are for ALL other apprenticeship frameworks – and we need it now.

Further procrastination can only lead to lower quality early years provision due to not enough staff, and ultimately, to fewer settings. This, in turn, puts the Government policy of 30 hours ‘free’ childcare in jeopardy – irrespective of the funding issues therein.

The Government still has time to correct itself – but not much.

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