There can no longer be any doubt – the childcare sector is in the grip of a recruitment crisis. There simply are no longer enough level 3 Early Years Educators. This staff shortage is the direct result of the Government’s insistence that only GCSEs in English and maths are accepted as qualifications for Level 3 EYEs, and bringing this requirement in so swiftly – and it should be remembered that no other sector has been required to employ staff with GCSEs as a statutory requirement.
I am not opposed to maths and English being a vital and necessary skill for Early Years Educators – far from it. Rather it is the functionality of these skills to the role undertaken and the virtual impossibility to achieve GCSEs alongside an Apprenticeship timeline that is the problem.
The ultimate impact is being felt by parents – the crisis means some Early Years settings across the country are having to turn away children and families, while others are closing down, so parents are struggling to find childcare and making it hard for them to carry on working.
Since the addition of GCSE requirements in Early Years Educator Level 3 Apprenticeship Framework – with no equivalent English and maths qualifications accepted – and the requirement of said GCSEs to confirm licence to practice, FE colleges and work based training providers in England have reported a drop of up to 96% for people applying for Early Years educator Level 3 between 2014 and 2015. Meanwhile the awarding organisation CACHE has reported that the number of registrations it has received for its Level 3 courses has dropped by 44% compared to 2013-14. The take up of early years Apprenticeships has also been shockingly low.
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, 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.
For existing staff, the picture is just as worrying. Early Years settings report that practitioners are leaving the sector in very high numbers due to them not attaining the GCSEs and being denied the opportunity to have their equivalents accepted by Government, thus not receiving a licence to practice. Level 2 staff are facing a lack of career advancement as they are not progressing in training or career, as they too do not have, or consider they cannot, attain the GCSEs they now need.
Learners completing higher level education training with qualifications at levels 4-8 who do not have their GCSEs but who do not have university-endorsed equivalents are being told they can only be employed as Level 2 staff in early years settings.
Training providers too, have been closing down or ceasing to offer early years as an occupational route that will profoundly affect their achievement rates and therefore will jeopardise their Apprenticeship contract.
Thus we have a situation where a young person is vocationally competent at level 3, and has secured employment as such – however, they can only be paid at level 2, cannot achieve a full framework, and cannot progress. They are stilted in their chosen career and the good faith training provider is out of pocket.
This in turn has hit the local economy as parents/carers bereft of childcare have had trouble with finding, or keeping work and employment opportunities as the sector has been reduced creating unemployment pockets in communities.
The Government’s policy has left the sector in crisis, early years settings and staff demoralised, and parents unable to access the childcare they need to ensure they can work.
They can avert it – but they need to act now to accept equitable qualifications, like functional skills, for level 3 EYEs to be counted in the ratios.