I share the concerns of the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) childcare sector in Liverpool – and I have no doubt that the situation in our city is replicated elsewhere – that there is a looming crisis in early years because of the new requirement that Level 3 practitioners have GCSE English and maths.
This is having a negative impact on the recruitment to childcare apprenticeships and on career progression, and therefore on working parents and, most importantly, learning in an early years setting.
Liverpool is an aspirational city. We want the best for our young children and learners of all ages. We appreciate the good intentions behind the new requirements for maths and English GCSE and share the Government’s vision to upskill early years education – but Functional Skills are as important as GCSEs in this profession, and high-quality childcare is proven to have been delivered to date by staff who may not have GCSEs.
The introduction of the GCSE requirement is now inhibiting recruitment and retention into the childcare sector and preventing excellent practitioners from being able to practice at a level they are qualified to, and blocking career progression. This will ultimately not improve quality of practice and will not improve outcomes for young children.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that councils like Liverpool are striving to support improving the quality of provision and outcomes for children with dramatically reduced resources.
The Government’s approach is retrograde, when the national policy direction is placing increased pressures on the Local Authority to ensure sufficiency of childcare provision, and for providers to meet the demands of the two-year-old free entitlement offer and the impending 30-hour offer.
The policy not only runs contrary to the guiding principle behind the Government’s apprenticeship reform agenda – making apprenticeships more responsive to the needs of employers – it also raises serious concerns for Liverpool City Council and the city’s PVI sector:
- The number of Children’s Care, Learning and Development Apprenticeships has reduced dramatically in 2014/15 compared to 2012/13.
- The minimum duration of an apprenticeship is 12 months, but many Level 3 apprenticeships take 18 months – resulting in fewer qualified completers and Level 3 shortages.
- There is a reduction of up to 96% of applications for Early Years Educator Level 3 between 2014/15.
- Practitioners are deserting the sector due to lack of career progression.
- Training providers are struggling and not able to offer early years as an occupational route due to fewer candidates and the GCSE requirements – this affects their achievement rates and jeopardises their Apprenticeship contract.
The requirement for GCSEs in maths and English has been lifted from the Early Years Teacher route, but retained for all other graduate grades from 4-8.
Childcare is the only sector that has had this requirement imposed on it – not, for instance, on the Professional Accounting Apprenticeship, the Tax Technician Apprenticeship or the Actuarial Technician Apprenticeship.
I believe that this matter cannot be dismissed. As a direct consequence of this situation the availability of affordable, accessible quality childcare, that supports working parents and seeking employment, is in jeopardy.
The Government must review this matter based on the functional skills expected of childcare practitioners and, at the very least, consider a phased approach to introducing qualification requirements to Early Years Educator Trailblazer to prevent further challenges faced by the childcare sector.