The government has come under fire for rejecting Functional Skills qualifications in favour of GCSEs in its entry requirements for early years educator (EYE) training courses.

This will not raise standards but exclude some excellent educators who will be excluded for the wrong reasons.

From August, the Skills Funding Agency will only pay for new learners who have already got GCSE English and maths at grade C or above.

Functional Skills fully replaced Key Skills in October 2012, but concerns have been growing in the sector that they are increasingly seen by government as inferior to GCSEs.

And the Department for Education (DfE) claims its rejection of Functional Skills will “raise the overall quality of literacy and numeracy skills of those entering the workforce”.

But the move has come under strong criticism from the sector.

Stewart Segal (pictured right), chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said: “Our view is that this is completely wrong.

“It will exclude many people that have been failed by the system and we should set qualification requirements by the end not beginning.

“This will not raise standards but exclude some excellent educators who will be excluded for the wrong reasons.

“It should be GCSE and equivalents such as Functional Skills which are well respected by employers who value functional literacy and numeracy above GCSEs.”

Deborah Ribchester, 14 to 19 and curriculum senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said: “The recent announcement by the National College for Teaching and Leadership at the Department for Education says that functional skills will not be accepted as equivalent to GCSE. Currently, functional skills are part of the early years apprenticeship framework, and we are seeking clarification in this area.”

Rob Wye (pictured below), chief executive of the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education, said: “While we recognise the importance of maths and English as a key part of developing a professional workforce for early years, we are concerned that making it a prerequisite to starting training, rather than to starting employment at the end of the course, will dissuade very many excellent vocational learners among young people and adults from coming forward for the EYE [early years educator].

“Many older learners may not have GCSE maths and English. Indeed, we note that there is no option to study the GCSEs alongside the EYE, thus excluding these learners from entering the workforce as an early years educator.

“We believe these new requirements will drive down the numbers taking the new EYE — at the very time we need numbers to go up to meet demand, not least because of the new and expanding two-year-old offer.”

And Suzi Gray, portfolio adviser at City & Guilds, said: “The government’s continued preference for GCSE risks understating the importance of being able to apply maths and English within the workplace.

“Singling out GCSE could be very damaging in recruiting to the profession, as it would bar potential applicants who have acquired these skills through other channels. It might also disadvantage applicants from areas where GCSE is not available.

“While we would obviously agree with the government that high standards are of the utmost importance, learners should be able to relate these skills to their everyday work and life and we would want to avoid the dangers of imposing a one-size-fits-all solution.”

The DfE said training providers “will be required to confirm learner’s prior achievement of this and record it in the learning agreement before enrolling learners on to early years educator training”.