Campaigners hope overwhelming pressure has forced the government to clear the way for a u-turn over GCSE requirements for early years educator (EYE) apprenticeships, following the launch of a new consultation.
It follows outrage when it was announced in September 2014 that EYE applicants would have to gain at least a C in maths and English before they could graduate.
A campaign to convince the Department for Education to reverse the decision for level three apprenticeships was launched in April by Cache, a specialist awarding organisation for courses in the care, health and education of young people.
It thinks viable alternative qualifications, such as Functional Skills, should be allowed.
Today’s launch of the consultation on what numeracy and literacy skills are needed by EYEs, by the minister for early years Caroline Dinenage, was greeted as a major step in the right direction.
Julie Hyde, associate director of Cache, said she hopes it will “pave the way for the GCSE-only rule to be dropped, and for Functional Skills to be reinstated as an equivalent qualification for level three EYE.
“There is no doubt that the GCSE-only policy has seriously impacted on recruitment.
“Reinstating Functional Skills will enable early years settings to again hire the brilliant practitioners they need, and will again allow staff to progress, and remain in the workforce. “We fully support the need for early years practitioners to have high-quality literacy and numeracy, and Functional Skills provides this.”
She added: “Caroline Dinenage deserves credit for listening to the sector and to our concerns, and for launching the consultation.
“We would encourage everyone to respond.”
FE Week’s sister paper Schools Week also reported a shortage in early years teacher trainees in January this year.
In a speech in July at the National Day Nurseries Association Conference in Milton Keynes, then childcare and education minister Sam Gyimah acknowledged widespread concern about the impact of the GCSE requirements on EYE teacher recruitment.
Mr Gyimah said: “The most common issue that people have raised with me in terms of attracting staff has been the recruitment of staff at level two and three since the introduction of the GCSE requirement for level three staff in September 2014. “I have heard from employers that they feel the requirement is reducing the pool of new staff coming into the sector.”
He added: “I have heard the concerns from significant parts of the sector for swift action to remove the GCSE requirement and I want to ensure you that I will be revisiting the options on how to make sure the sector has both the right number of staff and the right quality of staff.”
Commenting on the launch of the consultation that will run until November 28, Mr Gyimah’s replacement, Ms Dinenage, said: “Making sure our children learn, develop and flourish at this critical time in their lives is vital – we want to recruit and retain the very best staff for this, that’s why we are looking at the skills needed.”
She is set to make her first major speech to childcare professionals at the Nursery World Business Summit 2016 next Tuesday (November 8), when it is thought she will indicate willingness on the part of the government to compromise on the issue.