The country’s most popular apprenticeship standard is set to get a funding band boost.
Funding for the level 3 early years educator apprenticeship will move up from £6,000 to £7,000 from April 2024.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency announced the decision yesterday to support the early years workforce amid the government’s childcare reforms announced by the chancellor in the spring 2023 budget, such as 30 hours a week of free childcare for eligible working parents of children aged nine months up to three years in England.
Fewer than one in five nursery managers surveyed last year by the Early Education and Childcare Coalition said they could offer the extended free hours entitlement because of the recruitment crisis, with more than half of nursery staff considering quitting in the next year.
Department for Education data for 2022 shows 334,000 early years workers, down 10,000 (3 per cent) from the peak in 2019. Childminder numbers have fallen by one-fifth since 2019.
Ofsted last year flagged concerns that early years providers find it difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff.
Then chief inspector Amanda Spielman said during a speech at the Big Conversation in 2023 that apprenticeships could be part of the solution to recruiting enough qualified early years staff, but warned how fewer young people were taking up this opportunity.
She claimed the number of people starting relevant apprenticeships fell from just over 27,000 six years ago, to just over 16,000 in 2022.
The Early Years Alliance told FE Week at the time that the combination of demanding hours and low pay deterred people from joining the sector, adding that funding bands for early years apprenticeships needed to be increased to help providers train up staff.
The level 3 early years educator apprenticeship became the most popular apprenticeship in England in 2022/23 with 14,850 starts.
ESFA said the uplift of the standard’s funding band to £7,000 has been made as part of a “wider revision” of the apprenticeship, which has “brought the standard in line with the new level 3 early years educator criteria”.
If starts continue at their current rate, the increase would cost an estimated £14.8 million from England’s apprenticeships budget.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education confirmed the increase will be funded from the existing apprenticeships budget, which was nearly fully spent in 2022-23.
The government however pledged to boost the budget from £2.5 billion to £2.7 billion by 2024-25.
The DfE told FE Week the department continues to monitor spending against the apprenticeships budget to ensure the ongoing affordability of apprenticeships.
Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Early Years Alliance, welcomed the level 3 early years apprenticeship increase as the funding “now more closely reflects the real-terms costs of delivering this qualification to a high quality”.
However, he added it is “absolutely crucial” that funding for the level 2 early years practitioner apprenticeship, which has a current funding band of £4,000, is also increased.
“As it stands, funding for this level falls far below what is needed both to cover the cost of delivering this course and the associated assessment fees,” Freeston told FE Week.