We mustn’t set a precedent that undermines the value of apprenticeships and training

A concerning public consultation in the early years sector could set a dangerous precedent for qualifications and programmes

A concerning public consultation in the early years sector could set a dangerous precedent for qualifications and programmes

11 May 2024, 5:00

Whether it is allowing individuals to enhance their personal skillsets and careers, meeting the needs of businesses across the country or acting as a driver for social mobility, apprenticeships and wider training offerings are crucial to creating a country that works for everyone.

However, it is important that the training which leads to qualifications is fully regulated and consistent, driving standards which will help provide a platform for the workforce of tomorrow.

For these reasons, I have fundamental concerns about a government consultation which is currently being staged around the early years sector.

The proposed changes would create an experience-based progression route that would essentially allow staff working in nurseries for as little as six months and with a Level 2 qualification to be deemed qualified at Level 3 if a colleague felt they were worthy of it.

What’s more, that assessment could come from a colleague who themselves has very little experience. Such is the value we place on having thorough checks, here at Realise, our assessors require at least three years’ experience after achieving a full and relevant Level 3 qualification to be eligible for their role, as well as having a Level 3 assessor award and a teaching qualification.

Considering the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis in the early years sector – not to mention the enhanced demand for nursery places currently filtering through the system following the dramatic expansion in government-funded childcare – it is encouraging to see innovative ways are being looked at to drive new recruits into the sector and increase the number of qualified staff.

However, we must ensure – as with all sectors – that any training process is both thorough and regulated.

The current position in early years is that practitioners must have full and relevant qualifications. This is both vital to the learner’s career development and the overall success of the sector.

Let’s not allow flexibility to threaten quality and regulation

Under the new proposals, a practitioner’s existing knowledge, skills and experience would be assessed against the Level 3 early years educator criteria in order to take the experience-based route.

The practitioner would need to have Level 2 English and Paediatric First Aid qualifications and must also have worked in the sector for a minimum timeframe – suggested to be as low as six months – before they can be considered to be counted in the Level 3 ratios.

The staff member making a decision on their colleague’s experienced-based route status would be required to hold a Level 3 qualification themselves and could have been working in an early years setting for as little as six months.

The timeframes here would be a real concern because six months isn’t a long time for someone to be working in the sector to be making a judgement on a colleague’s competency.

While the new recruit is likely to have a qualification from another sector, there are concerns that by not engaging in an official Level 3 qualification in early years, they will be missing skills in vital areas including child development, legislation and regulation, and safeguarding for babies.

The other issue is that the competency judgments don’t pass from one nursery to another; If a practitioner moves on, they may be deemed Level 3-qualified in one nursery – but not another.

There is certainly a place for shorter training programmes than the traditional apprenticeship route. Adult education programmes implemented by combined authorities across the country are making a genuine difference, particularly for those who are currently unemployed or in low-wage jobs.

We’ve also seen shorter courses work very successfully, ranging from our apprenticeship accelerator Skills Bootcamps in early years, to training bus drivers in 16 weeks through our Route to Success programme.

But all of those courses have an additional context and are supplemented by further training and assessment either before or after.

My significant concern around the early years proposals in the current consultation is the lack of regulation and consistency it could bring, as well as undermining the incredible efforts many learners produce to secure qualifications.

More flexible and adaptable approaches to training are vital to engage learners and businesses. But let’s not allow flexibility to threaten quality and regulation.

Learners pushing themselves to the limits to secure official qualifications deserve more.

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