DfE consults sector on GCSE rules in wake of protest

DfE consults sector on GCSE rules in wake of protest

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The Department for Education has finally responded to vocal concerns from the sector about the need to revise the GCSE rules for Level 3 early years workers, amid the recruitment crisis.


The Department for Education has finally responded to vocal concerns from the sector about the need to revise the GCSE rules for Level 3 early years workers, amid the recruitment crisis.

Early years minister Caroline Dinenage has launched a three-week consultation on the literacy and numeracy requirements for Level 3 early years workers (closing on 28 November), as she acknowledged that providers are facing huge difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. The requirement to hold at least grade C GCSEs in English and mathematics was introduced in September 2014.

Ms Dinenage told delegates at Nursery World’s Business Summit that she would respond to the consultation as part of a wider workforce strategy.

She said, ‘It was the biggest issue that providers mentioned to me as I went around the country. I’m determined and I’m pushing and pushing to get the workforce strategy out before Christmas.’

The need for changes to the GCSE rule was emphasised during a panel session.

Julie Hyde, chief executive of the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (CACHE), said the requirement was a threat to recruitment.

‘Other sectors endorse functional skills as an accepted equivalent qualification and our sector should have parity with this,’ she said. ‘The evidence to support this is already really very strong. A total of 43 per cent of nurseries report being unable to find apprentices as a result of the GCSE requirement.’

Ms Hyde referred to analysis of Ofqual figures, produced from analysis by Nursery World and Cache in September, which showed a 32 per cent drop in the number of students completing Level 3 courses between January and March 2016 compared with the same period in 2015.

She also said there had been a 15 per cent increase in Level 2 certificates during the same period and that learners were not able to progress.

Ms Hyde added that more than 80 per cent of early years providers were Good or Outstanding, despite having practitioners who qualified before the GCSE requirement was introduced.

‘If we don’t address the GCSE issue now how will we meet the needs of the policy for more childcare and the three million target for apprenticeships by 2020?’ she asked.


CACHE’s Save Our Early Years campaign has led to 1,600 letters being sent to the DfE.

Ms Hyde urged the summit audience to respond to the consultation, saying that it was ‘the vehicle for change’.

She added, ‘This sector has fantastic practitioners, we know that. Adding functional skills in numeracy and literacy to the National College of Teaching and Leadership’s list of equivalent qualifications will remove this barrier, will enable progression for young people, recruitment for settings, provide childcare for families, and allow the future of our children to flourish in the early years.’

It is a year since the Trailblazer group submitted the Level 3 standard for early years apprenticeships. Giving an update, Michael Freeston, director of quality and improvement at the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said ‘nothing much has changed’, adding that the ‘sticking point’ is the GCSE requirement.

The group’s standard includes GCSEs and other reasonable equivalents. Mr Freeston said, ‘There had been a suggestion that we remove [other reasonable equivalents] – we chose not to on the feedback from sector employers.’ He added that ‘we also submitted Level 2 in draft form, but as that is dependent in terms of progression on Level 3’, no progress had been made on that either.


The consultation asks questions about the barriers that providers and training providers are finding with recruitment.

It asks for views to help identify what Level 2 English and mathematics qualification requirements would best ensure that staff have developed the following understanding, skills and knowledge by the time they join the workforce at Level 3, such as:

a) an understanding of child development including how children acquire language and numeracy

b) an ability to model good language, communication and numeracy skills, and show a passion for them, to the children they work with

c) the appropriate level of ability and confidence in their literacy and numeracy skills to communicate effectively with a wide range of audiences from parents to professional services.

It asks: What numeracy/literacy requirements at Level 2 do you think are most appropriate for Level 3 staff?

• GCSE grade C or above in mathematics/English

• Functional skills – mathematics/English Level 2

• No suitable qualification currently exists – developing a bespoke qualification on effective practice to engage young children in numeracy/literacy learning would be most appropriate for this role

• Other – please explain


Published by Nursery World