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Great People Cannot Be Measured By GCSE Grade Cs Alone

20/10/2016 15:59

The nursery sector relies on people.

Bright, brilliant people who love the job they do.

Early years education and childcare attracts great candidates, despite lower wage expectations than in other careers.

Students know their efforts will be worthwhile, that they will go on to make a difference for countless young children at that crucial, formative stage in their lives.

Lately, not all those bright, brilliant people have been able to enter their profession of choice, because they don't have the right GCSEs.

Since 2014, students looking to qualify at level three in childcare - the industry standard - have been barred if they don't have maths and English at grade C or above.

Fewer than 60% of school leavers are currently achieving grades A to C at GCSE level and until these statistics change, nurseries have a very serious problem.

Figures from two particular awarding bodies revealed a 70% drop in level three registrations in 2014/5 and a 64% drop in 2015/16.

Employers are telling me they have vacancies open for up to 12 months that they just cannot fill, and level twos are leaving the sector because they can't progress to level three. This issue is impacting on nurseries' whole business models.

Some nurseries aren't even employing unqualified staff who don't have the required GCSE grades because they won't be able to progress to level 3 and beyond in the future. This issue is now causing problems across the whole spectrum of staff, from unqualified to graduate.

Our newly-released annual workforce survey shows a drop in numbers of qualified staff for the first time - from 83% to 75%. This will have a detrimental impact on the quality of children's early years education which is the single most important factor in reducing the attainment gap between peers.

At NDNA, we wholeheartedly believe that people who work in nurseries should be as well-qualified as possible, but GCSE grades are not the only way to spot a fabulous childcare candidate.

The solution is for the Government to allow functional equivalencies to GCSEs and we have long been campaigning for this.

By functional equivalencies, we mean the chance to take a practical test that demonstrates good general knowledge of maths and English.

The new Childcare Minister, Caroline Dinenage, has said that she is committed to looking at this issue but we need action now to turn this recruitment crisis around.

NDNA's Early Years Workforce Survey summarising the views of almost 300 nursery employers and more than 12,000 practitioners shows increasing turnover of staff as well as difficulty in recruiting.

This sorry situation is coming to a head at the worst possible time as the sector tries to prepare for the Government's 30 funded hours initiative. From September next year, three and four-year-olds of working parents earning less than £100,000 across England will be eligible for 30 funded nursery hours per week, term time.

Nursery owners and managers have enough to worry about with funding uncertainty, the increasing costs associated with National Living Wage and pension enrolment plus, in many cases, steep rises in Business Rates around the corner.

Severe difficulties in recruiting the right people to make accommodating more children for more hours should not be another headache to add to that long list of challenges.

Practitioners at all levels continue to leave the workforce because of higher pay outside the sector, particularly at level two and three because routes to progression are barred if they do not hold the necessary GCSEs to improve their early years qualifications.

There are not enough routes to help employers support practitioners to gain GCSEs and a lack of appetite for existing practitioners to do so. And workers who are eager to develop professionally are finding training budgets severely diminished because of other costs - not least, the fees of recruitment agencies supplying temporary staff to cover gaps.

For once, the answer to the problem is obvious and also, for once, it doesn't involve big money. Let's get those functional equivalencies made acceptable and start reopening doors to early years careers for those great people left out in the cold.

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