Nursery qualifications U-turn 'huge relief', say campaigners

By Judith Burns
Education reporter

image source, Thinkstock
image captionNursery owners feared a staffing crisis brought on by the government's stance on GCSE grades

A government U-turn on qualifications required by nursery staff has come as a "huge relief", say campaigners.

Since 2014 new recruits have needed at least C grades in GCSE English and maths, with equivalent "functional skills" qualifications not accepted.

Childcare organisations said the requirement was putting off talented staff, risking a recruitment crisis.

But Early Years Minister Caroline Dinenage has confirmed that equivalent qualifications will count from April.

The minister set out the change of plan in a speech launching the government's early years workforce strategy at the Childcare Expo in London.

Current early years staffing rules set out ratios of children to qualified staff as follows:

  • One-year-olds and younger - one member of staff to three children
  • Two-year-olds - one member of staff to four children
  • Three and four-year-olds - one member of staff to eight children or one to 13 if the group is teacher-led.

Although nurseries were able to hire staff without good GCSEs, these staff did not count towards the ratios.

And nursery owners said potential new recruits were put off if they were unable to achieve good enough GCSE grades, leading to staff shortages.

The National Day Nurseries Association said the decision to broaden the qualification requirements would help ease the recruitment crisis.

"We are delighted and very relieved," said NDNA chief executive Purnima Tanuku.

"This change will allow the sector choice. For those wanting to progress further to early years teacher status, they will still need grade Cs in GCSE maths, English and science to be accepted on to a programme of study.

"For others who aim for level three qualifications with functional skills, they will now be able to demonstrate their knowledge of supporting young children in their literacy and numeracy skills and understanding through a more appropriate work-based route."

'Equivalent standard'

Julie Hyde of the campaign group Save our Early Years said Ms Dinenage deserved "real credit for genuinely listening to the sector, hearing our concerns and changing the policy".

"It takes leadership to change tack," said Ms Hyde.

And Neil Leitch, of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said the announcement was "not in any way about lowering standards in the early years, but rather about giving talented and dedicated practitioners the opportunity to progress their careers".

He added: "It's of course vital that we continue to work to ensure that functional skills qualifications are robust and meaningful."

Mr Leitch said it was crucial to have enough qualified staff ready for the roll-out of the 30-hours free childcare scheme for working families in September.

The minister also announced plans to get more graduates into nursery careers and to attract more "vibrant and creative young people" into the profession through better careers advice.

The government has also found £3m of new money to expand early-years teaching schools in disadvantaged areas, said Ms Dinenage

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