The news in this article that “The government has launched a consultation on whether to scrap controversial qualification requirements for childcare apprentices that have been blamed for causing a recruitment crisis in the sector.” suggests that the Government has ignored the experience of the last decade when a number of early years settings faced crisis because some of their most experienced and skillful staff were forced to leave the sector altogether or retrain when Frank Field demanded that all senior staff had basic qualifications. Some settings at the time were forced to close, and tragically many were those offering the best type of care that the sector can offer, with small numbers and child centered education. I recall standing up and challenging Frank at a meeting in Westminster explaining about settings which were being forced to cover the costs of graduate level trained teachers in their 40’s and their 50’s who lacked one of the basic GCSE qualifications, sitting these exams merely to tick a box he had designed. Because these requirements had not been an essential part of their previous training they had graduated without a Maths or English GCSE or O Level, but they sat these exams so that the settings could continue to run as they had been doing successfully in the past. It is clearly vital that early years settings are seen as a credible part of the education system, and it is entirely reasonable that settings are incentivised to recruit students with the best qualifications. However if caring for children and educating them was dependent on every person in the mix having passed Maths and English exams, most of us would be ignorant today. In early years settings, the number of staff determines how many children can be accommodated in a way that is not true of Schools and if a small number of members of staff have not yet passed their Maths or English GCSE, they may still be capable of working in a setting caring for 2 or 3 year olds.
One of the sadness’s of this story is that the Government has acted first and is consulting afterwards. This may have led to some gifted individuals being forced to find other types of work, having been lost to the sector for good. Governments need to listen and learn, before acting. Something that they would do naturally if they had been well educated, even if the educator had lacked Maths or English! Another sadness is how the Government seems to believe that it can simultaneously drive down costs, something I have written about previously, while trying to drive up the standard of qualification needed to work in the sector. Common sense would show that something will give in the middle and what is at greatest risk in all of this is not a few settings that may close or a few young people (or not so young) forced out of early years education, but the education of our youngest and most vulnerable children becoming completely left to the worst excesses of low pay, low standards providers. It is time for Caroline Dinenage to return to some of the settings she has visited in the last couple of years and actually stop to talk and more importantly to listen to the practitioners who do know what they are talking about.