Early years - Children's Workforce Qualifications and Training Guide

The early years sector faces ongoing challenges recruiting and retaining staff, driven by poor pay and poor career progression.

Since September 2015, the number of registered childminders has dropped by 8,200 - 17 per cent - and continues to fall. The Early Years Alliance is working with the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted to explore ways to reduce workload pressures.

The long-awaited Level 3 Early Years Educator Apprenticeship launched in April. "This will be a major pathway to the qualifications available to those considering a career in the early years," says Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Early Years Alliance. "The next step must be to develop a Level 2 Apprenticeship standard to create a pipeline which supports unqualified childcare staff to progress." City & Guilds will deliver the End Point Assessment Service for the Level 3 Early Years Educator Apprenticeship standard to add to its Level 3 Diploma for Early Years Practitioners (Early Years Educator) qualification.

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) plans to release 10 new online courses in 2019 and 2020, which will count towards the Level 3 Diploma in Childcare and Early Education (Early Years Educator), and act as standalone training. Launched in July, the first two cover play.

Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) was introduced in 2013 in an effort to create a graduate-led workforce. The number of students enrolling on Early Years Initial Teacher Training courses is falling, with only 365 students enrolling in 2018/19. Some universities, such as the University of Derby, have now dropped the course. Sarah Charles, head of discipline for primary initial teacher education at the university says the decision was down to low demand. "A number of factors are responsible for a gradual decline in the number of applicants including the lack of parity with Qualified Teacher Status and related low salaries," she says.

There are three routes into EYTS: undergraduate, taken by nine per cent of trainees last year, postgraduate employment-based taken by 84 per cent, and graduate entry taken by 16 per cent. EYTS is considered the equivalent of Qualified Teacher Status, but does not bring equivalent pay. In 2018, the government abandoned plans to allow early years teachers to lead nursery or reception classes in maintained primary schools.

Last year, the DfE set out new criteria for Level 2 early years qualifications. Anyone wanting to work as an accredited Level 2 practitioner must take one of the new qualifications from September 2019. These will be available as standalone qualifications or as part of the Children and Young People's Workforce Intermediate Apprenticeship Framework. The DfE holds a list of endorsed qualifications on its website. Currently, these are limited to NCFE Cache Level 2 Diploma for the Early Years Practitioner, and BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Children's Play, Learning and Development (Early Years Practitioner). City & Guilds Level 2 Diploma for the Early Years Practitioner (England) will be available from September 2019 and added to the DfE list shortly. Level 2 qualifications started or achieved before September 2019 will still be recognised.

Sector body Pacey is working with the Open University to develop EY Smart, a digital continuing professional development resource. The NDNA is running an Early Years Leaders Programme in London until 2020, funded by the Mayor of London, for participants qualified to at least Level 3.

New accredited qualifications for special educational needs co-ordinators (Sencos) at Levels 3 and 4 are now available.

The government is introducing its first T-Levels in 2020, and the Education and Childcare T-Level is one of the first three. The two-year college-based vocational programme of study at Level 3 is equivalent to three A-Levels, and will be delivered by Cache. Participants will be able to specialise in Early Years Education and Childcare, Assisting Teaching, or Supporting and Mentoring Students in Further and Higher Education.

Men currently make up only three per cent of the workforce. In April, the DfE launched a drive to recruit more men into childcare. The campaign, which supports careers advisers and employers to highlight positive roles men can play in a child's first years, is being run by the Fatherhood Institute.

NDNA Cymru is rolling out its Welsh government funded Childcare Works programme across the country, aiming to train and support 84 nursery assistants by December 2020. Participants receive childcare training for four weeks followed by a paid nursery placement for 12 weeks.

In 2019, the Early Intervention Foundation launched the Early Years Transformation Academy, a structured 12-month programme, focusing on how local leaders of maternity and early years services can work together as a team to create a local early years strategy. An online hub has been developed to share academy resources with a wider audience as the programme progresses.


Sheffield Hallam University's early years initial teacher training programme was the first in the country to be rated "outstanding" by Ofsted when it was inspected in 2018. The one-year course is open to those already employed in early years settings as a part-time option and a full-time route for graduates new to the sector.

Ofsted particularly praised the programme's strong partnership with the local and wider early years sector, which gives trainees valued experience in a wide range of early years settings. Inspectors said this had helped raise the status of the local early years workforce.

As part of the programme participants undertake a "change" project aimed at improving an aspect of provision. "Many of our trainees are already in employment so look at changing something in their setting. Others may be in placements," says Lynne Truelove, early years lead. "They are able to develop an understanding of leadership and change management, and gain in confidence."

Everyone undertaking the course has achieved Early Years Teacher status.

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