Beyond results day: Why we should offer alternative routes to GCSEs

Fay Gibbin offers her thoughts on contending with the Government’s GCSE regulations for childcare professionals and how we can help young people accomplish more through alternative routes.

Offering a second attempt at achieving a GCSE pass provides substantial benefit to learners. Photo credit:PA

Each year thousands of aspiring childcare professionals are employed in the Early Years sector and, within the last year alone, we have delivered over 1,000 childcare and catering apprenticeships to talented and passionate individuals across the country, from level 2 to higher apprenticeship level 5.

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For some of these would-be practitioners, all of whom have already left compulsory education, results day meant a nervous wait to find out if they will become qualified Early Years Educators at Level 3; not because they will be finding out if they have passed their apprenticeship qualification, but because they will be receiving their GCSE results in Maths and English.

The decline in academic achievement and its impact in the workplace

Worryingly, in the latest cohort of students across the country, we saw the sharpest decline in pupils achieving a grade A* to C since GCSEs were introduced in the late 1980s, down from 69 per cent last year to 66.9 per cent. A similar trend can be seen in Maths and English, as the overall proportion of pupils getting A*-C in English plummeted 5.2 per cent to 60.2 per cent, and Maths suffered a drop of 2.3 per cent.

Due to Government regulations introduced in 2014, all new applicants wishing to pursue a career in childcare must have GCSE grades C or above in Maths and English by completion of their Advanced Apprenticeship in Children’s and Young People Workforce( Level 3), with alternative equivalent qualifications, such as Functional Skills, no longer accepted.

Campaigners have called for the regulations to be scrapped, claiming that it is contributing to “catastrophic” staff shortages within the industry, less than 12 months before the nationwide rollout requiring nurseries to deliver 30-hours of free childcare to three and four-year-olds.

Every year, we see applications from school leavers who possess the soft skills needed to become an outstanding practitioner but, not necessarily through a fault of their own, lack a GCSE in Maths and English at grade C or above.

What is absolutely vital to recognise is that in a career like childcare, which requires a specific set of personal attributes to effectively nurture a young child, rather than dismiss these potentially fantastic practitioners as unemployable, it is our duty as training providers to offer them an alternative way of achieving these grades alongside their apprenticeship in order to help them realise their full potential. So what can be done to ensure we are supporting learners in achieving their ultimate goal?

The benefit to learners

It goes without saying that offering a second attempt at achieving a GCSE pass provides substantial benefit to learners. We are proud to now be an accredited GCSE provider with Edexcel in English and Maths to help our learners achieve the exit requirements for their apprenticeship qualifications.

We firmly believe that more training providers should work towards a similar offering, as what we are now able to do is provide tailored support and sufficient preparation to guide them to success, from the moment learners join one of our apprenticeships to the moment they sit their exam.

As well as formal qualifications, what providing GCSE accreditation offers to learners is the chance to progress further in their career and strive towards a higher employment status without the issue of being held back by academic qualifications. Not every pupil responds well in a school environment and that can have a lasting impact on their future career prospects if they aren’t able to achieve a good pass.

By offering an alternative method of teaching in a new environment, and with the added benefit of additional experience and knowledge, learners are able to reattempt this qualification in a way that may mean they surpass even their own expectations and achieve a grade that will prove an asset to them as they progress in their career.

The benefit to employers and training providers

In return, employers will benefit significantly by having an increasingly skilled workforce with academic achievement to compliment the soft skills and personal attributes they naturally have.

Incorporating formal learning and development opportunities into a robust and inclusive training strategy will support existing staff and help grow their talent. This will not only help to create a team of skilled individuals; it will also allow them to feel valued. Motivated staff are also more likely to stay with a company for the long-haul, minimising the loss of organisational knowledge and experience.

For external training providers looking to offer this additional service, there a number of options available to help fund the implementation and organisation of GCSE accreditation, such as the Skills Funding Agency, meaning that for a small amount of initial investment, your services are immediately made more attractive to businesses looking to employ a training provider to deliver their work-based qualifications. As a result, any losses are quickly recouped by the growth of new clients.

A look to the future

It is, of course, important that those who dedicate their lives to working with children achieve good results in English and Maths and we should continue to provide opportunities to individuals who did not reach the required levels in school for whatever reason, but have the ambition and the potential to become a successful practitioner.
In our experience, what we have found is that academic achievement often does not accurately reflect academic ability, work ethic or dedication to career progression.

What is absolutely vital is that in order for our sector to effectively face its upcoming challenges ahead of the 30-hours implementation, as well as for other employment sectors already heavily reliant on work-based training and apprenticeships to fill the growing skills gap, to not dismiss academic achievement for academic ability and provide alternative routes for learners to prove their knowledge, expand their qualifications and progress in their chosen career.


About the author

Fay Gibbin, Training Manager at Busy Bees Early Years Training Academy, part of the Busy Bees nursery group


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