The Department for Education (DfE) is currently consulting on proposals to amend the Early Years Foundation Stage. They propose relaxing the requirements around the minimum qualifications levels for the sector including:
- Reducing the proportion of Level 2 staff required to meet ratio requirements below the current 50% required to work alongside Level 3 qualified staff within age-related staff:child ratios
- Removing the requirement for Level 3 staff to hold an approved Level 2 maths qualification to count in ratios
- Allowing students and apprentices studying towards an approved Level 3 qualification to count in the Level 2 staff:child ratio, and those working towards an approved Level 6 qualification to count in the Level 3 ratio if providers decide they are “competent and responsible”
- A new “approved status” for staff to gain exemption from qualification requirements by demonstrating experience without achieving a qualification
- Relaxing qualification requirements outside “peak” setting hours.
These proposals are intended to allow flexibility to providers as a recognition of the recruitment and retention crisis currently faced by the early years sector. Yet it is contrary to the best interests of children to reduce the minimum standards in this way. Extensive evidence shows that the quality of the workforce is a leading driver of the quality of provision and makes a significant difference to children’s outcomes.
The point of having minimum qualification requirements is to ensure that the weakest providers and any which prioritise profit over children’s needs do not deliver sub-standard provision. These relaxations of the regulations risk the poorest quality provision deteriorating further. This will particularly be the case in the most disadvantaged areas of the country where provision is least viable and struggles most to recruit and retain staff.
Instead the government needs to put in place an ambitious long-term strategy to raise the minimum qualification standards over time to a Level 3 for all staff, with all settings led by graduates and teachers. It should make Continuing Professional Development a requirement and entitlement for all staff throughout their careers, and facilitate meaningful career progression. This requires additional investment in training, qualifications and staff pay, but would be offset by improved outcomes for children, a more stable and productive early years workforce and a reduced benefit bill to subsidise the inadequate wages of early years professionals.
Read our response to the consultation: