Following our recent judicial review application, the government has “agreed in principle” to amend the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) early next year so as to remove the five year rule. PBD has agreed to stay its court case for six months to allow time for the changes to be made.
But the campaign is far from over. Amending SASE is just the first step. What the government now needs to do is amend the early years apprenticeship framework that was made under SASE, because this is what is prejudicing learners.
And, in recent weeks, an even bigger problem has emerged over the equivalences for GCSE English which makes it impossible for anyone over 21 to complete an early years apprenticeship.
In GCSE English (unlike maths) candidates must undertake a series of controlled assessments, which have to be sat under exam conditions in a school. For work based candidates, this is just not possible, which has convinced PBD to offer the international GCSE in English instead.
But although the international GCSE attracts government funding and is recognised by Ofqual as fully equivalent to GCSE, the attitude of minister Nick Boles seems to depend on which of his two desks he is sitting at.
The DFE recently changed the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) so that anyone holding an Early Years Educator (EYE) qualification must hold a GCSE grade C or above in English and maths in order to count in ratio at Level 3. For this purpose, functional skills are not allowed but there is no time limit on when the GCSE was achieved. Equivalent qualifications like the international GCSE are accepted.
The rules for apprenticeships, by contrast, are designed to ensure that apprentices achieve qualifications with ‘enhanced functional content’. For this reason, only functional skills qualifications and GCSEs achieved after 2012 are allowed (with a transitional exemption for GCSEs achieved in the last five years). Older qualifications, and qualifications such as the international GCSE, are not accepted as they are not regarded as containing enough functional content for an apprenticeship.
This is somewhat schizophrenic, but we could have lived with it. A maths GCSE meets both the apprenticeship and the EYFS requirements. But because the international GCSE in English only counts for the EYFS, our EYE apprentices would have had to take a test in functional skills English as well.
Except that, for some reason, the government has also decided to close down the functional skills option in the EYE apprenticeship. What is so galling is that this was completely unnecessary. This isn’t about functional skills versus GCSE – the EYFS says ‘no functional skills’ and that’s that. But there has to be some way for people to tick the apprenticeship boxes as well.
Because of the legal requirements for qualifications in the early years sector, most learners tend to focus on achieving the certificates that they need for career progression and see the apprenticeship completion itself as largely irrelevant. The international GCSE is eligible for government funding and there is nothing to prevent learners from enrolling on an apprenticeship which includes it. However, it will not count towards completion and there may be financial and other consequences for training providers if too many candidates fail to complete the framework.
Nick Boles works in the DFE and rightly wants to raise entry standards for EYEs. He also works in BIS, where he is in charge of promoting apprenticeships. He could have done both, but instead he has chosen to kill off apprenticeships in the early years sector.
Our judicial review application has won a significant concession, but a lot of work is still needed to undo the damage which has already been done. If you would like to let the minister have your views, you can write to him as follows:
Nick Boles MP
Minister of State for Skills and Equalities
Department of Business, Innovation and Skills
1 Victoria Street
London SW1H 0ET