‘Radical’ shake up of adult education could boost recruitment to early years sector

Kathy Oxtoby
Friday, October 2, 2020

New adult education funding could lead to more candidates coming into childcare, experts suggest, but they stress that the Government must include the early years sector in its strategy.

It is hoped that the launch of the T-Level in Education and Childcare will boost careers in the sector.
It is hoped that the launch of the T-Level in Education and Childcare will boost careers in the sector.

New investment in adult education and new courses announced by the Government this September could boost recruitment in the early years sector, experts suggest.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised a ‘radical’ shake up of further education with a new ‘lifetime skills guarantee’ that would offer a fully funded college course to all people over 18 in England without an A-level or equivalent qualification.

Currently, only people aged under 23 qualify for a fully-funded qualification at this level.

More candidates could also be encouraged to work in the sector following the Government’s announcement that the T Level in Education and Childcare is among the first of these new qualifications to be launched. T Levels are new courses that follow GCSEs, equivalent to three A Levels and have been co-created by relevant employers.  

‘Long standing recruitment challenges’
Leading bodies welcomed the new funding in adult education and recognised its potential to address ‘long standing recruitment challenges’ faced by the early years sector. However, with details of courses eligible for funding yet to be confirmed, they said it was’ ‘critical’ for the Level 3 Early Years Educator to be included on this list, and called for the Government to include the sector in its new strategy.

A further recruitment boost could come as a result of the pandemic’s damaging impact on certain sectors, which may prompt more people to consider childcare as a career. Imogen Edmunds, managing director of Redwing Solutions Ltd, said: ‘We expect there to be increased numbers of displaced early years professionals joining the recruitment market in the coming months.

‘Like nursing we envisage that the profession will have increased appeal. While the sector has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, many sectors are still to reopen such as the Arts, and employees in those sectors may be forced to change their careers,’ Ms Edmunds said.

However, Stella Ziolkowski, National Day Nurseries Association’s (NDNA) director of quality and training, said the Covid pandemic had ‘accelerated’ recruitment and retention challenges within the sector.  

She said that in line with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) many employees had been receiving 80 per cent of their usual salary.  ‘This has forced many practitioners to move out of early years, securing roles in other occupations,’ she said.

Ms Ziolkowski said employers needed ‘financial support now’ to ensure they have a sufficient workforce to provide childcare services for their families locally. ‘Early years is the linchpin for economic recovery, an essential service to help parents to get and keep employment,’ she said. 

She said that T Levels and the lifetime skills guarantee ‘both have potential and we hope these will mean more candidates coming into childcare’.

‘Post CJRS there could be a number of individuals looking at career changes due to loss of and insufficient jobs within their own industries which is an excellent opportunity to attract and train new talent.

'However, we also know that pay concerns make the sector less attractive to new entrants. Therefore, until Government underfunding is rectified, employers are not able to address the issues surrounding recruitment and pay.'

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said that while investment in adult skills ‘always has to be welcomed’, it had ‘yet to be confirmed whether childcare and early years qualifications will be included.

‘Doing so would help address our sector’s long-standing recruitment challenges, so PACEY has written to the Skills Minister setting out why our sector should be included in this new strategy and other barriers to entry need addressed.

‘We are hopeful of inclusion given Government’s investment in the T level but nothing will be confirmed until next month,’ she said.

Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Early Years Alliance, said the previous requirement to take out a loan to study was ‘a real disincentive’ for many learners, so the Government’s decision to offer the new fully-funded Level 3 courses was ‘undoubtedly a positive move’.

However, he said that with the Government yet to confirm which courses will be eligible for this funding, ‘it still remains to be seen whether or not this new policy will in fact benefit the early years sector’.

‘In our view, it is absolutely critical that the Level 3 Early Years Educator is included on this list: we know from our own experience as a training provider that childcare is a widely popular choice for adults undertaking a career change, especially among those who have seen the value of the early years profession after having children of their own.

‘With the recent launch of the T-Level in Education and Childcare for 16-18 year olds, the Government now has a real opportunity to send out a clear message of the importance of the early years, and the value of building a career in the sector,’ he said.

Michelle Samuels, apprentice programme manager for the London Early Years Foundation, said that while T levels were being put forward as ‘the next new thing’ to support the long-term plan for unemployment, ‘they contradict the apprentice programme and the most recent kickstart scheme that has been pushed forward’.

‘It seems that we are adding other avenues without checking or rectifying the issues we have with the current offer. For example, levy funds being used to enable graduates to undertake additional higher education qualifications, or the need for strategies to encourage larger companies to share their unused levy to support employers who have opportunities to offer but no levy to facilitate these.’

She added: ‘While T Levels may seem like a good introduction to early years I feel it will take away the positives we have already paved the way for, for early years apprentices.’

To discover more about the T Level in Education and Childcare, visit an open day or log on here 

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