Nursery Management

T level education and childcare – Find out what T level students can bring to your setting

  • T level education and childcare – Find out what T level students can bring to your setting

As Ofsted’s latest report highlights, staffing and recruitment continues to be a challenging area for early years settings – and this is having a knock-on effect on children’s development, already impacted by the pandemic.

Teach Early Years spoke to Stella Ziolkowski, director of quality and training at NDNA, to get some insight into the scope of the problem; and what needs to happen if we are to turn the situation around.

TEY What, in your view, are the major factors influencing the current crisis in staffing and recruitment for the early years sector?

SZ The early years staffing and recruiting landscape in the UK is influenced by several factors, but the main one that is often overlooked is the staff to children ratio that must be met for a childcare business to actually operate.

This, along with the lack of applicants with a Level 3 Early Years qualification, is a big concern for employers.

Early years providers are also feeling the impact of the cost-of-living increase, not only when it comes to operating their business, but also to retaining staff.

Unfortunately, we have seen closures of over 300 nurseries and preschools in the last 12 months alone due to the financial impact, and others having to resort to raising fees to ensure staff are provided for.

How could the government help?

The government has already dedicated a lot of money to early years care in terms of the different programmes now on offer for the development of staff.

However, as the sector is bound by the ratio of staff to children, this makes it increasingly difficult to see actual results.

We need a national-sponsored drive for recruiting early years staff, with the government helping us to reach potential candidates, finding ways to encourage qualified staff back into childcare and ultimately ease the demand.

That is where the introduction of T Levels is helping.

How has the introduction of T levels changed the playing field?

T Levels stand out from the traditional equivalents (A-Levels etc) because they are a unique mixture of academic and practical education.

This means that students are able to learn the important foundations of childcare and complement this with real world work experience.

This is key in helping them figure out if they are best suited for the industry related to their qualification.

For those of us already operating in the childcare sector, and who are currently experiencing significant issues when it comes to recruitment, T Levels are very much welcomed.

They help supply early years providers with a fresh pipeline of talent. For example, after a T Levels student has completed their industry placement, the nursery or other provider hosting that student could then decide to offer them an apprenticeship.

This not only progresses the student’s career, but also provides the childcare provider with another member of staff who is already familiar with the workplace environment.

Although T Levels are still in their infancy, we have already seen multiple students take part in industry placements. However, it is less clear if these students have secured employment within early years.

Do you think that enough employers are aware of how T level students and apprenticeships could enhance their workforce?

There has been a proactive and effective drive from the government to raise awareness of both qualifications.

Apprenticeships are well embedded within the sector. However, I suspect there are still misconceptions that stop employers finding out more about making the most of T Levels to help the development of their business.

For example, there may be small nurseries that think because of their size they would not benefit as much from having a T Level student.

The benefits of being able to host and nurture upcoming talent are endless and can create a much-needed talent pipeline for the future.

Where can employers find more information or get advice about recruitment and staffing?

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) provides several resources to aid with recruitment, including essential guides to Recruitment and Selection.

At NDNA, we are also launching the second phase of our First Five Years Count campaign, which is focused on celebrating the work of the early years sector and raising awareness of the difference our work makes to children’s lives.

I would also encourage early years managers to explore onboarding a T Level or apprenticeship student, if they have not already done so, to help bolster their workforce.

Find out more information on apprenticeships or hosting T Level students.

How do you see the future looking for recruitment and staffing in the EY sector?

I am optimistic about the future. However, improving the current landscape hinges on taking significant action as a sector, ideally with government backing.

Increasing the capacity of T Level students and apprentices within the sector will help to alleviate some of the staffing issues we are facing, but realistically, we need qualified staff.

Students are important for maintaining the recruitment pipeline for the sector by exposing future talent to real life experience whilst giving them the skills they need to become proficient early years practitioners.

These qualifications also mark the start of an important shift we need to make when it comes to the perception of working in childcare and it being considered a viable career path full of growth opportunities.

The work early years providers do is vital to ensuring the youngest in our society are provided with a solid foundation before they embark on the rest of their lives.

It’s crucial we continue to portray this impact clearly when we market careers in the sector.

Stella Ziolkowski is director of quality and training at NDNA.