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Fay Gibbin

Busy Bees Training

Training Manager

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Caring as a career: The changing face of apprenticeships in the Early Years Sector


Fay Gibbin, training manager at Busy Bees Training offers her advice on recent developments, options available and what to expect from apprenticeships in childcare.

There are fewer career choices more rewarding, or challenging, than childcare. Your daily activities revolve around the wellbeing and development of future generations, and the part you play in their early years will help improve the outcomes for children.

Once considered a job with few prospects and requiring next to no formal qualifications, childcare is now a career of choice and one which offers a plethora of opportunities and professional development especially into further and higher education. As detailed in 'More Great Childcare' a key objective is to raise the status and quality of the workforce, with more high quality graduates to work in the early years sector.

Apprenticeships are particularly beneficial in childcare, not only because they offer hands-on experience alongside theory-based learning, but because the unpredictable environment of nursery settings is very hard to simulate in a classroom. Every child is an individual with varying needs, and there is no better place to learn how to meet these needs than within a nursery, with a supportive mentoring team to guide you.

Practical vs principal learning

Striking the right balance between theory and practical knowledge is paramount to becoming a well-rounded, competent childcare practitioner. Many would agree that to gain a well-rounded perspective of any subject, it is best to amalgamate practical with principle knowledge and any good training provider will make sure an apprenticeship programme supports both. There are varying ways a provider can achieve this. I have found that offering learners theory-based short-courses alongside apprenticeships helps to put academic learning into context and can be reinforced by the apprenticeship assessor.

Meeting the criteria

Apprenticeships are a route available to everyone, regardless of age and experience. It is an option for school leavers who are embarking on the first steps of their career and also current childcare professionals looking to further their careers.

No qualifications are needed to gain entry onto a level two apprenticeship programme. This entry-level qualification is ideal for school leavers with little or no experience of working with children or for those working under supervision such as a nursery assistant or playgroup assistant, giving them the skills to gain more knowledge and progress their career.

After achieving a level two childcare apprenticeship, learners can progress onto level three, for which you are required to hold a grade C or above in GCSE Maths and English. This advanced level apprenticeship is worth considering for those who are currently employed within a childcare setting and wish to advance their personal development and profession.

Apprenticeships can also be a cost-effective route to achieving a person’s career goals. As they are funded by the Skills Funding Agency, apprenticeships are fully funded for all those under the age of 19. For more mature learners with aspirations of taking their career in a different direction or for those already working in childcare looking to develop their skills further, they may find training providers charge as only part-funding is available. However, providers have often found that making up for the shortfall themselves and offering the course free of charge is a much more productive way to encourage a well-rounded and skilled workforce.

Tailored support and guidance

An apprenticeship programme runs for a minimum of 12 months, but an exact timeframe will be decided after an initial review by the assessor, tailored to a learner's experience and existing qualifications.

Typically, an apprentice will be assigned a workplace mentor, who will be shadowing them throughout the apprenticeship programme, giving them support, guidance and constructive feedback along the way. This feedback will shape the programme and will indicate the skills and areas a learner needs to focus on for development. It’s important that an apprentice understands that constructive feedback is not a criticism of their potential. The mentor and training team recognise that they are there to learn and their comments are given to help encourage development and support the learning journey.

As an apprenticeship learner, they have to be willing to learn from those more experienced workers around them. They will be operating alongside experienced childcare workers day to day, who will be on hand to provide words of wisdom and encouragement along the way. Apprentices will not be expected to care for children without an experienced practitioner present until they are over 16 and their assessor feels that they are ready to take that next step towards independent practice.

Upon completion

An apprentice’s hard work and dedication will be rewarded with a recognised Children and Young Peoples Workforce qualification, level 2 or 3. At this point, training providers should provide a wealth of impartial advice and guidance on what the future holds for a qualified practitioner. Many of our apprentices decide to enter into higher education with support from the company to continue their development or some stay in their current setting to carry out a higher apprenticeship; it really depends on their career aspirations.

Fay Gibbin is training manager at Busy Bees Training 

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Fay Gibbin

Training Manager

Read more from Fay Gibbin

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