27 March, 2023 | Posted by Jenny Smith

What is Changing with Early Years Qualifications?

graduates holding scrolls

The clock is ticking for Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Level 5 and 6 students to finish their awards or risk losing progress. 

Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) plans to deactivate the existing Level 5 and 6 ECCE awards in December 2023. If you have outstanding modules for either of these programmes, it’s important to complete them before November to avoid complications. Portobello Institute will be running intensive courses to help students achieve their awards before the upcoming deadline.

In this article, we’ll look at what’s changing, how it affects both the sector and your career, and what you need to do next. 

What is changing with Early Years (EY) qualifications?

QQI is deactivating two existing awards – the ECCE Level 5 and 6 – and replacing them with new Early Learning and Care (ELC) qualifications. This means that the related ECCE Level 6 with Montessori will also be unavailable. The new replacement programmes include a Certificate in Early Learning and Care (Level 5) and Advanced Certificate in Learning and Care (Level 6). 

“The old QQI awards will be deactivated at the end of December 2023, so any modules that learners have already done may not be transferable onto the new awards. Some are, but not all,” said Denise Flood, Director of Portobello. “Learners could end up having to redo the whole Early Years Level 6 award again. The same applies to Early Years Level 5.”

The ECCE courses will no longer be available after December, but any awards granted before then will still be recognized. 

Why is QQI Making Changes to Early Years Qualifications?

Over the past decade, the government has pushed to create a more educated Early Years workforce by introducing minimum qualifications and incentives for upskilling. While 72% of Early Years Educators held a level 6 award in 2021, the government aims to increase this to 85% by 2028

As part of a wider review, QQI evaluated the existing ECCE awards and ultimately developed a new set of ELC awards standards. These are intended to replace the expiring awards and aim to better meet the needs of both learners and employers as the sector continues to evolve.

What does this mean for the Early Years sector?

Currently, students are not required to complete the ECCE Level 5 before entering the Level 6 programme. As a result, those with relevant experience have been able to advance more quickly through their education. 

Under the new standards, students must complete Level 5 (Stage 1) before advancing to the Level 6 (Stage 2). For many students, it will take more time to reach the same level of qualification. This could add pressure to an industry struggling to find qualified staff, but will also ensure more consistent training and skill levels across Early Childhood Educators. 

The government has also set a target for 50% of Early Years educators to have a Level 7 degree in a relevant field by 2028, an increase from 34% in 2021. This includes all lead educators (also known as room leaders), which will become a graduate position over time. 

As minimum qualifications rise and more degree-educated candidates enter the job market, upskilling of long-term industry professionals with lower-level awards will be critical.

What does this mean for Early Years Practitioners with a Level 5?

If you already have an ECCE Level 5, this award will still be recognized. You are also eligible to enter Stage 2 and pursue Level 6 under the new system. 

What does this mean for Early Years Practitioners with a Level 6?

Like Level 5, any ECCE Level 6 awards granted before December 2023 will continue to be recognised. 

With this award, you are also eligible for advanced entry into year two of Portobello’s Level 7 Early Years programme. Obtaining an Early Years degree can help to future-proof your career against increases to minimum requirements as the government pushes towards a graduate-led workforce.

What does this mean to the Early Years Practitioner with a few modules of either award?

Have been working towards your Level 5 or 6 but still have a few modules outstanding? It’s critical to complete these before November. While the programmes are being deactivated in December, you need to allow time for your qualification to be validated before this cutoff. 

If you don’t complete your award in time you will need to re-enroll in the new Stage 1 (ELC Level 5) and seek exemptions for modules you have completed. Some modules from the old courses may not be eligible for an exemption due to the professional standards criteria changes, so it’s important to finish the programme as soon as possible.

Portobello will be running intensive summer courses to help students complete these modules in time. Reach out to the Early Years team for more details and to be notified when these courses open for enrollment.

What does this mean for Early Years practitioners looking to progress to a Level 7?

Regardless of whether you complete the old or new Level 6 award, you will be eligible for advanced entry into the second year of our Early Years Level 7. 

Under the old system, many students were able to move straight into Level 6 and then seek advanced entry in the degree programme. Going forward, all students will have to complete the Stage 1 (Level 5) and Stage 2 (Level 6) awards before qualifying for advanced entry. 

How does this Affect Montessori?

The ECCE Level 6 with Montessori will be deactivated as part of these changes. The new programmes will have one module dedicated to Montessori, but Portobello Institute will offer a more comprehensive set of modules as Portobello Institute certificates.

These certificates can be added as elective modules to the new programmes or can be taken as standalone courses to support Early Childhood Educators who are interested in becoming Montessori practitioners. 

“This could be very attractive for Early Years settings struggling to find Montessori teachers, as they could actually upskill their current workforce,” Flood said. 

Next Steps

While the changes may seem overwhelming, there is one key takeaway: Students should finish outstanding ECCE Level 5 or 6 modules before November. 

If you have any questions or would like to explore finishing your ECCE Level 5 or 6, please book a consultation call with our expert advisor Jennifer Matteazzi here, email jennifer.matteazzi@portobelloinstitute.com or call 01 892 0031.  

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