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The bitter fruits of success

Nursery nurses are indispensable to the pre-five revolution yet they remain undervalued, underestimated and most definitely underpaid

I HAVE been a nursery nurse for almost 40 years, and am approaching retirement. I have worked in the health and education sectors. I trained for two years and obtained the Scottish Nursery Nurse Education Board qualification.

My career has taken me to many interesting jobs, in nursery schools, special care baby units, research and assessment centres and kindergartens.

I have attended many courses and seminars, mainly at my own expense, and have built up a creditable portfolio of continuing professional development.

For the past 20 years, I have been paid on the maximum of my salary scale.

I now earn the princely sum of pound;13,800 a year. I am one of the lowest paid people in the school, and it makes me very, very angry.

I am a member of the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses (PANN), and I do not believe in taking strike action. I am, however, totally supportive of the stance being taken by my colleagues across Scotland. We have watched the success stories of the pre-school sector being praised and trumpeted in glossy brochure after glossy brochure. We have seen the long-awaited expansion of the services for under-fives, and welcome the moves toward a more integrated service. Yet nobody seems to be listening to the voice of the ordinary, extraordinary professionals who have played such a key role.

I don't consider myself to be a nanny, not even a nursery nurse, but an educator. I am designated by my head as a key worker, and I have responsibilities for a group of children and families.

I train student nursery nurses, share my expertise and knowledge with younger colleagues and continue to attend courses and seminars. My role has changed beyond all recognition. I have to complete records, reports and assessments and engage in detailed forward planning. My work is subject to internal and external assessment by a variety of agencies, including HMI and the Care Commission.

I have no career path, and never had one. I hit my "ceiling" and there was nowhere for me to go. Not for me the chance to access the promotion structures enjoyed by teachers. Not for me the opportunity to have significant reviews of salaries and conditions.

On strike days, I report for work, conscious of the fact that my younger colleagues are losing pay. I undertake various housekeeping duties, but will not undertake the work of my striking colleagues. I donate my pay from strike days to a children's' charity. My colleagues know I do this.

Am I angry? You bet I am. I find it totally frustrating that we have successfully implemented the Government's policies for the delivery of an early years curriculum, yet we are being ignored. Look at all the fuss that surrounded the announcement of the courses for classroom assistants. Are we to become the "invisible profession"? I'm beginning to think that nobody can hear us either.

Now that nurseries no longer have to have qualified registered teachers, the situation is much worse. The nursery nurse is, in many establishments, a teacher in all but name. If my headteacher is absent, who takes over? You guessed it - one of the nursery nurses. I love my job, and especially the contact with the children, but I do feel bitter about my profession. We are being ignored and taken for granted - undervalued, underestimated and most definitely underpaid.

Visit your local nursery, and see how the children rely on their nursery nurse. Then ask how much the other people in the school are paid. Silence.

The author wishes to remain anonymous.

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