Holyrood urged to back bill of rights

The Scottish parliament should bring in new laws to ensure the expansion of child care and out-of-school provision is backed by highly trained staff, according to children's campaigners at the ninth international conference on school-age child care.

Organisations represented at the Edinburgh conference said they would step up efforts to place children's rights and services in core legislation.

Paul Williamson, of the Scottish Out of School Care Network and vice-convener of education in Edinburgh, said: "We need it enshrined in the law of the country that we need trained workers and high-quality services and unless it is in the statute book it will not happen."

Mr Williamson said that training was "woefully inadequate" compared to other European countries where most staff in child care and day care are degree trained. "At last we have an opportunity to address these issues in the Government's childcare strategy," he said.

Bronwen Cohen, director of Children in Scotland, called for those who work with children to have specialist training. Dr Cohen favours the emergence of Nordic-style "pedagogues" or educators, who would be able to work in pre-school and out-of-school projects, youth clubs and residential care.

Pat Petrie, of the Thomas Coram Research Unit at London University, said that Britain had not responded to the concept of trained child workers, unlike Germany and Scandinavia. "Some of them work in a less formal way than teachers with children for 22 hours a week and they are able to work with children anywhere," Dr Petrie said.

She added: "In Sweden, a pedagogue can be head of a primary school and they are members of the same union as teachers. Pedagogues and formal teaching are in the same framework."

Dr Cohen believes Scotland has made a "quantum leap forward" under a Labour Government in thinking and developing a childcare strategy but argues for much more ambitious targets. Only nursery education for three and four-year-olds is included in ministers' proposals for target-setting.

"In Nordic countries, there is a place for 0-12-year-olds whose parents want it and for working parents. Attendance levels are 70 per cent," Dr Cohen said.

Mr Williamson pointed out that nursery education was not geared to parent working patterns. Other provision was needed, he said.

Kathleen Marshall of Glasgow University told delegates a children's perspective would have to be "built in with the bricks" of the Scottish parliament.

The inter-agency organisation, Scotland for Children, is pressing for a Commissioner for Children and for mechanisms to ensure legislation takes account of the UN convention on the Rights of the Child.

Professor Marshall warned that campaigners for children's rights had been treated like children themselves. Children should no longer be seen as "inconvenient sideshows to the market economy", she said.

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