Nordic lesson for new staff

David Henderson and Sarah Nelson report from the European Network for School Age Child Care in Edinburgh

SEVERAL thousand newly trained childcare workers are eventually expected to flow from the Government's blueprint for child care and out-of-school provision. Add in up to 5,000 classroom assistants and the beginnings of a new breed of education para-professional are likely to emerge.

In Sweden and Denmark, such professionals are well established. "Pedagogues" work in an edu-care model of clubs and schools.

Ulla Nilsson, a pedagogue or educator in a school club in Kage, northern Sweden, often starts work at 6am, taking breakfast with the children and talking to them before they begin schoolwork at 8am.

Pupils only start primary at the age of seven, having gone through pre-school.

Mrs Nilsson joins other staff for a debriefing once the pupils are in class and by 8.45am is working in the classroom alongside the teachers. "Teachers have overall responsibility for the attainment of goals but we can help children with questions pupils raise and the tasks they get from the teacher. Some need more help than others. You can pick out children in the lesson and do the same things as the teachers. They need our hands sometimes," she said.

During the morning, classes are split, allowing half the children to concentrate on lessons while the rest take part in play activities under Mrs Nilsson and her colleagues.

The club for the 7-12s opens early in the afternoon for the younger children and closes at about 7pm. Staff are on rolling shifts. Teachers work a normal school day.

Like other pedagogues, Mrs Nilsson believes she is professionally the equal of a teacher but works longer hours for about 15 per cent less pay. Pedagogues have three-year training courses, slightly shorter than teachers, yet they belong to the same union.

In Sweden, like Denmark, pressure is building for a more integrated pattern of school and out-of-school provision where the division between formal and informal learning is blurred. Children need both, according to the pedagogues.

Stig Lund, a Danish pedagogues' union spokesman, warned Scots that the integration trend could lead to "schoolification". However, there was a need for teams of educators and teachers to focus on the broad needs of children.

Mr Lund, who represents 50,000 members, said 75 per cent of six to nine-year-olds in Denmark took up 200,000 places in clubs. "A lot of teachers, pedagogues, parents and politicians say there is something wrong with the way we are handling children and the split between morning and afternoon. What children are doing when they are playing is very important. Why should we not have a coherent service," he said.

Bjorn Flising, of Gothenburg University, said school-age child care in Sweden, Denmark and Norway was now seen as an integral part of education policy.

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