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Someone to watch over them

Researchers call for national guidelines to consolidate good practice in the early years. Emma Seith reports

A national champion for babies and toddlers has been demanded by researchers from the University of Strathclyde.

Commissioned by Learning and Teaching Scotland to review continuing professional development for early years practitioners, the researchers found most workers were happy with the training they received. However, they felt the sector needed more national direction and recommended new national guidelines, pulling together good practice in local authorities, and the appointment of someone to lobby on behalf of children from birth to three years.

Jacque Fee, one of the researchers and assistant director of the university's Childhood and Families Research and Development Centre, said: "If no one takes responsibility, nothing is going to happen."

The researchers also recommended that new childhood practice qualifications should place more emphasis on working with babies and toddlers, and different ways of delivering CPD should be maximised. Most is delivered in-house, after hours, she said.

"We want a more explicit reference to 0 to 3," said Ms Fee, who outlined the findings at a conference in Glasgow. "We were looking at teaching and thought there could be something similar to ensure experience working with the different age ranges."

As a result of the research, LTS said it was in the process of setting up a birth-to-three advisory group and had launched a pilot project in North Lanarkshire to look at making training materials available online, using the Glow schools intranet for staff development.

LTS also aims to make the examples of good practice highlighted in the report available to all centres.

Jean Carwood-Edwards, the early years team leader in Learning and Teaching Scotland, said: "We don't want this research to just sit on a shelf gathering dust."

The research, which covered 20 councils, found the biggest barriers to participation in training were time and money. However, due to the general lack of expertise in the early years, it could also be difficult securing people to deliver courses, Ms Fee pointed out. "A frequent comment was that there weren't a lot of courses for people working with birth to three. It's not just about people getting qualifications, it's about having people to deliver the qualifications."

Adam Ingram, the Minister for Children and Early Years, who was also speaking at the conference, said there was a "curious perception" in Scotland that those working with the youngest children were in less important jobs.

However, delegates pointed out the low status of early childhood workers was largely linked to low pay and asked what the government was doing to improve wages. While efforts were being made to "up-skill" the workforce, authorities were struggling to fund staff development since ring-fenced funding had ended.

Mr Ingram said he hoped that, as early childhood moved up the political agenda, pay would improve but he acknowledged that affordability of training was a problem for staff wanting to develop their skills.

He revealed that he had asked for the eligibility criteria for individual learning accounts to be re-examined; those earning over Pounds 18,000 cannot currently claim financial for studying support through an ILA.

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