All change on children

24th June 2005 at 01:00
As the Scottish Executive was preparing this week's announcements on streamlining children's services, a gathering of leading professionals was urging a shake-up in the workforce.

An extensive review was necessary because existing arrangements were unsustainable for childcare, education, health and social work as well as more informal arts and play activities, they agreed on a show of hands.

The seminar on "re-imagining the children's sector workforce" was organised by Children in Scotland, the International Futures Forum and the Scottish Council Foundation on behalf of the Scottish Parliament Futures Forum.

At the end of the one-day event, Trish Godman, the Parliament's deputy presiding officer, said: "What is clear to me is that it is not an option to do nothing . . . this is the start, not the end of something."

Bronwen Cohen, chief executive of Children in Scotland, also voiced satisfaction at the desire for change. "There is a lot of resonance in the common core of initial education. I would like to see that interpreted widely, rather than narrowly, and addressing what is a very deep divide that we have in Scotland between vocations and professions," Dr Cohen said.

The event took place on the eve of far-reaching Executive announcements aimed at better co-ordination of services for children so they do not end up before a children's panel, and improvements to the hearings system itself.

Among the proposals, in a consultation that will last until the end of September, is an action plan for youngsters whose needs are regarded as "complex, serious, require multi-agency input or are likely to require compulsory measures". A lead professional from would be responsible for each child.

The seminar highlighted Children in Scotland's concern over the way the requirements of the 150,000-strong workforce in children's services are reviewed separately - despite the emphasis the Executive has placed on "joined-up and outcomes-focused policies".

The audience heard Marta Korintus, director of research at the National Institute for Family and Social Policy in Budapest, and Hillevi Lenz Taguchi, a researcher at the Institute of Education in Stockholm, give examples of the new breed of professional emerging in European countries.

In Sweden, teachers now qualify to work with young people from birth to age 19 in both formal and less formal settings. All trainees, whether they want to work with 15-month-olds or 15-year-olds, have the same common core training lasting 18 months.

Referring to these holistic views of care and learning, Chris McIlroy of the inspectorate said: "Whether we need so many disciplines needs hard thinking."

In developing services for young children, there had been twin aims: to enable parents to participate and to promote children's learning, Mr McIlroy said. The current workforce in part reflected those aims. The number of early years teachers - the most expensive part of the workforce - had increased rapidly since the 1980s. At that time, 670 teachers had been employed in pre-school education; there were now 2,307.

Despite that spectacular rise, teachers still made up a minority of the workforce, of which about 80 per cent were nursery nurses and non-teaching staff.

There were also health, social work, speech and language therapists, and a significant number of volunteers often aiming to support vulnerable children in the system.

While Scotland had these distinct strands, a number of steps in policy development had brought such groups much more closely together. Emotional, personal and social development were at the heart of curriculum guidance for 3-5s with a common set of expectations.

Jaquie Roberts, chief executive of the Care Commission, was among those who voiced concern about the lack of men in the workforce. Jim McCormick, of the Scottish Council Foundation, agreed: "Women account for 95 per cent of nursery nurses, playgroup leaders and childcare workers, who also tend to be on relatively low pay and who have few opportunities for significant career development.

"This is not sustainable in the long term because, while demand for services for young children is growing, the number of women with low educational qualifications is falling. There is a strong need to improve the professionalism of these jobs so they will be acceptable to people with higher educational qualifications."

Leader 22

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