Back with a mission
The ex-minister who famously walked away from the top job in education has found herself a new challenge. "It was the first job interview that I'd had for quite a long time," Estelle Morris told The TES. "The job was advertised; I applied in the normal way and did a PowerPoint presentation."
Baroness Morris of Yardley is the chair of the Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC), an employer-led body created last year to develop a qualifications and training framework for the half-million people who work with children. Teachers, social workers, childcare professionals, support staff and carers - all come under the remit of the CWDC in one way or another.
"It's a challenge," says Lady Morris. "But I was looking for a proper job."
The CWDC was created as part of the Every Child Matters reforms and given the not inconsiderable task of building an integrated structure of childcare qualifications and training.
The challenge comes from the hugely diverse nature of the sector, which employs a wide range of people, from graduates to part-timers on the minimum wage.
The CWDC vision is of a children's sector where everyone has access to training, where qualifications mix and match, where there's the flexibility to enter straight from university, or rise up through the ranks.
"A lot of people choose this sector because it needs no qualifications,"
says Lady Morris. "They are looking for flexible working - something that fits in with their family. It's not as if they are crying out for more training."
But more training is what they are going to get. And that includes teachers. The original vision of a compulsory training module shared by everyone working with children has been softened, but there are still implications for schools.
As a former education minister, Lady Morris knows all too well how little spare time exists in initial teacher training. But she insists that all teachers need to know more about child development and about the structures that surround and protect children.
"We are now talking about an integrated qualifications structure rather than a common training module," says Lady Morris. "But teachers will need additional training. We have to work out exactly how that happens with the Training and Development Agency."
She won't be drawn on the probable outcome of those discussions, but the likelihood is that the additional training would come in the induction year, and would be tailored to context, with primary and early-years staff spending more time on the issue than secondary teachers.
Of course most of the people who work with children are not graduates, and one of the key challenges for the CWDC is to raise the status and quality of support staff and childcare workers.
"Go into any school and talk to young people who want to move into work with children or social care - unfortunately they will not be the brightest and best," Lady Morris acknowledged.
"We have to be far more upbeat. We have to say that this is a sector that values the brightest and the best."
Pay will be a key issue in that debate. There is a growing awareness that childcare staff, classroom assistants, children's centre workers and other support staff are currently paid well below their responsibilities.
In some landmark equal-pay judgements, support workers have seen their pay and benefits rocket after their work was compared with other jobs. The CWDC has been asked to report to the Department for Education and Skills on pay issues by September.
"Low pay is a fact," says Lady Morris. "As a society we could say that we will not train people because we don't want a bigger wage bill, or that we want better-trained people but we are not going to pay them.
"I'd prefer a 'something-for-something' approach A workforce that accepts an obligation to train in return for greater standing and more self-esteem."
Meanwhile, the CWDC has a great deal of work to do. In three months the organisation must produce proposals for an entirely new profession - the early-years professional (EYP).
The Government would like to see a graduate EYP in every children's centre by 2010. The qualification would be equivalent to Qualified Teacher Status and the CWDC has been asked to investigate how teachers could take on the new role.
An integrated qualifications framework is a longer-term ambition - 2010, a target that appears to have slipped by two years since it was first announced. That kind of delay is something that Lady Morris is acutely aware of. After all, this entire agenda was originally set in motion after the death of Victoria Climbie, nearly six years ago.
'There is frustration that after six years the system is still not in place," she concedes. "But it's a highly complex task, and progress is being made. Step by step the scaffolding is being put into place."