Equal start for early years?
Peter Moss, professor of early childhood provision at London University's Institute of Education, called for "new types of worker for an old service" after drawing on the latest developments in Sweden and Denmark.
In Sweden, the first graduates are due next year from a radical training programme introduced in 2001 which pulls together students for the first 18 months. Pre-school staff, teachers and "free-time pedagogues" follow a similar degree pattern, broken down into a credit system.
Inge Johansson, professor of pedagogy at the Stockholm Institute of Education, writing in the latest edition of Children in Europe magazine, says that initial training follows areas of knowledge central to teaching such as special educational needs and child and youth development. It then covers philosophy, ethics and psychology before students decide the area of education they want to work in.
"Not only do students, irrespective of whether they want to work with one-year-olds or 16-year-olds, share the same training framework and qualification, they now all mostly have a similar length of training," Professor Johansson writes. After a three-year course, students planning to work with 16-19s do an extra year.
The fear, Professor Johansson says, is that most students will want to focus on jobs with better conditions and more money.
Professor Moss fears the initiative "may become unstuck" because of entrenched professionalism. In Denmark, the division between teachers and childcare workers or pedagogues remains but the latter area is now one of the most popular vocations with one in 10 students following careers in kindergartens, out-of-school clubs and youth clubs. In a country the size of Scotland, there are now 90,000 pedagogues.
Jytte Juul Jensen, a lecturer in Aarhus, told the Children in Scotland conference on new types of worker for new early years services, that Denmark's pedagogues earn fractionally less than teachers at about pound;2,000 a month, have six weeks' holiday and one-year maternity leave.
Her remarks came as Scottish nursery staff stepped up their campaign for fair pay with most nursery nurses earning less than half the salary of similar workers in Denmark.
Ms Jensen said that a training programme introduced 10 years ago had been designed to produce higher quality students who were then able to become more mobile across sectors.
Professor Moss contrasted the position in Denmark with Britain where caring for children can still be seen as low-paid, women's work. The basic qualification was a two-year, post-16 qualification and not a degree.
"There is a hierarchy in terms of status, training and pay. Teachers earn over pound;11 an hour and children's workers pound;4 an hour. Women are no longer prepared to work for nothing," he said.