AN extra pound;4 million is being given to local authorities to increase the number of childcare workers and their level of skills over the next two years.
Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, welcomed publication of an action plan this week. "For too long the skills of childcare workers and their career development needs have gone largely unrecognised or undervalued. We must turn this round," Mr Galbraith said.
The Executive's coalition programme for government promised the training of 5,000 new childcare workers by 2002, as well as a nursery place for every three-year-old and 100,000 out-of-school care places by 2003.
The extra local government money, which is explicitly for workforce development and training, is in addition to pound;13.75 million already being given for child care and the pound;130 million for pre-school education.
The injection is "explicitly time limited", and employers and trainers are urged to use the two years "to put in place durable systems for supporting the training needs of the childcare workforce and giving it the long-term future it deserves".
The Executive paper, Childcare: The Training Challenge, admits that there are no reliable and comprehensive data on the childcare workforce, but adds that a survey has been commissioned and its findings will be crucial to developing new policies.
Ministers take seriously the view that "the current framework of childcare qualifications remains over-complex". As services for young children become more integrated, a more broadly ased qualification may be needed. This would include initial training for classroom assistants and playworkers as well as other childcare and early education staff. The Scottish Qualifications Authority will co-operate in devising the new courses.
Employers and employees also need confidence there are reliable systems in place to monitor occupational standards - the demands of the job for skills and knowledge - and the national training organisations are working with the Executive in reviewing, first, the HNC in child care and education and then the Scottish Vocational Qualifications in early years care and playwork.
The action plan accepts that "difficulty in accessing a relevant qualification may put off many people who are considering a career in child care". A priority is to lower the obstacles. But the numbers taking qualifications have been rising: in 1995-96, 891 HNC awards were made in child care and education and by 1998-99 that had risen to 1,161.
David Henderson, head of policy development at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, welcomed the principles of the plan, but expressed concern about the extent to which money was earmarked for specific projects. "There is a loss of flexibility," Mr Henderson said.
Bronwen Cohen, director of Children in Scotland, praised the commitment to "seamless services" but these might need "a more radical approach to developing simpler and more integrated training structures and qualifications than is currently proposed".
Leader, page 16