Cleaners, dinner ladies and support staff should be given as much help to progress their careers as ambitious teachers, according to education chiefs in two of Scotland's largest authorities.
Margaret Doran, children and families executive director at Glasgow City Council, told an influential gathering of children's sector staff from several Scottish authorities that they had to create more opportunities for career progression. She cited pupil support assistants, cleaners and catering staff, who were left in jobs where they had little encouragement to aim higher. "What about their careers?" she said.
They were held back by "mad working patterns". A cleaner with a family might work from 6am to 8am, then be in again at 4pm. "It's appalling the hours some people are doing," Ms Doran said. She called for working conditions that would give such staff a better work-life balance, and support to help them see a way up a career ladder.
"Every practitioner in the children's industry has to have hope about their future," said Larry Forde, South Lanarkshire Council's executive director of education resources. His authority was giving all employees the chance of professional development, and had a number of teachers who had started their careers as support assistants.
It was not helpful to see the various members of the children's sector workforce - whether social workers, teachers, youth workers or adult learning workers - as discrete entities. Instead, Mr Forde suggested that they could all come under a role of "children's worker", thus encouraging the 250,000 workers in Scotland's children's sector to think about common purposes rather than how their jobs differed. This could lead to a "great sense of co-ordination, a greater sense of wholeness to the experiences of children".
Ms Doran and Mr Forde spoke in Glasgow last week at one of a series of Children in Scotland conferences on the children's sector workforce, where the focus was on the early years.
- Scotland's approach to vulnerable children is too concerned with risk-avoidance, according to Edinburgh University social and political studies lecturer Mark Smith.
Mr Smith, who spoke at the same Children in Scotland event, is concerned about a "social work way of thinking" whose main aim is to keep children - and, arguably, organisations - safe.
There should be a more "broadly educational" approach, exemplified by the social pedagogical model common in parts of Europe and making inroads into England. Rather than monitoring them from afar, social workers should become involved in young people's social and emotional lives.
Mr Smith supports a shake-up of qualifications to encourage a "more holistic view of children". He is involved in the early stages of devising an MSc in social pedagogy, aimed at a range of professions including teachers and social workers.