Canada calling

This week Mairi-Anne Macdonald, our Director of Sector Development is in Canada with Frances Scott, SSSC Workforce Planning and Development Manager.  Mairi-Anne tells us about their trip so far.

Canada2We’re in Ontario, which is one of ten provinces in Canada, and is the most populated, with one in three Canadians living here.  It is the second largest province in Canada, and has over 250,000 lakes holding one third of the world’s fresh water!  Ontario is a mix of urban, semi-urban and very rural, with similar challenges to Scotland in terms of meeting the needs to those who live in city areas, and the needs of those who live and work in the most rural areas (although Ontario is ten times bigger than Scotland!).  We are staying in Toronto which is situated on Lake Ontario and is Canada’s largest city with over 4 million people living here.

The College of Early Childhood Educators in Ontario contacted the SSSC earlier this year and asked us to come to talk to them about the development of the early years workforce in Scotland.  They particularly wanted to know more about the degree in Childhood Practice, because it is workplace-based and able to be completed by distance learning.  You may be wondering how the College of Early Educators in Canada had even heard about the degree in Childhood Practice, or the SSSC! Frances and I met Laura Sheehan, Depute Registrar at the College, in St Louis, Missouri, last year, when we had been speaking at a conference for regulators about the development and success of the Childhood Practice degree programme.  We had made a short film for the conference about the experiences of some of the people who had completed the degree in Childhood Practice, and the impact that completing the degree had had on their lives and their work had really impressed them, and they wanted to hear more.  You can watch the film here.

We arrived in Canada over the weekend of 24 May, and have a full schedule for the week, meeting with practitioners and employers, other regulators, the Ontario government, and the highlight of our week will be participating in the closing session of the Leadership Retreat for Early Childhood Educators on Friday.  Meeting with people from other countries to talk about the issues that affect us both is always really interesting – often, the issues are very similar, and it’s good to discuss different approaches and experiences.  I’m sure that we will learn much from the Canadian experience that will help us with our work in Scotland and I can’t wait to get started!

Day one

This is where the work begins, and our first session is to talk to the whole staff group at the College of Early Educators in Ontario.  I’m always a bit nervous on the first day, and I keep wondering if we have done enough preparation, if the Scottish sense of humour, will translate to Canada and if they’ll really think that we have anything interesting to say!  However, as you know, both Frances and I are able to talk for Scotland, so today we have the chance to do that literally!

The College of Early Childhood Educators are the regulators for people who work as child minders and those who work in early years settings, often referred to as kindergarten here.  They are not a professional association, and do not ‘represent’ the workforce, but like the SSSC, they support the development of the professionalism of the early years workforce and ultimately work to protect the public through ensuring that the right people are on their Register.  The College has around 48,000 registered Early Childhood Educators, and, in Ontario, they have protection of title.  This means that you cannot call yourself an Early Childhood Educator unless you are registered with the College.  The Register here is not ‘function-based’ as it is in Scotland for early years workers, so you can still be on the Register if you are not currently working in an early years setting.

Canada1Meeting the whole staff group at the College was great – they used the morning as a development session for all staff, and gave us a really warm welcome.  Frances and I talked about the development of the Scottish Social Services Council and regulation in Scotland and about the way the SSSC had supported the development of the degree in Childhood Practice. After our short presentation, there was a Q&A session with questions about whether the terms, conditions and status of early years workers in Scotland were similar to those in Canada, and we talked to them about the nursery nurse dispute several years ago, and that had led to a review of education for early years workers.  Staff were also interested in how organisations could ensure quality of care when some people in the workforce are not qualified.  We were able to talk about the registration process, where an assessment is made of any potential risks as a result of inappropriate behaviour, and the way in which Scottish Vocational Qualifications work to support learning and development of practice in the workplace on a gradual and ongoing basis.  We also talked about the Codes of Practice for Social Service Workers, which sets out clear expectations of behaviour, and the importance of employer induction processes to ensure that workers know what is expected of them by the organisation, and how to work safely.

We had brought the College a gift from Scotland, a Quaich, and presented it to Sue Corke, Chief Executive.  We had great fun with staff trying (and not succeeding) to pronounce ‘quaich’ correctly!  The ‘ch’ sound at the end defeated most people!

After meeting with the whole staff group, we met with Sue Corke and the senior management team  for them to talk in more detail about the work of the College.  The College is self-regulated which means that the majority of the members of the College Council must be registered Early Childhood Educators (ECEs).  The Early Childhood Educators Act 2007, says that 14 members of the Council must be registered and 10 members must be publicly appointed.  Council members are there to represent the profession, not their own interests, and are elected by their peers.  The Council has several sub-committees, as you might expect, dealing with registration applications, discipline and fitness to practise issues, and standards and practise.  Like the SSSC, the College has a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practise.  They were particularly interested in the Code of Practice for Social Service Employers in Scotland, and could see that this would be helpful in setting shared expectations for workers, and a consistency of practice by employers.  The College is currently developing a leadership professional learning programme for ECEs and is currently investigating a new IT system to manage their registration processes, so we already had a lot in common.

A chance to see some scenery

We had an interesting first discussion before heading off to the City of London, Ontario by train.  This gave us the opportunity to see some of the surrounding areas of farmland as well as the skyscraper blocks of Toronto.  We were accompanied by Laura Sheehan the Depute Registrar, and Jeff O’Grady, the External Relations Manager.  In Ontario, the Via train only has booked seats, so there isn’t any pushing and shoving to get onto the train!  And we bought three cups of tea and two cakes for £5 – train services in the UK take note!  Often when I am visiting interesting places for work, I don’t have the opportunity to see the surrounding area, so it was nice to be able to see a bit more of Ontario – there are lots of rivers, and the scenery is very green.  We saw several eagles and, of course, Canada geese on our two hour journey.  That left us the evening to prepare for meeting with staff from the City of London and not for profit providers of early years services in London and the surrounding area tomorrow.  However, the biggest surprise of the day came when we went to our hotel rooms at night  – the beds were so high we actually had to climb into them! It reminded me of the story of the Princess and the Pea, although I don’t really expect anyone to believe that either Frances or I fit into the ‘princess’ category!

This is Canada signing off for today – more tomorrow on our visit to London!

Follow and keep up to date with Mairi-Anne on Twitter @mairi_anneSSSC and follow her blog here on SSSC News online.

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