Preserving the unity of childhood practice in the face of the Empowering Schools bill
Professor John M Davis, Professor of Childhood Inclusion at the University of Edinburgh shares his thoughts on the proposals in the Empowering Schools consultation and their potential impact on childhood practitioners.
The SSSC currently registers around 35,000 day care of children workers, 40% public, 41% private and 19% third sector. The childhood practice qualifications, first developed in 2005, became a registration requirement for managers in 2011; around 1,200 professional leaders/managers have a childhood practice SCQF level 9 award. Overall 89% of the SSSC day care of children registered workers now have the appropriate qualification for their level and the other 11% are studying to achieve their qualifications. So why fix something that doesn’t look broken? This article considers the limitations of the Empowering Schools bill which seeks to hand over aspects of registration to a new Education Workforce Council.
The University of Edinburgh/SSSC report Taking the first steps (2014), demonstrated that the childhood practice qualification had enabled the early years workforce to:
- become a regulated profession in its own right
- gain status within local communities
- establish its own identity and engender a strong sense of professional pride.
The report highlighted that childhood practice professionals and parents believed the new qualifications had had an impact on equity issues in early years services and on the childcare and early learning workforce’s knowledge, confidence and leadership skills. In particular, many local authorities have replaced non-early years qualified teachers (and other professionals) with childhood practitioners as the lead professional in early learning settings.
It’s an exciting time for childhood practitioners. Last year the Scottish Government blueprint action plan for expanding early learning put quality, flexibility, accessibility and affordability at the centre of plans for the sector. Hot on the heels of this the Empowering Schools bill seeks to create an Education Workforce Council for Scotland which covers teachers and ‘non-teacher professionals’.
This might be a good thing but, unfortunately, the proposed bill is lacking in key details, for example, on how we might better connect and enable the transition of workers across health, social work, education, community, housing, police, etc. Or how we enable registration of childhood practitioners in family support, play and out-of-school services.
Over recent years, the SSSC has supported a huge shift in our sector. There is nothing in the bill that recognises the excellent job SSSC does in terms of the huge uptake of qualifications by professionals and the very few professionals having to be removed from the register.
It would be useful to have a statement in the bill that any teachers who currently work in or have leadership responsibility for early learning, and do not have appropriate early years qualifications, should be given a re-registration condition to carry out appropriate training. This would gain support from childhood practitioners who have done the heavy lifting in this field. Indeed, the bill also needs to show recognition of the huge effort made by childhood practitioners to skill up.
Similarly, the Empowering Schools bill says nothing about, the issues of fair pay (and work practices) that was raised in the Scottish Government’s blue print for early learning– somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 early learning and childcare professionals experience inequality of wages. This raises the question, if you are registered under the one educational council – will you get the pay your qualifications deserve?
In 2016 the Scottish Government said: ‘around 80% of practitioners and 50% of supervisors in partner settings (private and voluntary sector) are paid less than the Living Wage (£8.25 an hour).’ Currently some local authorities operate pay discrimination between lead childhood practitioners and teachers – with teachers having access to greater pay scales and higher levels of pay. The Scottish Government has pledged to enable fair pay but we have seen little action on this and the Empowering Schools bill seems to ignore this issue altogether. Childhood practitioners don’t do the job for financial gain, they do it to enable quality, caring and respectful services for children and families, but they deserve equal pay.
Two final points on the bill; firstly, the text on the workers covered by the bill does not mention childhood practitioners by name and fails to consider professionals like out-of-school workers, play and family support workers.
Secondly the leadership aspects of the bill seem to be based on top down hierarchy. The words community and collaboration are not sufficiently defined in the bill and there are no clear definitions of children’s rights, staff rights, devolved-leadership, self-empowerment, local democracy and community decision making. There is a distinct lack of children’s rights, participation and social justice definitions in the bill. Statements like ‘it is the head teacher who should decide who works in their school’ seem very dated in a children’s rights world.
There is evidence from Scandinavian countries that head teachers who do not have training in early years are particularly poor at devolving power to early years professionals and that this leads to ‘schoolification’ of early years. The biggest impact of the childhood practice qualification has been to enshrine participatory and devolved management approaches. It is not clear how the Empowering Schools bill will avoid a hierarchical power grab by head teachers and the worsening of morale of childhood practitioners in primary schools/local authorities that don’t recognise their leadership ability and do not value the childhood practitioner’s ability to enable play-based, outdoor and creative pedagogy.
The final big question for the bill is, how will it avoid splitting off specific workers into a two-tier profession, for example, out-of-school, play and potentially private sector workers. It may also, as presently worded, create a childhood practice versus teacher division. The terminology, professional definitions and aims of the bill have to be looked at in more detail, because, we do not want poorly drafted legislation to dismantle all the hard work we have put into this sector.
Professor John Davis
The Empowering Schools consultation closed on 30 January 2018. There is more information about the consultation online.
Professor John M Davis has worked at the University of Edinburgh since 2002 first as director of the BA in Childhood Studies, then as Head of Department of Educational Studies and now as Professor of Childhood Inclusion. His research has examined participatory childhood research methods and children and young people’s perspectives of inclusion, social justice and integrated working. His knowledge exchange projects have supported children, families and professionals to collaboratively develop contemporary, innovative and inclusive children’s services. His work has also examined international approaches to multi-professional working/registration and increased our understanding of the factors that foster creative and innovative learning.