Scotland ‘taking early years workforce more seriously’ than other UK nations
Professor Iram Siraj praises Scotland's approach to the early learning and childcare workforce since the publication of her review
EYWorkforce event - Holyrood Events
Scotland’s approach to growing the early learning and childcare workforce has taken the issue more seriously than other UK nations, a leading academic has said.
Professor of Early Childhood Education Iram Siraj, who chaired Scotland’s independent review on the issue, hailed “excellent progress” made by the Scottish Government since her report was published in 2015.
Speaking at a Holyrood event on the early years workforce, Professor Siraj said: “The Scottish workforce review has taken the area much more seriously than the other three countries in our union.”
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Wales was “trying hard”, England had “basically ignored the workforce review” and Northern Ireland was yet to do anything, she added.
Siraj was commissioned to review the workforce in 2014 ahead of Scottish Government plans to double the number of hours of funded childcare for three and four year olds by 2020.
Her report warned early years practitioners would need to be better qualified and have equal pay.
Although ministers described the report as “challenging” at the time, Siraj praised commitments to ensure all early years workers were paid the Living Wage and to place an additional graduate-level worker in all nurseries in deprived areas.
“There has been some excellent progress since the review,” she said.
“You’ve documented it and made plans that are concrete, around a number of things including the blueprint for 2020, the early learning and childcare trials, the additional graduate commitment, which I think is excellent, and working with universities to look at teacher education as well.”
However figures from Skills Development Scotland show 80 per cent of day care children staff are still earning less than the living wage, and 21 per cent not on a permanent contract.
In March First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to introduce the Living Wage into private sector nurseries by the end of this parliament as part of the expansion plans.
The Scottish Government’s programme director Alison Cumming told the Holyrood event the new approach would be more flexible for parents using a “funding follows the child” model, which would be less reliant on local authority nurseries, but with councils retaining control over local rates of childcare funding.
“It will be provider neutral,” she said.
The “number one priority” for the childcare expansion is quality, said Cumming.
“Quality of experience for the children, and about how an investment in early learning and childcare can improve outcomes for our children and make a key contribution to closing the attainment gap.”
However delegates expressed alarm over the impact of the introduction of standardised tests into primary schools, particularly in primary one.
Margaret Smith of the EIS said teachers would be pressured to begin preparing for tests in pre school settings, while Sue Palmer of Upstart Scotland said the tests will cause “horrific collateral damage” to an early education system already moving away from play and creativity.
There are 39,030 people working in early learning and childcare in Scotland, with the vast majority hand-on practitioners. Ninety-seven per cent are female.
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