Should a common qualifications structure be set up for all those
working in key roles with children? Sally Gillen reports on the
debate over the flexibility of the children’s services
Since it was launched last month, much of the debate on the
children’s green paper Every Child Matters has been
on the structural changes it proposes for councils.
But what Tony Blair has described as “the most far-reaching
reform of children’s services for 30 years” goes well beyond
discussions on children’s trusts.
Despite occupying the back pages of the document, workforce
reform is widely acknowledged as the most important part of the
Some of what is proposed to tackle the problems of recruitment
and retention has a familiar ring. This includes plans for a
high-profile media campaign, which would address shortages across
the workforce in areas ranging from youth offending teams, which
have a 7 per cent vacancy rate across England and Wales, to gaps in
early years. But alongside the campaign and measures to address pay
are plans that could transform the workforce by opening up access
to more people via new training routes such as two-year foundation
More importantly the document is consulting on whether a common
qualifications structure should be set up for all those working in
key roles with children. Such a structure, described as a “climbing
frame” approach in the green paper, would allow professionals
working with children to move from one job to another without
having to retrain. Each area of work with children currently has
its own occupational standards and training structure, making job
Simplifying the training structure would make work with children
a more attractive career option, says chief executive of charity
National Children’s Bureau Paul Ennals. “There are a lot of
people who enter one bit of the children’s workforce not just
because they are interested in that specific part but because they
want to work with children,” he says.
“The possibility of applying for a job in, say, early years and
being able to move into different settings from there makes every
individual job more attractive and that means people do not feel
they are entering a dead-end career.”
Liz Kendall, director of Maternity Alliance, says, however, that
the workforce strategy must also prioritise pay if it is to make
work with children – still considered by many to be “low-paid
women’s work” – more attractive. Certainly it is not just the
traditionally female-dominated areas such as early years that are
still failing to attract men. In new services too it is a struggle
to recruit men. Nearly three-quarters – 74 per cent – of the 7,200
Connexions personal advisers, for example, are female.
But Kendall agrees that a common qualifications structure that
would allow people to move sideways into a new job, rather than
start at the bottom, would make the work more appealing.
Freedom to move around the children’s workforce is already
in evidence in some areas. A third of workers in youth offending
teams are qualified social workers, a third were former youth
workers and around 150 are on secondment from Connexions. Many
Connexions personal advisers have come from social work, careers
advice or youth work backgrounds.
Work has already begun to map the occupational standards of
education social workers, learning mentors and Connexions personal
advisers, which is showing that the three jobs have much in
Ennals says the way the occupational standards were set up for
Connexions demonstrated a “breadth of thinking” about how a new
service could connect with those already in existence. But, he
says, despite the relative ease with which workers in some areas
can move to other jobs moving between social services and education
is “almost impossible”.
And although Connexions may have welcomed recruits from a range
of backgrounds they are still expected to undertake a diploma once
they start the job.
Elsewhere, the Youth Justice Board has made steps towards
introducing common training for all those who work in youth
offending teams with the creation of a nine-month course leading to
a professional certificate in effective practice.
Head of learning and development at the YJB, Maggie Blyth, says:
“We created the new development framework as a portable
qualification, which means that if a police officer is on
secondment from youth justice that he can take back what he learned
about children to the police. We didn’t want to create yet
another set of qualifications operating in another separate
Last month the first crop of professionals completed the
qualification, which is made up of three modules covering subjects
such as parenting, planning intervention and supervision, and how
to carry out assessments. Although the course is not mandatory,
Blyth says around a third of people working in Yots have many years
of experience working with children but no qualifications and are
therefore encouraged to complete it.
Increasing the skills of the children’s workforce, as well
as encouraging more people to enter it, is of course one of the key
aims of the workforce strategy.
Jenny Rudge, chief executive of Connexions in Cornwall and
Devon, says she is “very upbeat” about the proposed workforce
reforms and is in favour of a common qualifications structure. She
says aspects of the training should be covered by everyone from GPs
to education welfare officers but adds that it is likely only to be
a core qualification because professionals will also need to do
extra training in specialist areas. She adds: “We need to recognise
that professionals working with children do have things in common
but those working with an alienated 16-year-old will need different
skills from those working with a two-year-old.”
Head of policy at charity Barnardo’s Liz Garrett agrees.
“It is very confusing as to whether the green paper is suggesting
the creation of a generic children’s workforce or it is
saying professionals need to be able to move around more easily.”
She is concerned that the importance of specialist skills has not
been recognised within the document. “Some children need very
specialist help and no one person can incorporate those skills.
This document may be implying that if you all work together you can
do each other’s jobs.”
Who and what the common training structure will cover will be
decided and overseen by a new Workforce Development Unit once the
consultation on the green paper is finished on 1 December.
There are also plans to develop a sector skills council
dedicated to the children’s workforce. As yet it is unknown
whether the unit will cover England or the UK or what prominence it
will have within the DfES but head of policy at NCH Caroline
Abrahams says it must be bigger than “three men and a dog” in order
to deal with a diverse and complex workforce.
She adds that there will be “inevitable elements of resistance”
by some groups of professionals to the proposals so it is difficult
to say how long it will take for a common qualifications structure
To prove her point, a debate is currently taking place as to
whether teachers should be included in the workforce strategy and
their work overseen by the unit. The outcome of that discussion
will be significant because teachers have tended to see their work
as quite separate from that of other children’s
But whatever their view it is clear that the government is keen
to see common training for all staff.
And the idea is not new. Back in 1996, the Interdisciplinary
Childhood and Youth Studies Network, made up of academics and
professionals, was commissioned by John Major’s government to
formulate a framework identifying the core skills and competences
for those working with children.
The Children and Young People’s Unit has commissioned
further work on this, which resulted in the identification of six
areas that all people working with children should have in common.
- The developmental nature of childhood.
- Parents, parenting and family life.
- Managing transitions.
- Understanding child protection.
- Understanding risk and protective factors.
- Listening to and involving children.
These knowledge areas could eventually form the basis for a
foundation curriculum which as well as opening up new career
opportunities in children’s services would ensure
professionals could speak the same language.