All together now?

If the structural changes heralded in Every Child
and the Children Bill are to add up to more than just
another administrative reorganisation, they have to be mirrored by
changes in the way staff work across professional boundaries.

Hence alongside the development of children’s trusts,
civil servants in a new unit in the Department for Education and
Skills (DfES) are developing a new pay and workforce strategy
embracing everyone from teachers and Connexions personal advisers
to health visitors and youth offending teams. The central idea is
to bring together the many disparate professions working with
children by establishing a common core of occupational standards
and training.

Paul Ennals, chief executive of the National Children’s
Bureau, believes there are big potential gains for children in
developing a new children’s profession. “Many of the scandals
of the past 20 years can be attributed, at least in part, to the
lack of a common understanding of children’s needs,” he says.
“Some professionals have been trained to talk to children and to
understand the complexity of children’s lives. Others
haven’t. When staff from different backgrounds work together,
the outcomes for children will be much better.”

Skills sector council
Ennals has been appointed by the government as shadow
chair of a new skills sector council for the children’s
workforce, covering professions not already covered by a skills
sector council, including children’s social workers,
educational welfare staff, Connexions, early years workers and
foster carers. As well as establishing the new skills council, his
remit is to work closely with existing skills councils for health
workers, playworkers, teachers (the Teacher Training Agency) and
youth justice workers to prepare the ground for a transformation of
training for professionals working with children.

Ennals is emphatic that what is being proposed is not some kind
of generic new profession and that the distinctive skills and
knowledge of different professionals will be preserved. “What
we’re talking about is a generic core and some sense that
everyone is part of a children’s profession, but with a high
degree of specialism beyond that.” He draws an analogy with
medicine, where doctors share a common ethos and approach to
patients but may also have a very high level of specialist training
and knowledge.

Foundations vital
The skills council proper is to be set up from April 2005,
when Ennals will hand over the reins to a new chief executive and a
chair who will almost certainly be an employers’
representative. He is doing the shadow chair job because he
believes that getting the foundations right is critical and because
the government wanted someone who can represent the interests of
children, young people and families. Other members of the shadow
board include representatives from local government and other
employers in the sector.

Owen Davies, national officer at the trade union Unison, is the
TUC representative on the shadow board. His perspective on
workforce reform is coloured by his unhappiness about the way in
which the government transferred responsibility for
children’s social care from the Department of Health to the
DfES earlier this year without consultation. “There are a lot of
people who feel anxious about working out of a schools-dominated
education department,” he says. “They feel they have a set of
skills and competences which people in education don’t value
or understand.”

But the change is now a fait accompli and Davies recognises
there are significant benefits for staff in being part of a
universal profession. “We’re very keen that people should
have qualifications that recognise that skills learned in one area
can be transferred to another. He also hopes the workforce reform
process can be a vehicle for improving training. “We want to see
front-line staff getting a better deal with training. You
can’t provide better services without improved pay and

Low pay must be addressed
Rita Sutton, regional executive officer at the Pre-School
Learning Alliance which represents some 15,000 pre-schools as well
as running 30 neighbourhood nurseries, welcomes the move towards
recognising child care as a profession but believes it will be
meaningless unless the problem of low pay is addressed. “We want
staff to have as many training and career development opportunities
as possible,” she says, “but there has been a feeling that
we’ve trained people up and then they move into better paid
jobs in other sectors, for example as teaching assistants.”

Sutton points out that the projected 180,000 shortfall in child
care staff cannot possibly be met without improving pay. “The fact
that there is a new unit [in the DfES] looking at pay and training
is encouraging. At the moment every setting has its own pay scales.
Staff often don’t get paid if they take a day off work to
attend training.”

Although the teaching profession might be one of the main
beneficiaries of reforms making it easier for staff to move upwards
and sideways, the teachers’ union the NUT can see no merit in
plans that might also make it easier for people to leave teaching.
A spokesperson says: “Our role is to encourage people to become
teachers. There’s a shortage and we can’t afford to
lose any more.”

Views from the professionals…

Sarah Lacey, a teacher with 18 years’
experience in the classroom, welcomes the idea of making it easier
to change between professions. “A few years ago I really felt I
needed a change,” she says. “My first choice was to go into social
work, but I would have had to retrain and I couldn’t afford
to take a year out of paid employment.”

Lacey believes it would be valuable for teachers to be trained
to take a broader view of children’s needs. “To teach
effectively you need to understand a child’s interests and
what motivates them. We have children with terrible social problems
who aren’t being dealt with. You are put under so much
pressure to get results but school and education doesn’t mean
anything for them. It would be good to put the child-centred
approach back into education but it’s hard to see it

Sandy Shears, a Sure Start programme manager,
can see many benefits of joint training for different
professionals. She says: “One of the first things I did as
programme manager was to arrange shared training for everyone.
People have a lot of assumptions about how to work with families
and children based on the professional background they come from.
People also fear that somehow there is a diminution of their

She adds: “The government’s endorsement of shared training
acknowledges that we need a different approach to working with
families. We have to get away from the notion of hierarchy and
recognise what different professions have to offer.”

Bonamy Dame worked as a nursery nurse and play
specialist in a children’s hospital for 13 years before
deciding to retrain as a children’s nurse. Part of the reason
for switching was that she had reached a ceiling in her profession:
“I couldn’t progress any further. The only option would have
been for me to have become a manager based in an office, which
wasn’t what I wanted. Even as a manager the top salary is
only about £16,000.”

Dame says many early years workers would transfer into other
children’s professions if they didn’t have to start
again from scratch. “My experience didn’t count. I even had
to spend six weeks in a nursery. It was very frustrating.”

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