Europe knows best?

Ruth Kelly must have known that, notwithstanding the outcome of
the general election, she had not seen the back of the children’s
workforce strategy when she signed off the consultation document
for publication early last month.

There is still much work to be done before it resembles a strategy
at all, let alone one that will result in a “world-class”
children’s workforce. After many months of work, the challenges are
now understood but the solutions remain far from clear.

In terms of social care, the critical questions of how to improve
the status, number and quality of those working in the children’s
sector have been set aside for another working group to consider.
There has been little progress on the plans for the early years
workforce; the government remains undecided about what kind of
early years professional is needed. And some key issues, such as
how to improve pay across the sector, have been ducked

Both the secretary of state and Beverley Hughes, the new children’s
minister, must realise that they now need to turn the aspiration of
building a world class children’s workforce into a concrete

It is clear that the government cannot do this on its own. Having
struggled with workforce reform for 18 months, the Department for
Education and Skills produced a strategy that fell well short of
expectations. What’s now needed is some creative thinking involving
those working in the children’s sector, together with some
visionary leadership from the Children’s Workforce Development
Council. The appointment of Estelle Morris as its chair is welcome:
it signals that the council intends to be ambitious, high profile
and politically astute – characteristics that will be critical to
its success.

To the government’s credit, some radical options for workforce
reform are still on the table. Among the most important is the
suggestion that a pedagogue profession could be established, a role
well established in other European countries. And the experience
abroad suggests a different approach to working with children that
many in the social care sector would welcome.

The pedagogical approach rests on an image of a child as complex
social being with rich and extraordinary potential, rather than as
an adult-in-waiting who needs to be given the right ingredients for
optimal development. Pedagogues are trained to have regard for all
aspects of children’s well-being, including their social,
emotional, health and educational development. In some ways such an
optimistic and rounded approach to working with children is out of
step with current policy. It does not fit easily with a desire to
focus on children “at risk” or measure progress against
pre-determined outcomes. But in one key regard pedagogy complements
the Every Child Matters agenda; pedagogical training is
sufficiently broad-based to sit comfortably with the ambitions for
a more integrated approach to service delivery.

Debate about the value or otherwise of a social pedagogy as a
professional model may seem like a distraction when the social care
workforce is struggling to recruit, retain and train. But,
regardless of whether the model can be easily translated to the
English context, the proposal provides the sector with an
opportunity to think about the long-term direction of the

This is much needed. Although there has been much change in social
care in recent years, the raft of new bodies, systems and lines of
accountability have been designed to deal with today’s problems,
rather than tomorrow’s. There has been little opportunity to
question the status quo or consider the kind of workforce that will
be needed to respond to demographic change and shifting attitudes
towards care and service delivery.

Even the proposals set out in the recent green paper on adult
social care, which was supposed to set out a 10- to 15-year vision,
ducked some of the big issues on workforce reform. In the context
of moves to increase user empowerment and independence, it spoke of
cultivating a culture of respect and ensuring that workers were
open, honest, warm, empathetic and respectful. It proposed roles to
help users find their way through the existing system. But it
failed to ask the critical question: will the social care workforce
as we currently know it need to change fundamentally?

Social pedagogy may or may not be the answer to the challenges
facing society in coming years. But those working in social care
should not pass up the opportunity to shape the sector’s future by
taking part in the debate about whether a new form of professional
might be a welcome addition to the workforce.

Lisa Harker is chair of the Daycare Trust

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