Imagine this

For too long we have had a fragmented English children’s workforce, developing haphazardly as a result of myriad disconnected influences. But how can we make the transformation suggested in the Children’s Workforce Strategy? It outlines a new occupational model that will bring about competent and confident practitioners working across all sectors – including early years, social care and schools – in a respected profession.

In our response to the consultation on the strategy, we suggested that the theory, practice and profession of pedagogy meet the government’s aim to “encourage the joining up of services around the needs of children and young people”. This approach must be able to encompass work across childhood and youth and across all settings, from family day care to schools and from play services to residential care. Focusing on particular sectors or age groups or settings must follow from, not precede, a broad analysis and prescription since many issues and possible solutions span different age groups and sectors.

We envisage a future children’s workforce based around two pedagogically trained generic occupations: a pedagogue trained at graduate or level five and a pedagogue assistant trained at level three (a senior support worker and the competence required for working without supervision). Our argument for generically trained workers is based on research that points to the common requirements for work with children and young people including:

Fulfilling recipients’ fundamental physiological needs and needs for protection.
Communication, listening and empathy.
The ability to renew knowledge and to be in a lifelong process of constructing knowledge, identity and values.
Supporting development and autonomy.
Supporting the integrative relationship between the individual, family and friends and wider communities.
Networking (with family, community) and teamworking (with other workers and services).
Responding to changing images of the “cared for” person, for example, from passive object to active subject with rights).
Working with diversity.

The level five and three occupations would work together in many settings. The level five pedagogue would undertake strategic leadership and service management, but would also be widely involved in the daily work with children as a senior practitioner alongside the level three pedagogue assistant. Both pedagogues and assistants would have access to an extensive system of continuous professional development, including further degrees. In addition to these occupations, a few staff would be able to work without a pedagogic qualification, but have the opportunity to undertake pedagogical training.

Qualifications should vary with the type of work. For example, we envisage that in residential children’s homes virtually all the staff should be pedagogues at level five, commensurate with the difficult work they do. In children’s centres and nurseries, approximately half the staff should have a level five qualification and of the remainder at least half should be pedagogue assistants.
In primary schools, there has been a rapid increase in the numbers of non-teaching staff working alongside teachers and there are plans to extend the range of children’s services available on site. Pedagogy, with its focus on “upbringing”, is well-suited to this role. Indeed, staff seen as engaged in child care or learning support in English schools would be seen by European colleagues as fulfilling a pedagogic role.

We can see pedagogues, pedagogue assistants, teachers and less qualified staff working in teams in extended primary schools. Each team would work with a group of children over the course of the children’s day. While in general, the teacher will be seen as leading on implementing the curriculum, the pedagogue might be regarded as leading on children’s overall development and well-being. Pedagogues may have a role with children’s developmental needs, and would be mainly responsible for children for the “breakfast” and “after school” time, for the supervision of lunchtime staff and holiday provision.

This vision is radical and requires big changes and the commitment of all the players in the children’s sectors. But we can see the future in some current developments. For example, Fortune Park Sure Start children’s centre in Islington is merging with a local primary school and special school to become an integrated children’s centre from birth to age 11, offering family support, education, care, play and more under one roof, with changes to staff roles and expectations.

The task involved in introducing pedagogy into the children’s workforce is considerable but not unmanageable. We estimate that the existing workforce of teaching assistants, nursery workers, play workers, and residential care workers amounts to about 300,000 workers, though further expansion is anticipated. About half these should be pedagogues at level five and at least half of the remainder would be level three pedagogue assistants. A pedagogic framework for the children’s workforce should also include home-based services such as childminding and foster care, with an extra 3,000 or so level five pedagogues needed to support these children’s workers.

Implementation should begin with developing familiarity with the principles and practice of pedagogy and pedagogues. Possibilities are taster days for all children’s workers and developing a national exchange programme to enable pedagogues and pedagogy students from other countries to work in England on placements, and English workers to go on study visits to pedagogical services in other countries.

Next would come a series of trailblazer areas, working on a hub and cluster model, with a university and a vocational college as the hub, and the surrounding employers as the cluster, working in partnership to develop pedagogy in their area. The educational institutions would initially develop the level five and level three courses in collaboration with colleagues from a country where pedagogy is well established, such as Denmark, and also develop master’s courses.

About one third of a level five course would be practice placements with local employers or potentially overseas, which in turn offer evaluative and reflective learning opportunities on return to college. A substantial proportion of students would be existing workers “converting” earlier training into a pedagogical qualification.

Using this model, the first trained pedagogues could be in practice within five years. With a roll-out to all areas, pedagogical training would be producing large numbers of workers within a decade. Every children’s worker should be offered career advice to help them decide which qualification they should pursue. Some existing qualifications, such as youth and community degrees and early childhood degrees, might contain considerable overlap.

The development of the children’s workforce is now at a crossroads. We believe major reform is a necessity; tinkering with the existing fragmented system is not an option. In short, a new workforce is needed to change the face of children’s services. CC

Claire Cameron and Peter Moss are researchers at the Thomas Coram Research Unit Institute of Education, University of London, where they have studied the early years and social care workforces. They have recently conducted cross-national studies of care work in Europe, pedagogy and residential care, and reforming children’s services.

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The government’s recent Children’s Workforce Strategy consultation document shows a welcome commitment to reforming the fragmented children’s workforce. This article considers how a highly trained generic worker, the pedagogue, might be introduced into a wide range of children’s services, including early years, social care and schools, in order to attain the policy goals of competent and confident practitioners. Although the task is substantial it is not unmanageable.

Further information
The Thomas Coram Research Unit website has a briefing paper, publications, and information about introducing pedagogy into the children’s workforce, and also the Children’s Workforce Strategy: A Response to the Consultation Document. Go to:

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