Deborah Lawson qualified as a nursery nurse and is the first non-teacher to chair the Professional Association of Teachers union. She is external funding and business manager at Gloucestershire Council’s children and young people’s directorate.
Her remarks at PAT’s conference earlier this month about minimum entry standards for childcare training courses generated much debate when she used Vicky Pollard – the antisocial teenager from BBC series Little Britain – to highlight the issue.
What is your message to childcare students?
Working with children is very enjoyable and rewarding but it is also a demanding profession which requires a lot of hard work. If you think looking after children is an easy option you need to reconsider your choice.
Do you think training bodies and colleges should raise entry level standards for childcare workers?
Yes. Our members are telling us that a small but growing number of students are being accepted onto childcare courses who do not have a good standard of basic education, including a command of their own language.
We know this because placement supervisors are telling us and finding they are spending more and more time supporting students in the workplace. The way that colleges are funded may influence recruitment onto courses, especially if they are funded via a bottoms on seats approach.
Do you think some young people are badly advised by the careers service and government recruitment campaigns to go into childcare?
There have been occasions when those who do not achieve academic success are advised, often inappropriately to go into childcare.
There is a perception which has been promoted by some of the national recruitment campaigns that anyone can work in childcare. This is not so. Young and older people should not be directed into childcare to improve their own self esteem – this is the wrong reason to enter any profession.
What do you think of standards in the childcare workforce overall?
There are a lot of very highly qualified and experienced people working in childcare, providing quality childcare and education to children and young people.
My comments and the conference motion were not a reflection on them and I do not aim to insult the very many excellent people working in the profession or indeed many students entering the profession.
My concern and that of other members of the Professional Association of Teachers and Professional Association of Nursery Nurses (PANN is a section of PAT) is that more and more unsuitable people with low levels of qualification are being directed into the profession.
We, like many others want not only to maintain the current standard of the workforce, but to improve it, which will be hard to do if the calibre of people recruited and accepted on to childcare courses is below a minimum standard.
The Children’s Workforce Development Council says its exists to make sure people working with children have the best possible training, qualifications, support and advice. Is it doing its job?
It is still early days and I would not like to make any judgement or assumptions without evidence. I think transformation funding (government money to improve training for early years staff) will help to improve the qualifications of some people in the sector, which should lead to a graduate led profession.
However without a national career and pay structure for those who work in the sector, there may be little additional financial reward for higher levels of qualifications. Perhaps this is the next step for the CWDC.
How can early years/social care staff and teachers learn to work together more constructively?
We all need to understand and have an appreciation of the different skills and experience within the team we work in.
In addition to this we should not be presuming that our skills are better than anyone else in the team, they may be different, but it is only when we bring our collective expertise together that we are better able to meet the needs of children in our care.
What do you want to achieve as chair of the Professional Association of Teachers?
At a time of change, those involved in delivering services need support and a voice to be able to raise concerns and to influence change and how it is implemented.
The changes taking place in education and childcare, which involves the integration of our services and a new way working for many people within the sectors means that more and more support will be needed and our members need mechanisms through which to raise concerns. What I want to ensure is that PAT is a loud voice that represents the sector well.