Looking after our youngest children

February 1, 2013 § 1 Comment

Along with many others who have some knowledge of nursery care and early years education, I must disagree with Elizabeth Truss’s proposals for changing the ratios in child care settings.   If we do manage to achieve the goal of having better-qualified staff, they can only deliver high quality child care if they have both the time and resources to do so – and this cannot happen if the ratios are changed.  In his excellent blog “Inside the Secret Garden,” Julian Grenier quotes from the OECD:  “Research has indicated that staff job satisfaction and retention – and therefore the quality of ECEC– can be improved by: i) high staff-child ratios and low group size; ii) competitive wages and other benefits; iii) reasonable schedule/workload; iv) low staff turnover; v) good physical environment; and vi) a competent and supportive centre manager.”

My main argument relates to the ways in which we can improve the education, training and qualifications of those looking after young children.  There have been far too many changes in this area of vocational training.  When I started teaching would-be nursery nurses (as they were then called) in about 1985 we had the old NNEB (Nursery Nurse Examination Board) system.  Students could be accepted on to the 2-year college course with 4 GCSEs  (to include English and Maths), although exceptions were occasionally made.  Colleges were inundated with applicants for the course, so could be choosy!  Every student we interviewed had to prove an aptitude for working with children – and needed to back this up with relevant work experience references, including references from parents or childminders/nursery teachers.  The NNEB training required students to undertake lengthy blocks of practical training in a variety of placements – as nannies, childminders’ assistants and as trainees in nurseries, infant schools and centres for children with special needs.  They also had to complete many Observations and assignments; all of these were workplace oriented – and they needed to attend and pass a St.John’s Ambulance First Aid qualification.

Since then, we have replaced the old system over the years with GNVQs, BTEC Certificates and Diplomas, CACHE Foundation Awards, Certificates and Diplomas and – most recently – The Children and Young People’s Workforce Level 2 Certificate and Level 3 Diploma.  From my experience as writer of textbooks for this market, the core aims have shifted.  Instead of students being assessed in the workplace by their tutors from college (and schools), they can achieve a Level 2 qualification through a sort of distance learning, with reduced levels of contact with children – some have boasted of getting their Level 2 certificate after 6 months of training!   First Aid disappeared as a mandatory qualification for a while, but I am glad to see it has now been re-introduced.  [I see Paediatric First Aid training as an essential qualification for anyone who is part of the Early Years workforce].

So where do we go from here?  I don’t want to turn back the clock – each system has its faults and its advantages.  We need an educated and motivated workforce – one which understands the developmental needs of children and knows how to provide for them – treating each child as an individual.  This simply can’t be achieved if a practitioner is expected to nurture and promote the development of four babies or six toddlers.  I don’t believe such practitioners necessarily need Maths and English GCSEs, but they do need to develop excellent communication skills and a through knowledge about the health, safety and holistic development of children.  The career structure must encourage practitioners to continue their professional development and reward them with increased pay and benefits.

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