In the week before the country closed down due to the coronavirus, I spoke at a Scotland Policy Conferences Keynote Seminar on 12 March on Growing and Diversifying the Early Years and Childcare Workforce. The aim of the event was to discuss how to achieve the Scottish Government’s planned expansion of funded hours in childcare to 1,140 hours for all 3 and 4 year olds, and eligible 2 year olds by August 2020.
I was invited to provide a college perspective on how we are helping to achieve the government’s expansion targets. I illustrated the contribution of colleges by describing the partnership approach between West Lothian College and West Lothian Council.
On 30 March, the Scottish Government announced that to enable local authorities to focus on their response to the coronavirus pandemic they will no longer be legally obliged to deliver 1,140 hours of funded childcare from August 2020.
Colleges are essential to delivering the expansion of the early years workforce
Scottish Government funded early learning and childcare is available to all three-and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds. Currently, 600 free hours are provided to each child per year. This was planned to increase to 1,140 hours from August 2020.
Colleges have already played a fundamental role in delivering the skilled workforce required to meet rising childcare places. This is shown very clearly in the following chart from Audit Scotland’s recent Early learning and childcare follow up report. As well as college enrolments, colleges deliver almost all foundation apprenticeships, many modern apprenticeships, and a large number of SVQs to employees in early years settings.
Growing the Workforce
Colleges have a long history of successfully delivering industry-relevant courses and producing work-ready graduates dedicated to giving children the best start in life. Colleges are able and ready to provide the current and future workforce with training, reskilling and upskilling to support the expansion.
To illustrate this in a local context, West Lothian Council currently employs 1,085 people in 64 early learning and childcare settings, and requires an additional 100 practitioners to deliver the 1,140 hours. A critical success factor in developing West Lothian’s workforce is the strong partnership working between the council’s early years development team and the college.
To support this growing demand, West Lothian College has increased the number of HNC Childhood Practice students from forty to over a hundred each year over the past five years.
The college provides a range of full and part time pathways for those not ready for HNC study including Social Care: Children and Young People Foundation Apprenticeship (Level 6) and Skills for Work Early Education and Childcare (Level 5) aimed at senior school pupils, Preparation for Childcare (Level 4), National Certificate Childhood Practice (Levels 5 and 6) and Men into Early Years (Level 6).
Childminders will be critical in delivering 1,140 hours of funded early years and childcare provision, giving parents more choice as they select the provider that best meets the needs of their family.
Building on strong links with the local Scottish Childminding Association, the college has provided play sessions for childminders and their minded children, which have been organised and led by students. These sessions offer a unique opportunity for childminders, students and lecturers to interact.
A pilot programme of work placements for HNC Childhood Practice students in the homes of childminders was very successful and the college hopes to develop this model further as the potential for childminders to deliver funded early learning and childcare widens.
West Lothian Council and West Lothian College will continue to support childminders’ professional development through a planned programme of networking and training opportunities.
At a national level, the Scottish Childminding Association chose West Lothian College in November 2019 as its preferred SVQ training provider. This endorsement means that childminders across Scotland will be signposted to the college to undertake their SVQ.
Influencing Curriculum Design
Council practitioners are partners in the college’s curriculum development.
Annual joint planning meetings plan course content to meet the future needs of early years and childcare settings. Specific units that best reflect the priorities of the local authority are included in courses, for example Supervised Toothbrushing, Paediatric First Aid, and Forest Kindergarten qualifications.
In autumn 2019, West Lothian College created an outdoor forest classroom in the woodland on our campus grounds. It was built using recycled materials like wooden pallets for seating and plastic tarpaulin sheeting for shelter, and features a mud kitchen and fire area.
All lecturers have undertaken the Forest Kindergarten Train the Trainers course, and this has been integrated into students’ courses. The college also enabled council staff to complete this training. Children from early years and childcare settings across West Lothian visit the forest classroom every week, providing excellent opportunities for our students.
West Lothian Council practitioners and college lecturers have access to each other’s professional development training and events. The college hosted the council’s Annual Early Years CPL conference for over 400 practitioners. In August 2019, West Lothian Council held an induction day for 200 newly appointed early learning and childcare practitioners. All HNC lecturers from West Lothian College attended the event, which was designed on the new National Early Learning and Childcare Induction resource.
The college supports the Forth Valley and West Lothian Regional Improvement Collaborative to support practitioners focus on learning and teaching practice that will improve outcomes for children.
All HNC and HND students are invited to interview for the Pupil Support Worker supply list, which means they earn and gain valuable experience while continuing their professional development.
Diversifying the Workforce
As part of the recruitment drive to attract more people to work in early years and childcare there have been significant efforts to encourage more school leavers and more men into the profession.
The Scottish Funding Council is supporting this through the Men in Early Years Challenge Fund, launched by the Minister for Children and Young People in October 2018. Currently, just 4% of the workforce in Scotland is male and the fund was designed to increase the proportion of men working in early years and childcare.
West Lothian College and Inverness College were awarded funding and used this for pilot projects that focused on increasing applications from male students and retaining those students to complete Scottish Social Services Council registered early years and childcare qualifications. There have been promising results from both projects.
The short film below summarises West Lothian College’s approach to encourage male school students to think differently about careers in early learning and childcare.
While the Scottish Government and local authorities have understandably shelved the expansion for now, they will reinstate the statutory requirement when the time is right and ensure that all eligible children can access 1,140 hours of high quality early learning and childcare.
Colleges in Scotland, like West Lothian, will be ready to play a vital role in ensuring that there is a skilled workforce to realise this ambition.