Good teachers can fight poverty and promote inclusion for children
Can strengthening the skills and qualifications of people working in early years services impact children's lives? A team of European researchers believe they can. These changes can play a huge part in improving social inclusion and reducing poverty levels, they say. A two-year study, Working for inclusion: the role of the early years workforce in addressing poverty and promoting social inclusion, will help elucidate the relationship of skill and qualification levels of early years services with social inclusion and poverty.
The study's participants from Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK will offer an overview of developments across the EU, and the final results will be used to develop policy at both national and EU levels.
Unlike the countries participating in this research programme, setting an explicit target for reducing poverty does not rank high on the agendas of other nations.
Denmark, however, has been using a system for assessing pedagogy qualifications for over a decade, and data show that 3% of the entire Danish workforce is early childhood educators. The Dane's effective system ensures that not only are educators trained to look after the children's educational, physical and mental development, but that they are able to cooperate with families that are having difficulties in caring for their children.
Coordinating the cross-European research programme is Children in Scotland, a partner agency of the National Children's Bureau (NCB) in the UK.
'Simply having access to early years services can help address poverty and help all children, from different backgrounds and of different abilities, feel part of their communities,' explained Dr Bronwen Cohen, Director of Children in Scotland. 'However, a lot more can be achieved if those working with the children are appropriately qualified and skilled.'
The agency's leader underlined the importance of the current research programme in targeting the skills and qualifications of the workforce and the contribution this makes to inclusive services, as well as the support it offers families and communities.
'It will provide a complete picture of services right across Europe, thus enabling us to compare what we are doing here in Scotland with other countries,' she said.
Current data show that 1 in 5 of Scotland's 1 million children live in households with income below 60% of the Scottish average.
For his part, NCB's chief Mr Paul Ennals, who also chairs the Children's Workforce Network, remarked that the exchange of information and good practice on a global scale is highly significant.
'This is a valuable opportunity for England to evaluate and compare the skills and career opportunities of those delivering early years services with what is happening across Europe, and use the information to help improve young children's life chances and tackle inequality,' he said.
The European Commission representative in Scotland, Neil Mitchison, commented that families needing support should get help. 'They should be helped out of the vicious circle of poverty and social exclusion,' he said. 'This project will provide useful data for policymakers, at national and European level.'
Meanwhile, the chief administrator of Eurochild, a European networking organisation, underlined that leadership at the EU level in the field of early years services is crucial.
'This important project will bring stronger, cross-EU evidence on good practice in service organisation and workforce development and training,' noted Jana Hainsworth. 'We expect to learn more about how these services can impact on promoting inclusion and combating poverty.'