A recruitment drive for thousands of new childcare staff is being undermined by the Scottish Government’s denigration of the profession, a regulator head has warned.
The SNP administration announced more than 2,000 new training places this week to meet its flagship pledge to nearly double free childcare hours.
However, Anna Fowlie, the departing chief of the Dundee-based Scottish Social Services Council, reacted angrily to the Empowering Schools consultation, saying it dismissed the childcare workforce as “non-teachers” and criticised them for not embracing professionalism.
Ms Fowlie, a former Scottish Government employee, said the early years workforce had “worked its socks off” and deserved recognition.
“To refer to them as non-teachers and then to say ‘only teachers had invested in their own professional learning’ is not right and it’s not fair on people who have clearly galvanised themselves into being professional,” she said.
“This is a group of people that are undervalued anyway, they’re not appreciated and here is another example of that.”
Asked if the language was helpful for the huge childcare recruitment challenge ahead, she said: “No, I really thought that moment had passed.
“I remember the reorganisation of local government in the 1990s and people then objected to there being the teachers and the non-teachers, and the rest of you are not teachers and that’s what defines you. I think that’s really disrespectful.”
The public spending watchdog Audit Scotland published a report in February saying it was hard to see how recruiting an extra 12,000 staff and other challenges could be overcome in time.
The Scottish Government has pledged to increase state-funded childcare hours for each eligible child from 600 to 1,100 hours a year by 2020.
Ministers said this week they will train an additional 1,813 childcare practitioners in the coming academic year.
The figure does not include hundreds more places for managerial training.
Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray said it would take until 2024 to train the additional practitioners required under current trends.
The party’s education spokesman said the SSSC boss was “absolutely right” for speaking out over the SNP administration’s attitude to the childcare workforce.
Mr Gray added: “Under the SNP, staff across the education sector are undervalued, underpaid and overworked.
“The SNP government is going nowhere near far enough in delivering its childcare expansion – as it stands there is not enough money, there are not enough staff, and not enough buildings to deliver it.”
Responding to a letter of complaint from Ms Fowlie, the Education Secretary John Swinney struck a different tone to his officials in the consultation, saying the early years workforce’s commitment to raising professionals and skill levels over the last decade has been “remarkable”.
A Scottish Government spokesman said it was committed to “investing in the workforce’s professional identity and development” and praised the SSSC for raising qualification levels and skills in the sector.
The spokesman added: “We are making progress in meeting the staffing demands of our childcare commitment and are working with the Scottish Funding Council to offer more childcare training places in the coming year.”