10. Personal concluding comments
'When, in March 2014, the Scottish Government commissioned me to conduct this review, I little expected that it would take over my life to the extent it has.
I had carried out similar pieces of work for other national governments, and did not expect my requests for co-operation and evidence to be met with such passion & eagerness - by every sector of the Scottish ELC & OSC workforce.
The volume and strength of the responses were stimulating and refreshing, and the degree of intelligent interest superseded that which I had experienced elsewhere.
Through my visits and discussions, I soon learnt that the ELC & OSC sector was strong in Scotland, and had achieved much over the last couple of decades. Instead of writing a review to remedy weaknesses and shortcomings, I found that I had been given the privilege of making recommendations to develop strengths and build on good practice.
Everyone agrees that the ELC and OSC workforce must be fit-for-purpose, but what is that purpose? I believe that our sights should be higher than simply providing for children to release parents into employment, higher even than providing children with positive and effective development, wellbeing and learning (and offering the right support to their families and carers).
My view is that strengthening society, negating the impact of poverty and increasing social mobility (and their considerable concomitant economic benefits) are the ELC & OSC workforce's ultimate purpose - and that national governments are economically and sociologically short-sighted when they focus on early years' quantity at the expense of early years' quality.
Strengthening and developing the ELC and OSC workforce should be a top priority for every far-sighted government. According to James Heckman, the Nobel Laureate in economics and expert in human development, it is precisely this investment which reduces national deficits and strengthens national economies. (See http://heckmanequation.org/content/resource/invest-early-childhood-development-reduce-deficits-strengthen-economy.)
Professor Heckman has shown that, 'The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five...Efforts should focus on the first years for the greatest efficiency and effectiveness. The best investment is in quality early childhood development from birth to five for disadvantaged children and their families.' James J. Heckman December 7, 2012.
In my work around the world, time and again I have seen that government investment in a more professional, higher quality workforce impacts directly on quality provision for young children - and that this, in turn, yields greater economic and social returns in education, health and productivity.
Heckman's work shows that, to a unit dollar, investment in the early years and their workforce development yields greater economic returns than investment in any other sector of education - including schools and post-school sectors like training and apprenticeships.
Every child benefits from high quality ECEC, but the evidence proves that the children from families struggling in the most challenging circumstances are those who benefit the most from high quality ECEC - and it is this which delivers the economic and social gains.
Compared to other nations, Scotland has set a very exciting agenda for its children, including those in their earliest years. It has taken a huge step forward by integrating early learning with care at national policy level - and the vision is now set and real. Historically, however, ECEC services and provision have been fragmented right across Europe. And, in Scotland, separate strands from education and care still persist in some of the structures and processes around qualifications, their levels, the unions representing different parts of the workforce, inspection bodies, conditions of service, types of provision, and so on.
Not all diversity is a problem, of course, but too much fragmentation can be. The Scottish Government's national vision has begun to challenge the levels of difference and disparity, which are reflected in the workforce, but more needs to be done.
My challenge has been to produce a review which recognizes the strengths of the current system (with all its diversity) yet offers recommendations which pave the way for a more unified system. This system would include a workforce which is better and higher educated, where there is a framework and entitlement to good initial training, continuous development, and well-trodden routes to further, post-graduate education.
I understand that some aspects of my recommendations for producing a better, stronger, more cohesive and fairer workforce will be challenging, and that stakeholders will need time for consultation and dialogue before they can reach a consensus. I also realize that the Scottish Government, and its agencies, will need time to evaluate the economic benefits from the reforms' budgetary implications.
I am certain, however, that my recommendations, when implemented, will result in a stronger, higher-quality workforce - and that this will, in turn, increase both the public's esteem of the sector and the positive social and economic impacts for Scotland's children, families and national economy.'
Professor Iram Siraj OBE
University College London, Institute of Education