Care Work in Europe
Current understandings and future directions
Work with Young Children
A Case Study of Denmark, Hungary and Spain
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION TO THE REPORT ............................................8
1.1 Introducing ‘Care Work in Europe’ .................................................................8
1.2 The problem with ‘care work’ .........................................................................9
1.3 The research process ....................................................................................9
1.3.1 Sample selection ...................................................................................10
1.3.2 Instrument development ........................................................................13
1.3.3 Interviews and data collection ...............................................................13
1.3.4 Transcription and coding .......................................................................15
1.3.5 Analysis and writing national reports .....................................................15
1.4 The rest of this report...................................................................................16
CHAPTER TWO : PUTTING WORK WITH YOUNG CHILDREN IN CONTEXT ....18
2.1 Brief historical observations .........................................................................18
2.2 Economic and political influences ................................................................19
2.3 Services: structures .....................................................................................23
2.3.1 Government responsibility .....................................................................23
2.3.2 Types of service ....................................................................................24
2.3.3 Providers of services .............................................................................25
2.3.4 Levels of provision.................................................................................26
2.3.5 Funding for services ..............................................................................27
2.3.6 The workforce........................................................................................28
2.4 Services: orientations...................................................................................30
2.5 Concluding comments .................................................................................33
CHAPTER THREE : THE WORKERS....................................................................35
3.1 The profile of the care workers.....................................................................35
3.2 Employment conditions................................................................................36
3.2.1 Second jobs...........................................................................................38
3.3 Careers ........................................................................................................39
3.3.1 Routes into the work.............................................................................39
3.3.2 Motivation for entering the work ...........................................................40
3.3.3 Career opportunities ..............................................................................42
3.4 Employment and family................................................................................44
3.4.1 The role of a family adviser ..................................................................44
3.4.2 Work-family reconciliation.....................................................................45
3.5 Concluding comments .................................................................................48
CHAPTER FOUR : TRAINING FOR WORK WITH YOUNG CHILDREN...............49
4.1 Basic training ...............................................................................................49
4.2 The students ................................................................................................55
4.3 Opinions on training .....................................................................................57
4.4 Concluding comments .................................................................................60
CHAPTER FIVE : WHAT IS WORK WITH YOUNG CHILDREN? .........................63
5.1 The purpose of services for young children .................................................63
5.2 How is the work understood.........................................................................67
5.3 What skills and capabilities do workers need...............................................75
5.4 Theories and inspirations .............................................................................78
5.5 Concluding comments .................................................................................80
CHAPTER SIX : THE WORK ENVIRONMENT ......................................................83
6.1 Life in the institution .....................................................................................83
6.2 Relations with parents..................................................................................86
6.3 Regulatory frameworks ................................................................................92
6.4 Concluding comments .................................................................................96
CHAPTER SEVEN : VIEWS ABOUT THE WORK.................................................98
7.1 Status and image .........................................................................................98
7.2 Job satisfaction ..........................................................................................106
7.3 Views about gender ...................................................................................109
7.4 Concluding comments ...............................................................................113
CHAPTER EIGHT : FUTURE DIRECTIONS ........................................................115
APPENDIX A : RESEARCH INSTRUMENTS ......................................................120
Chapter One: Introduction to the report
This report is part of the second stage of a research study Care Work in Europe: Current
Understandings and Future Directions. It is one of three cross-national studies of
particular forms of care work and focuses on centre-based services for young children
(i.e. under 6 years): the other two are concerned with services for adults with severe
disabilities and residential and domiciliary services for elderly people. The main aim is to
provide in-depth studies of understandings of care work in theory and practice – although
it is also recognised that the term ‘care work’ is problematic and contentious.
This study compares three countries: Denmark, Hungary and Spain (in particular,
Catalonia). The study is based on interviews with: practitioners in centre-based services,
who were typical of the workforce in terms of qualifications; trainers of practitioners; and
local and national (or regional) policy makers. Interviews were supplemented by tours of
centres and documentation.
Chapter Two: Putting work with young children in context
All three countries have been going through a major process of decentralisation; main
responsibility for services for young children has been passed to regional governments or
local authorities. But contextually, the three countries differ in terms of welfare regime,
per capita GDP, female and part-time employment, and taxation levels.
The countries also provide striking contrasts in the organisation of services for young
children. Denmark has developed an extensive and fully integrated system of services
located within the welfare system. Hungary has a ‘split’ system, with nurseries for
children under 3 years in welfare and kindergartens for children 3 to 6 years in education.
Spain, in 1990, integrated all services within education, but is reverting to a more split
system again due to a new law. Parental leave policies, which can impact on service
demand, also contrast: Denmark offers a year’s paid leave, Hungary 3 years paid leave
and Spain 3 years leave mostly unpaid.
Many services in all three countries are age-segregated (i.e. either for children under or
over 3), although Denmark has a substantial amount of age-integrated provision. Family
day care is widespread for children under 3 in Denmark, but is uncommon in the other
two countries. Most services in Denmark and Hungary are provided by public authorities;
in Spain there is a large private sector for children under 3, much of it for profit.
All three countries have high levels of publicly-funded provision for children over 3
(over 90 per cent), but Denmark has far higher levels for children under 3 (over 50 per
cent). Whereas provision in Denmark and Hungary is mainly publicly funded, Spanish
provision relies more on parental fees.
Each country has two main occupations working in centre-based services for young
children. In Denmark there is a single main profession working across the whole age
range: pedagogues. They are supplemented by pedagogue assistants. In Hungary, there is
one occupation (nursery workers) in services for children under 3, and another
(kindergarten pedagogues) with children over 3. While in Spain, one occupation
(technicians in early education) works only with children under 3, while another (a new
teacher specialism) works with children across the whole age range. Pedagogues and
teachers have tertiary level training, but nursery workers and technicians (who work only
with children under 3) have upper secondary level training.
Pedagogy underpins policy and practice in Denmark, a holistic concept that recognises
the whole child and the inseparability of care, learning, development and upbringing.
Although services for young children in Hungary are divided between welfare and
education, all adopt a holistic approach captured in the term nevelés (upbringing) and
provide both care and education. Policy in the 1990s in Spain has emphasised an
educational perspective for the whole age range, rather than just childcare (though this
may now be changing with a new emphasis on childcare in services for children under 3).
Chapter Three: The workers
Male workers constitute about 5 per cent of the workforce in Denmark. There are very
few male workers in Hungary and Spain, attempts to include interviews with two male
workers proving impossible
There are considerable variations in salaries. Danish workers, who are strongly unionised,
earn substantially more than Spanish workers, while Hungarian workers have very low
pay (although improved by a recent rise). However, the ratio of earnings between
workers with young children in Denmark and Hungary with the highest qualifications
(pedagogues and kindergarten pedagogues respectively) and school teachers was similar:
about 85 per cent. Earnings in Spain vary considerably according to qualification and age
of children worked with, and between public and private sectors and regions.
Danish pedagogues start training on average in their late 20s, often after other work
experience or education: many work as pedagogue assistants first. There is often an
element of chance in how they get into work with young children and few had always
wanted to work with children. Hungarian and Spanish workers are more likely to train
soon after leaving school, and to say they always wanted to work with children. Money
was not a motive for entering or remaining in the work. Realisation of how responsible
and wide-ranging the work is may only gradually emerge with experience.
Career opportunities vary between the countries, and this is linked to different structuring
of the workforce and its training. Danish pedagogues have more opportunities: their
generalist training qualifies them to work with children, young people and adults across a
wide range of settings, and they can also work in training, municipalities or trade unions.
Career opportunities, whether upwards or sideways, are far fewer in the other two
countries: the basic qualifications are far more specialised, to work only with a particular
group of children. In Hungary, advancement is limited to being the director or deputy
director of a nursery or kindergarten even if workers complete further training courses.
Spanish workers face similar limits to their careers.
Workers can become sources of advice and information within their own social circles.
When this happens, they try to direct friends and relatives in a tactful and careful way not
prescribing what they should do.
Most workers still had children at home, though few were very young. Mostly,
combining work and family life did not cause many problems, often because of flexibility
in arranging work schedules but also because in Denmark and to a lesser extent Hungary
the state offers support to working parents. A number of Spanish workers referred to
advantages of the work: convenient hours (for those working in schools) and the
possibility of getting a place in a service for their own young children.
The workforce in each country is rather stable and committed to the work, despite some
dissatisfaction with pay.
Chapter Four: Training for work with young children
Work with young children in centres in our three case countries requires a basic training
(except for pedagogue assistants in Denmark). In recent years, there has been an upward
movement in levels of training, with a substantial body of staff in all three countries now
trained at tertiary level. No informants doubted the necessity not only for training and
qualification, but also at a high level.
Danish pedagogues do a 3½ basic training in a ‘pedagogue college’; this is the result of
an amalgamation in 1992 of three types of pedagogue with three different types of
training. A high priority in training is given to creative subjects and practice placements.
Although there are national guidelines for pedagogy courses, colleges have considerable
freedom in both content and methods. The admissions system encourages a rather diverse
student body. Most students start training in their late 20s, though there is a tendency
towards younger students. A 19 month course has recently been introduced for
Training for nursery workers and kindergarten pedagogues in Hungary is at different
levels, in different institutions, under different Ministries and with somewhat different
orientations: both, however, include a substantial amount of practice. Both are being
upgraded, with a higher level qualification for nursery workers devoting more attention to
pedagogy; and the integration of teacher training colleges with universities.
Training for teachers and technicians in Spain is also at different levels, but both have
substantially less practice than in the other two countries. Courses in Spain and Hungary
are more centrally regulated than in Denmark, giving less scope for local difference.
Much of the reflection in Denmark today is around the possibilities and limitations of a
very generalist basic training: the argument for the ‘generalist approach’ is that certain
common capabilities are required by pedagogues whoever they work with, while others
argue that important specialist capabilities are lost. In Hungary, practitioners often said
that the practice element of training was inadequate, and that more emphasis needed to be
placed on applied knowledge and problem-solving thinking. Other issues concerned over-
specialisation, the level of training for nursery workers being too low, and the inadequacy
of the selection process for courses. The main criticism in Spain was about the practice
element in training, mainly that there was too little practice; but there is also an issue
about the student’s position while on placement and about the role of the placement
institution, in particular how actively it is engaged in the educational process. A further
concern is the lack of employment for graduates.
Opportunities for further training are available in all three countries – and compulsory in
Hungary. Important questions concern not only the range of subjects and courses
available and accessibility, but also the levels at which training is available and to what
extent further training opens the way to new occupational choices.
Chapter Five: What is work with young children?
This chapter gets to the heart of the study - how is work with young children understood -
by exploring the purpose of centres for young children, how the practitioners view their
work, what skills and capabilities are required, and the influences on the work.
Danish practitioners share the general policy orientation that services for young children
are far more than childcare for working parents: they have a broad social function
contributing to children’s upbringing and ‘cultural formation’. Centres are places where
groups of children and adults live together, participating in a community. They create
spaces where children are happy, can live a good life and develop; they prepare children
for life, and provide ‘spaces’ for the transmission and production of culture. At the same
time as providing for all children, services also have a preventive and support role for
more vulnerable children and families.
The work of the Danish pedagogue is shaped by interlinked ideals about values, images
of the child and relationships; these define what they are working towards and their
practices. They focus on the perspective of the child: their task is to be there for the
children, to live alongside children and to work through relationships; to guide, support,
motivate and create opportunities - but not to direct their activities; to act as role models
for the children. They support children’s learning and development, but distinguish
themselves from school teachers. Learning does not require a curriculum and is broader
than the transmission of subject-based knowledge: pedagogues emphasise social and
cultural aspects. Their ideal for development is an autonomous, competent and
democratic human being. High importance is also attached to nature. Being a pedagogue
is not confined to working with children; they have a lot to do with parents.
Hungarian practitioners also see their work in holistic terms – meeting children’s physical
and psychological needs and supporting their learning and development. They play an
important role in children’s socialisation. Both nursery workers and kindergarten
pedagogues view their work as involving the development of children’s autonomy and
the creation of opportunities for learning. Both attach importance to ‘active learning’,
where the emphasis is on children’s own experience, and both prioritise the role of play
in this learning process. In today’s Hungary, pluralism and choice are emphasised, with
centres allowed to choose their own approach to working with young children within
broad national guidelines. There were, however, some differences of emphasis between
the two occupations: for example, nursery workers give more importance to care; while
during the kindergarten years, children’s education becomes increasingly more structured
and kindergarten pedagogues place more emphasis on passing on cultural values and
helping children reach school readiness (though distinguishing themselves and their
methods from school teachers).
Being a nursery worker or kindergarten pedagogue involves working with parents, both
on a day-to-day basis, but also on occasion when there are problems within the family.
As in Denmark, there is a feeling that centres are increasingly supplementing or
complementing the role of parents in a fast changing world.
Spanish workers confirm a basically educational understanding of their work, with the
first 3 years of life regarded as of great importance for learning.
In no case does the concept of ‘care’ dominate understandings of work with young
children - though in all three countries care is recognised as an important part of the
larger, more holistic concept defining the work.
Danish pedagogues give high priority to capabilities to do with relating, communicating
and reflexivity. As the pedagogical culture has a strong democratic element, willingness
and ability to discuss are important qualities. Hungarian practitioners, by contrast,
consistently emphasise the need to like children and to have commitment, meaning a
complete focus on the child. Hungarian practitioners are less articulate and expansive
about their work than their Danish counterparts. Possible reasons include the background
of the researchers, and the effects of different training and political regimes.
Chapter Six: The work environment
Much of the time in Danish centres is given over to children’s free play; providing
children with time and space to play is a fundamental element of the daily work. Outdoor
activities are also given high priority. Overall, the day is a mixture of routine and
spontaneity, which requires very open and democratic ways of working together. In
Hungary, too, most time is spent on play (both inside and outside), though with some
adult initiated activities for the older children.
In Denmark and in Hungary, there are regular meetings both for all staff and for smaller
groups in the institutions. But organization and coordination of work also takes place
through many informal contacts throughout the day. Workers have considerable influence
on the way institutions are run; managers are said to listen to innovative ideas and
support their implementation.
Spanish centres vary far more in their opening hours: centres in Denmark and Hungary
are generally open all day.
Cooperation with parents in Denmark is an important element of the pedagogue’s work:
this can vary from providing advice, to routine meetings through to sitting with parents
on parent committees, which all centres must have. Though parents are not involved in
the management of centres in Hungary, there are other types of contact, both formal and
informal, as is the case in Spain. Spain, however, has had an important experience since
the 1960s whereby some centres have been run as parent-worker cooperatives: these
cooperatives have influenced forms of parent/staff contact today.
The decentralised Danish system has only a minimal national regulatory framework;
there is no national curriculum or inspection system; responsibility for regulation is
devolved to local authorities and they, together with centres, are responsible for the
Hungary has an inspection system, together with broad national curriculum guidelines. In
the 1990s, Spain introduced a curriculum, standards and an inspection system, all subject
to regional implementation and variation. The inspection system, however, has not been
fully implemented especially among private centres for children under 3 years.
Chapter Seven: Views about the work
Workers in all three countries consider their work to be very important - for children,
families and society. They vary more, however, in their views about how the work is seen
and valued by others. Danish informants say the status of the work has improved in the
last 20 years, one reason being its increasing centrality in the lives of Danish families.
But informants in Hungary and Spain feel the work has low social recognition. Many
Hungarians related that to the very poor pay. Workers in both countries felt that the
educational importance of work with children under 3 was still not widely accepted. This
is reflected in a two tier system where services for children under 3 and their workers lag
behind services for older children.
In general, practitioners express satisfaction with their work; the best thing is being with
the children. They also like being able to decide their work. There was no clear and
consistent answer from Danish practitioners about the worst aspects of the work.
Hungarian and Spanish workers are most dissatisfied with pay and low social
recognition. This social positioning of work with young children was often explained in
terms of the public having limited knowledge of and understanding about the work. This
was a particular problem for nurseries, working with the youngest children.
Despite the centrality of gender to work with young children, gender as an issue did not
come up spontaneously during the research. While the issue has been the subject of
considerable public and professional discussion in Denmark, there has been no public
discourse in Hungary either under the socialist regime or since transition and there are no
men to be found in the work. In Spain working with children has been treated as
women’s work, and there are hardly any men as students or workers. Staff in all three
countries feel it would be good to have more male workers.
Chapter Eight: Future directions
The chapter offers some conclusions about the current situation of work with young
children (e.g. how the work is structured; how it relates to other work with children;
training; pay and status; the situation of workers not in centres) and about the
conceptualisation of the worker in centre-based services. It also identifies a number of
current issues and options for future directions.
The report ends by recognising the increasing complexity of work with young children, a
process which will continue for the foreseeable future. Over a century or more, the
purposes of services have broadened. ‘Childcare for working parents’ has increasingly
merged with more developmental and educative aims. As a result, services for young
children have developed a wider pedagogical purpose that combines learning, care and
other facets of upbringing, including the child’s development as an autonomous and
active participant in democratic society. Ideas of the child are changing too, from the
empty vessel and knowledge reproducer, an object of adult attention, to a citizen and co-
constructor of knowledge, culture and identity, a subject of rights and participation.
Parents are seen as being, at the same time, more uncertain and more demanding,
requiring more support as fellow citizens and more deference as consumers with
increasingly ‘flexible’ demands on services. Centres are social institutions which offer a
collective life, yet they are operating in an increasingly individualistic context; they
provide for the generality of children, yet are increasingly expected to include children
with ‘special needs’.
This complexity needs factoring in to consideration of the future direction of work with
young children. It means, for example, that terms such as ‘childcare services’ (routinely
used, for example by the European Commission), and indeed ‘care work’ and ‘care
workforce’, are too simple and narrow. They no longer, if they ever did, do justice to the
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION TO THE REPORT
1.1 Introducing ‘Care Work in Europe’
This report covers the first part of the second stage of a research study, Care Work in
Europe: Current Understandings and Future Directions. The work is funded by the
European Commission as part of its Fifth Framework Programme, and involves research
partners in six partner countries: Denmark, Hungary, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the
UK. The overall objective is to contribute to the development of good quality
employment in caring services that are responsive to the needs of rapidly changing
societies and their citizens. More specific objectives include: describing and analysing the
current care workforce; comparing different understandings of care work and different
approaches to the structure and practice of care work; identifying conditions necessary
for the development of employment that is both of good quality and sufficient to meet
growing demand; and contributing to the development of innovative approaches, both in
care work and cross-national research.
The project has three stages. The first stage, completed in 2002, involved mapping,
surveying and reviewing: mapping care services and the care workforce; surveying
demand, supply and use of care services; and reviewing recent literature on quality, job
satisfaction and gender issues in the care workforce. For each part, national reports were
prepared by all six research partners followed by consolidated reports based on these
national reports. These consolidated reports have also reviewed other literature,
particularly cross-national work, and statistical sources. National and consolidated
reports, including an overview report on Stage One, and summaries of consolidated
reports are available on the project website at www.ioe.ac.uk/tcru/carework.htm (all in
English, with summaries available in the languages of other partner countries, as well as
The third stage, scheduled to begin in Spring 2004 will look at innovative developments
in care work, as well as undertake dissemination of the project’s findings. The heart of
the project, however, is the second stage. This consists of three cross-national case
studies to investigate in depth particular forms of care work: centre-based work with
children under 6 years, the subject of this report; residential and domiciliary services for
elderly people; and services for adults with severe disabilities. The second stage is
completed by a fourth piece of work, which involves the development of methods for the
cross-national study of practice.
The main objective of the three case studies is to provide in-depth studies of
understandings of caring work in theory and practice. Within these broad objective, the
three case studies address a number of particular questions:
• How is care work understood?
• What are the important changes in society that shape/influence services and thus
• What are the important theories that shape/influence practice?
• Is there a critical discourse going on or do practitioners/trainers/decision makers
work without considering underlying principles/theories?
• How well does the training prepare for the work?
• What is the prestige of care work like?
• What is the quality of care work like?
• What opportunities are there for development and/or sharing experience?
• Are there issues that arise across groups of policy makers, trainers, practitioners?
• Are there issues that arise across groups or settings?
• What is very important in the relationship between the carer and the child?
1.2 The problem with ‘care work’
Although this project carries the title of ‘care work’, the research team have recognised
from the beginning that the term is problematic and contentious. As we shall see in this
report, the concept ‘care work’ is of limited relevance when considering services for
young children. Other concepts such as ‘education’ or ‘pedagogy’ are often seen as more
relevant and appropriate for describing these services, while workers are often described
as ‘pedagogues’ or ‘teachers’ rather than ‘carers’. This is not to deny that children (like
adults) need care (however defined). But care may be viewed as inseparably linked to
another concept – as, for example, in the widespread international use of terms such as
‘early childhood education and care’(cf. UNESCO, 2002) – or as one part of a broader,
holistic concept – for example, pedagogy discussed further below – and may not
therefore be considered to merit a distinct policy or occupational field.
However, although we treat the concepts of ‘care work’ and ‘care services’ as
problematic, to be questioned throughout the study, we have had to adopt a pragmatic
approach. To conduct the research, we needed an initial definition of what services and
occupations fall within a ‘care work domain’, which is our subject of study. Our
definition has focused on three groups of services:
• childcare and out-of-school care (including schooling for children below
compulsory school age);
• child and youth residential and foster care; and
• care for adults with disabilities and elderly people.
This case study, therefore, takes us deeper into one part of a large area of provision and
1.3 The research process
Each part of Stage One involved working across all six partner countries. The parts of
Stage Two are more selective, each focusing only on three countries to enable more in-
depth study. The selection of countries for each case study partly reflected the interests of
research partners. But we have also sought for each case a spread of countries differing
on important dimensions. In this case of services for young children, the three countries
are Denmark, Hungary and Spain (in the case of Spain, the work was conducted in one
region, Catalonia): the lead partner, taking overall responsibility for the work, came from
Hungary. As we shall see in the next chapter, these countries show strong differences, not
only in terms of context but also in terms of the way services and workforces are
structured and the underlying orientation of services.
As Hantrais (1996) points out, cross-national studies serve more and more as ways of
gaining a better understanding of different cultures and societies. They also provide a
deeper understanding of issues and help identify gaps in knowledge. The main benefit is
that researchers are “forced to attempt to adopt a different cultural perspective, to learn
to understand the thought processes of another culture and to see it from the native’s
perspective viewpoint, while also reconsidering their own country from the perspective of
a skilled, external observer” (p.6.).
We concur with definition supplied by Stakes (2000) that case studies are not a ‘method’
but rather a choice of object to be studied.
Individual cases in the collection may or may not be known in advance to
manifest some common characteristic. They may be similar or dissimilar,
redundancy and variety each important. They are chosen because it is
believed that understanding them will lead to better understanding, perhaps
better theorizing about a still larger collection of cases (p. 437).
The object of this study is work with young children in centre-based services. We have
used qualitative methods as our method of study. On the basis of knowledge gained in
Stage One of the project (some material from which has provided contextual information
for the current Stage) and regular communication between the research partners involved
(including four meetings between the three partners on this particular case study), a
strong effort has been made to ensure as much comparability as possible within and
across the three participating countries in this case study and across all the case studies in
the second phase of the Care Work project. We have developed and used a common
framework both for the research process and the analyses. – although applying some
flexibility to allow for some of the unique features of individual countries.
The research process has included several components, including sample selection,
instrument development, interviews and data collection, transcription, coding, analysis,
and writing national reports. We discuss each of these below.
1.3.1 Sample selection
Sample selection involved choosing geographical areas, settings and individuals based on
a common set of criteria. As a general principle, it was agreed that partners choose
typical settings and workers, representing the mainstream situation in their country: the
object of the case study has therefore been the usual rather than the unusual. In each case
country, ‘typical’ types of services were selected from (a) major cities (Copenhagen,
Budapest and Barcelona); (b) medium-sized cities of around 250,000 inhabitants; and (c)
smaller towns with 30-50,000 and 5-10,000 inhabitants.
The original intention, achieved in the event, was to interview 12 practitioners in each
country working in six settings, spread across the different types of area. Qualified
practitioners were chosen in Hungary and Spain, as all workers are supposed to have a
qualification; in Denmark, we interviewed mainly qualified workers but also two without
qualifications (Table 1).
Finally, a decision was made to interview two family day carers in each country. They
provide for a substantial proportion of children under 3 years in Denmark, and have
recently been introduced in Hungary. As Table 1 shows, two family day carers have been
interviewed in Denmark and in Hungary; a group interview was also conducted with
three workers responsible for family day care in one local authority in Denmark. These
family day carers are not included in this report, but are included in the national reports.
It was not possible to find this type of worker in Catalonia, so interviews were conducted
with two other kinds of worker involved with home-based care.
Table 1 : Number and type of practitioners interviewed
Denmark Hungary Catalonia (Spain)
Practitioners in centres 4 pædagoger 6 gondozónő 3 maestras
for children under the (pedagogue) (nursery workers) especialistas en
age of 3 educación infantil
3 técnicas en
Practitioners in centres 2 pædagoger 6 óvónő 3 maestras
for children between 3 2 pædagogmedh- (kindergarten especialistas en
and school age jælpere (untrained pedagogue) educación infantil
assistants) 1 pedagogo
Practitioners in age 4 pædagoger 1 maestra
integrated centres (for especialista en
children between 0-6 educación infantil
years of age) 1 técnica en
Practitioner in family 2 dagplejere 2 Családi napközi 1 canguro (home-
day care/other home- (family day carers) ellátást nyújtó based carer in
based care személy (family child’s home:
day carer) técnica)
Interviews were planned with four policy makers in each country. Our selection criteria
were to choose 1 or 2 policy makers at national or regional levels (in relevant Ministries),
2 at local level (in local authorities), and 1 in a trade union. In the end, five interviews
were conducted in two countries (Table 2).
Table 2 : Number and position of policy makers interviewed
Denmark Hungary Catalonia
Ministry 1 2 1
Local authority 2 3 1
Trade union 1 1
Parent association 1
Group of 3 responsible for family 1
day care in one local authority
In Denmark, the policy-makers interviewed included: the head of the department
responsible for child and youth services in the Danish Ministry of Social Affairs, who has
national responsibility for services for young children (from 0 to 6 years); high-ranking
officials from two of the municipalities in which the practitioner respondents worked; and
the president of the trade union for pedagogues (qualified workers who make up most of
the workforce in services for young children), BUPL. In addition, a brief group interview
was conducted with three officials working with family day care services in one
In Hungary, one policy maker was chosen from the Ministry of Health, Social and Family
Affairs, responsible for centres for children under 3 years, and another from the Ministry
of Education, responsible for centres for children between 3 and school age. Three local
authority officials were also interviewed: one responsible for centres for children under 3
years and one responsible for centres for children between 3 and school age within the
same municipality, and the third responsible for both types of service in a small town.
In Catalonia, interviews were conducted with one policy maker in the Department of
Education in the regional government of Catalonia (Generalitat de Catalunya); one from
the local authority for the county of Barcelona (Diputación de Barcelona), one trade
union representative and one representative of a parent association.
Finally, six trainers, i.e. people engaged in educating workers for services for young
children, were also interviewed in each partner country. The aim of the selection was to
include at least one trainer involved in teaching practice and one involved in teaching
pedagogical or other type of theory. The choice of persons for the interviews was to
reflect each country’s training system, for example the typical types of educational
institutions and the right mix of public and private institutions. Questions about policy on
training were included in the interview with national or regional policy makers, but not
with these trainers.
The selection for the sample is shown below in Table 3. It can be seen that most trainers
work in institutions at the tertiary level, reflecting the relatively high level of training for
many practitioners in the three countries.
Table 3: Number of trainers interviewed and institutions at which they teach
Denmark Hungary Catalonia
Pedagogue training college (tertiary 4
Teacher training college (tertiary 3
School for professional training 2 3 2
(upper secondary level)
1.3.2 Instrument development
A range of research instruments were developed:
• Interview guides (See Appendix A1)
• Self-completion practitioner questionnaires (See Appendix A2)
• Guidelines for a ‘tour’ of each centres
• Document analysis (key documents were listed for analysis)
• Photographs to be taken at each site.
Separate interview guides were developed for practitioners, policy makers and trainers.
These focus on common issues concerning care work with young children. But each
guide has some specific questions related to the particular circumstances and job of the
The questionnaire completed by practitioners and tour guidelines complemented the
interview with practitioners. Their purpose was to collect relevant factual information
about the practitioner herself, as well as some standardized information about the job
itself, satisfaction with the job and opinions about the purpose of the work. Information
about the centre (such as the size of the centre, number of children, number of staff, etc.)
was collected either from a questionnaire completed by the director or from documents.
1.3.3 Interviews and data collection
The interview with practitioners always began by inviting them to talk, without guidance
from the researcher, about their career in care work; more specific questions followed
later. This technique proved to be effective in ‘warming up’ the informants. The
interviews always took place at the location where our informants were employed. The
environment was considered to be a part of the history/narrative we were interested in.
The informant could describe the environment for us, but our observations also became
an important part of the analyses.
The practitioners were also asked to show the interviewer around the setting (i.e. to take
us on a ‘tour’) and to explain what is done in each part of the centre, how and why. The
aim was to understand the service better and to assess how the environment might assist
her/his work. The conversation during this tour was recorded and photos were taken,
either during the tour or at another time.
At the end of the visit, when the interview and the ‘tour’ were done, key documents from
the centre were collected for analysis. There was much variation here, both in availability
and content, across centres and across countries. Documents included:
• guidance on different forms of practice
• policy documents
- for training workers
- for work with children
• documentation on children
- development records
- health checks
- daily routines, etc.
• reports for local authorities
The research team paid careful attention to providing thorough information about the
aims and scope of the research project, and to using letters and consent forms to ensure
the centres and the informants knew what they were participating in and agreed to the use
of the collected information, data, recordings and photos in the research project. Their
anonymity was assured with respect to sensitive data.
The process of instrument development and data collection (interview, questionnaire,
tour, documents, photos) were formulated and agreed upon through intensive discussions
among the research team members. A consensus was reached whereby the core
framework had to be followed by each partner but it was accepted also that some
questions were more relevant for some countries than others. So, it was left to the
researchers to adopt the core framework to national specificities.
There was some difference in the information collected in Spain compared to Denmark
and Hungary. Interviews with practitioners, trainers and policy makers, the central
method used in the research, were conducted in all three countries. But the
complementary measures (e.g. questionnaires, tours, photos) were not undertaken in all
the Spanish centres due to organizational problems.
Most interviews in Hungary were conducted by more junior researchers, whereas in
Denmark two senior researchers, also involved in teaching pedagogues, undertook the
fieldwork. Each deployment has advantages and disadvantages. For example, researchers
might have probed to a greater or lesser extent during the interviews, and might have
interpreted and/or understood situations differently due to their previous knowledge. We
raise this as an issue that perhaps needs more consideration.
1.3.4 Transcription and coding
Altogether, interviews were conducted with 42 practitioners, 14 policy makers, and 18
trainers and then transcribed and coded. Recordings from the ‘tour’ were also transcribed
and coded whenever it was appropriate (especially by the Danish partner since
pedagogues in Denmark talked a lot during the tours as well, elaborating on the
pedagogical aspects of the environment).
Core codes were developed for analyzing the transcripts, with 27 codes which were the
same for the three countries, organised into six broad overarching categories:
1. Dominant discourses : purpose of service/understanding of care/status and image
of work/role of the worker
2. Views about children
3. Work: daily work/working environment/working conditions/organisation and
4. Practitioners: gender/motivation/career/family life/job satisfaction/good advice
5. Training and development : personal competencies/professional competencies/
view of training/the teachers/about students
6. Problems, changes and new directions: need for changes/flexibility/recruitment
The interviews were coded using the programme Nudist NVivo 1.3. Training in this
programme was provided in by Charlie Owen from the Thomas Coram Research Unit in
a two day session
1.3.5 Analysis and writing national reports
As far as possible, all of the data sources - interviews, questionnaires, observation/tours,
photos - were integrated into the analysis, including those that were not coded.
The original plan was for the lead partner in this study to work on the data collected by
each participating partner: under this arrangement the other two partners would have been
data collectors, with analysis left entirely to the lead partner. After much discussion, a
change was agreed. Each partner produced a national report, based on their analysis of
their own data. This was done because it was felt that a good understanding of each
country’s system, culture and nuances of expression and communication was important
for interpreting the data.
Several times during the work, we had to use translated materials. The pilot interviews
done by each partner, examples of selected codes from main interviews and the national
reports were translated into English. We were aware of the drawbacks, including the risk
of losing meaning through the translation process, but cross-national research cannot be
done without using a common language. The partners in the project all speak English, but
using their time to translate the wealth of materials collected was not possible. Therefore
we used the services of a translation agency and tried to control for their lack of expertise
Birbili (2000) points out that factors affecting the quality of translation in social research
include: the linguistic competence of the translator, his knowledge of the culture / people
in question, and the availability of researchers to monitor and/or describe the choices in
the translation procedure. Some of these factors are beyond the researchers’ control but
some can be controlled for, at least partially. For example, we provided continuous
support to the translators by giving them a translation of key words, commenting on
translated excerpts and shorter chapters and by consulting them whenever there was a
need. The results are not perfect, but we found this way of working effective and a good
solution to carry on cross-national studies that include the analysis of a great amount of
Our work was also supported by the many opportunities we have had to meet to consult
and to discuss our process and materials. We believe these meetings contributed to the
success of our study just as much as any of the research methods. A clear conclusion that
we draw is the importance of maximizing the number of meetings.
1.4 The rest of this report
This consolidated report is written on the basis of three national reports:
• National report from Denmark prepared and written by Helle Krogh Hansen and
Jytte Juul Jensen
• National report from Hungary prepared and written by Marta Korintus, Györgyi
Vajda and Zoltan Torok at the National Institute for Family and Social Policy
• National report from Spain prepared and written by Anna Escobedo and Esther
Fernández on the basis of interviews undertaken by a fieldwork team at the
CIREM Foundation. Irene Balaguer was consulted in the revision of the report.
The rest of this report consists of seven chapters, together with an Appendix. In Chapter 2
we set the three case studies in national context, in particular looking at the recent history
and current structure and orientation of services for young children in Denmark, Hungary
and Spain. In Chapter 3 we look in more detail at the practitioners who were interviewed,
including their socio-demographic profiles and how and why they entered the work.
Chapter 4 covers training, both initial and continuous. What type of training is needed as
a basis for work with young children, and what is on offer after starting work? Chapter 5
considers the core issue – how is work with young children understood, and what
qualities are thought necessary to do it. Chapter 6 is about the work environment, the
framework of relations and regulation within which the work is conducted. Chapter 7
examines views on the work – what the workers themselves think about it and how they
think others view it. Then we offer some conclusions about the present state of the work
and possible future directions in Chapter 8.
The Appendix contains the interview guides drawn up for practitioners, trainers and
policy makers; and the self-completion practitioner questionnaire.
CHAPTER TWO : PUTTING WORK WITH YOUNG CHILDREN IN
As we shall see in later chapters, there are substantial differences in work with young
children and the situation of the workers in the three countries in this case study. These
differences are the consequence of many influences and conditions that create a unique
context for each country. In this chapter, we outline some key parts of that context,
starting with some brief historical observations, then considering political and economic
features, before focusing down on the services themselves, how they and their workforces
are structured, levels of provision and important concepts underlying policy and practice.
Although we have drawn here on national reports for this study, we have also gone back
to national reports prepared for Stage One of the study.
2.1 Brief historical observations
Our three countries, like other European states, have histories of services for young
children going well back into the 19th century. Just to take one example, the first óvoda
(kindergarten) opened in Hungary in 1828, and was the first such institution in Central
Europe. While the first Hungarian bölcsőde (nursery) for under threes, was established in
We shall focus on more recent history, over the last 50 years or so. Here Denmark has a
rather different experience. Like many other countries, there were two traditions in Danish
services: a welfare tradition, dating back to the 19th century, to provide care for children
from poor families while their parents worked; and a more educational tradition, dating back
to the end of the 19th century, initially offering kindergartens for well-to-do families. These
traditions began to fuse as early as the beginning of the 20th century, but full integration
only occurred in the 1960s with the extension of public funding to all services, not just
those taking a quota of children with special welfare needs. The whole integrated system
subsequently grew to its present extensive state, providing a near universal service (see
below), initially driven by the increase in maternal employment that began in the late 1960s.
But more recently, demand has been driven by a more general desire among parents for their
children to go, from an early age, to a service for social and educational reasons. A Danish
national report from an earlier stage of the study described
a tendency (among Danish parents) towards regarding early childhood care and
education as part of lifelong learning which means that parents more and more
want their children to attend a childcare facility, not only for the reason that they
are being taken care of when parents are working, but as a place for play,
socialisation and community… [T]he policy that childcare is an offer to all
children and not dependent on their parents’ attachment to the labour market has
meant an increase in demand. It has become more of a cultural norm that
children from one or two years of age are attending a public facility (Jensen and
Hansen, 2002b; emphasis added).
By contrast, during the same postwar period both Hungary and Spain have experienced
major political changes that have impacted on their services. Hungary, under the post-war
state socialist system, experienced a growth in services for children under and over 3, led by
central government, intended to support parental employment. But nurseries, for children
under 3, have had a difficult time recently. Places fell back in the 1980s, as government
sought to boost fertility rates and developed an extensive maternity/parental leave period
mainly aimed at women. The transition period from the socialist system, since 1990,
brought further falls in nursery provision. There was even a period in the early 1990s when
state funding was withdrawn on the basis that nurseries were no longer needed. Although
this has now been reversed, and the need for nurseries is acknowledged by local and central
government, the number of places has fallen by nearly 60 per cent since 1984. By contrast,
levels of kindergarten provision (for 3 to 6 year olds) have been largely maintained: their
social and educational importance has not been questioned.
Transition from the socialist regime also brought about a change in the role of different
levels of government in service provision. We discuss this further below, but in brief it
involved a decentralization of responsibility for services from national to local government.
While the recent history of services in Hungary and Denmark did not change the basic shape
of the system, with all services within welfare in Denmark, and services split between
welfare and education in Hungary, recent Spanish history has witnessed a struggle to alter
the basic system. In Spain, the Civil War and its aftermath halted important educational
developments, especially in Catalonia, developments that had reached their peak during the
Second Republic (1931-39). These developments included services for young children,
with the ‘escola bressol’ (cradle school) emerging in the 1930s as a pioneering approach
to providing educationally-oriented centres for young children.
Interest in this model – of centres for young children understood as ‘infants school’ – re-
emerged in the 1960s, the last years of the Franco regime as well as a time when
economic change was further stimulating demand for services. This period saw the
emergence of an education reform movement, led by parents and practitioners, which
contributed to a major reform of the Spanish Education system in 1990 expressed in a
new general education law (Ley Orgánica de Ordenación General del Sistema Educativo
– LOGSE). This reform identified 0 to 6 years as the first stage of the education system
and brought responsibility for all services for this age group within the education system:
this radical shift transformed the concept of early childhood centres into educational
services for children. Most recently, in 2003, a new law (Ley de Calidad de la Enseñanza
– LOCE) has reversed some of these reforms, including the possibility of removing
children under 3 years out of the education system again.
From this recent historical perspective, therefore, Denmark shows a braod continuity
from the 1960s; the Hungarian system has fluctuated in some respects but maintained
continuity in other respects; while Spain, after the discontinuity of the Franco regime, has
attempted a major change which now threatens to be unraveled.
2.2 Economic and political influences
Table 4 summarises some key demographic and economic indicators for our three
countries. Spain is by far the most populous country, with four times as many people as
Hungary and nearly eight times as many people as Denmark. Denmark, however, stands
out on other indicators. It has a substantially higher fertility rate and female employment
rate than either Hungary or Spain: women both work more and have more children.
Employed Danish women are more likely to work part-time (defined as usually working
less than 30 hours a week) than their Spanish counterparts: in Hungary, there are very
few women employed part time. Unemployment rates in Denmark (as well as Hungary)
are much lower than in Spain. Based on per capita GDP, Denmark is more than twice as
wealthy as Hungary and a third wealthier than Spain. This is combined with Denmark
having a far higher tax take than either Hungary or Spain, providing higher public
funding for services.
Table 4 : Key demographic and economic indicators for the three case study
Indicators Denmark Hungary Spain
Population 5,340,000 10,024,000 39,466,000
Total fertility rate 1.8 1.3 1.2
Per capita GDP (using
current PPPs1)(2001) US$29,900 US$13,200 US$21,000
Female labour force
participation 76% 53% 51%
working part time 24% 5% 17%
Men 4% 7% 10%
Women 5% 6% 20%
Tax receipts as % of
GDP(1999) 50% 39% 35%
Source: OECD, 2002
This difference in tax reflects Denmark having a welfare regime variously described as
Scandinavian, Nordic or social democratic, but characterized by certain features: the
extensive scope of public policy; an emphasis on full employment and active labour
market policies; a high degree of universalism; high benefit levels with an earnings-
related component; relatively generous transfers and extensive services; and a high share
of social expenditure in GNP. Esping-Andersen (1999) summarises the social democratic
welfare state as committed, besides universalism
to comprehensive risk coverage, generous benefit levels and
egalitarianism….The social democratic regime is distinct also for its active and,
in a sense, explicit effort to decommodify welfare, to minimize or altogether
abolish market dependency…(What) is uniquely social democratic is, firstly, the
Purchasing Power Parities (PPPs) are the rate of currency conversion which eliminates the differences in
price levels between countries. They are used to compare the volume of GDP in different countries. PPPs
are obtained by evaluating the costs of between countriesa basket of goods and services
fusion of universalism with generosity and, secondly, its comprehensive
socialization of risks (Esping-Andersen, 1999: 78-9: emphasis added).
If the Nordic welfare regimes have been distinguished not only by generous benefit levels
but also be strong expansion of services, the Mediterranean countries, including Spain,
have tended to be at the opposite extreme when it comes to service provision, with a
strong reliance on family care linked (in the case of Spain, Italy and Greece) to low levels
of female employment. Hungary, under state socialism, had a welfare regime that initially
supported parental employment through the provision of services for children, but where
support for this provision for very young children (i.e. under 3 years) has recently waned
first in the face of new policy priorities (fertility placed above employment), then due to
In recent years, all three countries have shared a movement of political devolution, from
central government to more local levels of government. Over the last 25 years or so,
Nordic countries have experienced a strong decentralization movement to local
authorities, which are now primarily responsible for the services covered in this case
study. In Denmark, this process of transferring responsibility for services for young
children occurred in 1976, leaving local authorities fully responsible for these services.
This means, for example, that Denmark has no national standards for services for young
children nor any national curriculum guiding the work in these services. While the
Serviceloven (Social Services Act) defines overall objectives, underlining the multifunc-
tional purpose of services (to be “pedagogical, social and caring”), each local authority
defines more specific objectives and many of the organizational conditions (e.g. staffing)
of the services. This decentralised model is based on the wish to strengthen local
involvement, and thereby the development of a diverse and flexible system of care
services, adapted to local conditions and requirements.
The municipalization of the welfare state is strong in Denmark. Local authorities have
their own child policies as well as organizational standards to improve the quality of
services for young children. Services for young children represent society’s provision of
a space for development in a wider sense, which is characterised by heterogeneity,
flexibility and diversity: these qualities are a consequence of there being no centralised
direction of the content of these services. Freedom is an obvious value among informants:
none expressed a wish for centralised control measures or any form of prescribed
learning or development plans, although the trade union president suggested that national
recommendations are likely to strengthen the area.
In Hungary, during the socialist regime, responsibility for services was almost entirely
with national government, in a very centralized system. But since the political changes in
1990, the role of national government has much reduced and many of its previous
responsibilities, including for services, have been delegated to local governments.
Currently, the major role of national government is to provide the legal, regulatory
framework, to secure earmarked funding for care services, to ensure the necessary
education for staff working with children, youth and adults, and to introduce the
framework for supervision and quality assurance. There are, for example, national
frameworks for nurseries and kindergartens, which set out broad guidelines for the work
in both types of institution. But these institutions are left with considerable discretion in
developing their own curriculum and can adopt any educational philosophies (e.g.
Montessori, Freinet). Each place should develop its own local programme, tailored to the
local population and its perceived needs.
However, unlike Denmark, this post-1990 process of decentralisation has often been
associated with the contraction of services as local authorities, especially smaller ones,
have struggled to maintain former levels of provision.
In Spain, the most important decentralization has been to 17 regional governments or
Comunidades Autónomas (Autonomous Communities), which now have responsibility
for a wide range of services, including education and care. Most of the laws and policies
in these areas are made by these regional bodies, which has contributed to high levels of
regional variation. Main budgetary decisions, however, continue to be decided by central
government; especially at local government level, there is very limited financial
autonomy. As in Hungary, there is a national curriculum framework (Diseño Curricular
Base: Educación Infantil) that is subject to more local implementation, centres for
example being expected to produce their own educational plans.
Overall, therefore, decentralization has proved compatible with uniformly high levels of
service provision in Denmark, but with increased local or regional variations in Hungary
and Spain. Local autonomy may, however, show itself in some other ways in Denmark.
One area of policy that has remained national in all three countries concerns leave
entitlements for working parents. This has a direct bearing on services since leave
policies that are well used by parents can reduce the demand for services for very young
children. Here there are very striking differences. Hungary and Spain both offer leave
until a child is 3 years old. But whereas leave in Spain is unpaid (except for 16 weeks of
maternity leave), and therefore probably little used after maternity leave ends (in only 2-3
per cent of births), the whole period of leave is paid in Hungary (at 70 per cent of
earnings for two years then at a flat rate for the remaining year for those who were
employed before giving birth or at a flat rate for three years for those not employed
before giving birth). The extended paid leave policy in Hungary has contributed to a fall
in the numbers of children under 3 years in nursery.
Leave policy in Denmark has had a more variable history, with several substantial
changes in recent years. For example, in 2002 there was a change so parents in total have
one year with state benefits or full pay (if covered by a collective agreement which
guarantees full earnings while on leave) and a further 14 weeks without benefits. Leave
therefore may reduce demand for services for children under 12 months, but not for older
2.3 Services: structures
2.3.1 Government responsibility
We have already looked at one dimension of government responsibility for services for
young children: the distribution of responsibilities between national, regional and local
government. Another dimension is within which policy area responsibility for services is
located. Here our three countries cover a wide spectrum.
Responsibility in Denmark, like other Nordic countries except (since 1996) Sweden, is
located in the welfare system. Services for young children come within the remit of the
Danish Ministry for Social Affairs. They are covered by welfare legislation – the
Serviceloven (Social Services Act).
As in other Nordic countries, the Ministry and social welfare system are not just for
vulnerable children: they have a universal remit in areas such as services for young
children. The senior policy maker from the Ministry for Social Affairs responsible for
services for young children says that “what is really good about it [these services being
located within the Ministry for Social Affairs] is that we view the general area (services
for all children), in relation with the special area that provides support for specific needs.
This department is responsible for both areas. I think it is very important and in this way
we stress that the institutions [for young children] are not preparing you for school. They
are preparation for life.” The trade union official, however, “had mixed feelings about
this issue. We have occasionally been inclined to push the trend forward, the trend we
have seen in other countries where the Ministry for Education covers [services for young
children] because that involves a slightly higher status.”
There are different opinions about the best way of structuring responsibility for services
at municipal level, with some diversity in departmental organisation. This can be seen in
the two local authorities involved in this study. One municipality combined services for
young children and family policy in one department; while the other combined
responsibility for these services, schools and other provisions for children and young
At the other extreme, Spain (like England, Scotland and Sweden) in 1990 located the
main responsibility for services for children from birth to 6 years in the education system.
However, the intention of the 1990 reforms, that all private centres for children under 3
years should be regulated by educational authorities, has never been fully realised, the
introduction of this measure being postponed on several occasions: there is no
information on the number of centres falling outside educational regulation. Reformers
had also hoped that all staff working in centres for children under and over 3 years would
be teachers, but instead teacher presence in services for children under 3 years was
limited, most staff being less qualified ‘technicians in early childhood education’
(técnicas en educación infantil). In this, and other respects discussed below, the
integration of all services for children under 6 years within an educational framework has
been only partially implemented.
And now, as noted already, recent legislative changes have led to children under 3 being
removed from education at least at national level, reproducing a split responsibility for
services for young children as existed before 1990. This means, for example, that the
term educación infantil, applied under the previous law to all services for children from
birth to 6 years, is now applied (under the new law) only to services for children aged 3
to 6. It also means that services for children under 3 are removed from national regulatory
standards, for example the requirement that these services include teachers in the staffing.
However, as a consequence of decentralization, some regional government will retain
these services within an educational framework and regulate them accordingly.
There has always been split responsibility for services in Hungary. Bölcsőde (centres for
children under 3 years) are, and have been for many years, in the welfare system, under
the auspices of the Ministry of Health, Social and Family Affairs. Óvoda (kindergartens
for children between 3 and 6/7 years) remain in education, under the auspices of the
Ministry of Education. However before recent legislation in1997), there was discussion
about whether bölcsőde would be better placed within education to create a more
2.3.2 Types of service
In all three countries, services for young children in effect cover children up to the age of
6 years. Compulsory schooling begins at this age in Hungary and Spain, though in
Hungary attendance is compulsory for 5 year-olds at pre-school kindergartens as
preparation for school. In Denmark, compulsory school age is 7 years, but nearly all 6
year olds attend part-time kindergarten classes (børnehaveklasse) situated in schools, as
well as school-based free-time services.
There are three main types of centre-based services for young children in Denmark. Two
are ‘age segregated’: vuggestuer (nurseries for children under 3 years) and børnehaver
(kindergartens for children aged 3 to 6 years). The main growth in recent years, however,
has been in aldersintegrerede, age-integrated centres taking the full age range up to 6
years and sometimes older (as school-age childcare). In 2002, these age-integrated
centers accounted for just over a third of young children in publicly-funded services (35
per cent), compared to 37 per cent in børnehaver and just 6 per cent in vuggestuer: in
other Nordic countries, age-integrated centers are the norm. This leaves a fifth of children
(22 per cent), mostly under 3 years of age, in ‘organised’ family day care (kommunale
dagpleje), where family day carers (dagplejere) are recruited, employed and paid by
municipalities (Danmarks Statistik, 2003).
The two nurseries where we interviewed practitioners were typical of this form of
provision in having places for between 30 and 40 children. The two kindergartens and
two age-integrated institutions were more variable in size, ranging from 32 to 70 places;
nationally these institutions usually have between 40 and 80 places.
Hungary has had a very simplified system of services: bölcsőde (nurseries) for children
under the age of 3 years, and óvoda (kindergartens) for children between the ages of 3
and 6 or 7. Both, like the services in Denmark, offer full-time care. Although nurseries
and kindergartens have traditionally been independent, operating apart from any other
type of institution, since the 1990s there have been some mergers, mainly to cut costs.
For example, some kindergartens in rural areas have been merged with primary schools,
the head of the school also becoming the head of the kindergarten. There have even been
cases where nurseries, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools have been brought
Unlike Denmark, however, there are few children in family day care (családi napközi),
which is a new service since 1990, with regulations introduced in 1993. One reason put
forward for the slow development of this new service is that it has received little state
funding, parents having to pay most of the cost: since 2003, the state has begun to
provide a subsidy for children going to family day care, but at a lower rate than for
nurseries and kindergartens.
The size of nurseries and kindergartens varies. The biggest have places for 120 children,
while the smallest only have 20 places. On average, though, they provide around 60
Most services in Spain are structured similarly to Hungary, mostly on an age-segregated
basis. Most children under 3 years attend nurseries for children from 4 months to 3 years
(escuelas infatiles, primer ciclo 0-3 or guarderias) and most children over 3 years are in
nursery classes (escuelas infatiles, segundo ciclo 3-6 or parvulario). These classes are
usually located in primary schools, which distinguishes provision in Spain for children
over 3 years from that in Denmark and Hungary, where services for this age group are
never located with primary schools.
There are, however, some ‘age-integrated’ centres in Spain, though far fewer than in
Denmark. Family day-care is thought to be very uncommon and is not regulated. Paid
care at the child’s own home is rather more common for families who can afford it, carers
(who are often young female students) often referred to as canguros (kangaroos).
Spanish centres for children under 3 years are mainly open on a full-day basis. But
school-based provision for children over 3 years is mainly offered between 09.00 and
12.00 and 15.00 to 17.00 during term-time only. However, most of these schools now
offer meals and care outside school hours, as a separate but complementary service, often
through parent associations.
2.3.3 Providers of services
Services in Denmark are nearly all publicly-funded and most are provided by local
authorities, although a substantial minority (about a third) are provided by independent
(mainly non profit) organizations. In Hungary, nearly all services are publicly provided,
although today local authorities may also provide services in partnership with, or contract
out provision to, a private organization. In Spain, a majority of provision for children
under 3 years is privately provided, often by for-profit organizations. Publicly-managed
services, in the minority, may be provided by local or regional governments. Provision
for 3 to 6 year olds is mainly publicly provided through the school system, though with a
substantial minority of provision in private schools.
2.3.4 Levels of provision
In principle, all young children in Denmark should have equal access to a place in a
service, with the local authority responsible for ensuring need is met – and for
determining how many places are needed to meet the need. Since 1997, it has been
national government policy that every child should be guaranteed a place, if their parents
want one. In practice, an entitlement to a place is nearly achieved, with nearly all local
authorities now offering a guaranteed place.
In Hungary, since 1993 legislation also requires local authorities to provide childcare for
those children and families who need it. But in practice only slightly more than 200 out
of more than 3,000 local authorities can meet this obligation. Often parental leave is
considered to be an adequate alternative to the provision of a service, regardless of how
suitable this option is for families.
The 1990 LOGSE establishes the right of all Spanish children under 6 years to education.
But the commitment to guarantee a sufficient number of places to meet demand has been
implemented in different ways in different areas, and has not been interpreted as meaning
a public responsibility to ensure funding. Overall, there is a policy commitment to
provide education for all 3 to 6 year olds, but no similar public commitment to provide
services for children under 3 years.
As Table 5 shows, all three countries provide publicly-funded services for over 90 per
cent of children between 3 and 6 years old – in Denmark and Hungary in full-day centres,
in Spain in schools with shorter hours. Provision therefore is nearly universal. However
levels of provision for children under 3 years vary much more, with over half of this age
group using publicly-funded services in Denmark, but less than 10% provided for in
Hungary and Spain. These figures for children under 3 years should also be interpreted in
relation to leave provision. Many children under 3 years in Hungary are cared for at home
by their mothers, and most children in centres are aged between 2 and 3 years. While in
Denmark a large proportion of children under 12 months of age will be at home (86 per
cent in 2002), so that the proportion of children over 12 months in a publicly-funded
service is likely to be above 70 per cent (for a fuller discussion of leave policies in these
three countries and the other three partner countries in the project, see Escobedo,
Fernandez, Moreno and Moss, 2002).
Table 5: levels of provision in publicly-funded services
Proportion of age group attending (a)
Denmark (2002) Hungary (2000) Spain (2003)
Services for children
under 3 years 58% 8% 11%
Services for children
aged 3 to 6 years 94% 92% 95%+
(a) Figures for Denmark include publicly-funded family day care; such provision is
not included in Hungary or Spain, but is very low or non-existent. For Spain, the
figure for children under 3 years is for all centres regulated by education
authorities, and whether or not they receive some public funding: the proportion
that are publicly funded will be substantially lower.
Low levels of provision for children under 3 years in Hungary and Spain are also
associated with considerable local variations. In Hungary, provision is higher in larger
local authorities. In Spain, variations partly reflect substantial regional variations in
maternal employment, but also the political commitment of regional and local authorities
to supporting services. Thus Catalonia has centres regulated by education authorities for
about a quarter of children under 3 years, compared to about 1 per cent in Extremadura.
Where local authorities are active in supporting services, then these are usually of a high
standard: however, only a small proportion of authorities provide such support.
2.3.5 Funding for services
All services in Denmark receive high levels of public funding from local municipalities,
leaving parents to cover the remaining costs. There is a national regulation that parents
should not pay more than 30 per cent of costs (33 per cent if the local municipality
provides a guarantee of places), with reductions for low income families and where more
than one child in a family attends. Overall parents actually pay a quarter of total costs,
local authorities the rest.
There are some variants on this mainstream funding. The puljeordninger (pool scheme),
introduced in 1990, provides a group of parents (or others) with funding to establish their
own service, either a centre or some home-based form of service. More recently, a free
choice scheme enables a local authority to offer parents a choice between a place in a
service funded by the authority or a cash benefit with which to make their own
arrangement. However the latter scheme is only available to local authorities which can
guarantee a publicly-funded place, and it is up to the authority to decide whether to offer
this option. Neither scheme, so far, has been widely used.
In Hungary, both nurseries and kindergartens are financed from three sources: earmarked
funding from central government (about 25 – 30 per cent of total costs), users’ fees
(about 10 per cent) and local authority funding (the remainder). In fact, the users’ fee is
only to pay for the cost of the meals children receive and cannot exceed a stated
proportion of parents’ monthly income. Low income families pay a reduced fee or none
at all, and, as a recent initiative, some centres are now offering free meals to all children.
The costs of services for children under 3 years in Spain vary widely, depending for
example on hours of opening, numbers of staff employed and their level of training and
pay: for example, the variation may be from €2800 a year for some private nurseries up
to €7257 a year in the public nurseries in Barcelona. These services are entirely
dependent on parents’ fees, except for those private centres which receive some public
subsidy (usually covering less than half the costs) or centres provided by a regional or
local authority (public nurseries in Barcelona, for example, charge parents just over a
third of the costs).
The situation is different in services for children between 3 and 6 years, which are mainly
school-based. Parents pay no fees in schools provided by public authorities, but they must
pay for any services provided outside school hours. Although these account for most
provision, a substantial minority of parents (about a third) use private schools and pay
most of the costs. This situation, however, will change with the implementation of the
LOCE, which envisages increased public subsidies for private provision for children over
2.3.6 The workforce
Each of the three countries has two main occupations employed in centre-based services
for young children. However, the way these occupations are deployed across services for
children under and over 3 years differs in important respects, as does the type of
In Denmark, the main occupation across all centre-based services for young children,
both under and over 3 years, is the pædagog (pedagogue), accounting for a majority of
the workforce. Prior to 1992, there were three different groups of pedagogue. The first
group, dating back more than 100 years, were kindergarten pedagogues, working with 3
to 6 year-olds. The second group were pedagogues working in school-age childcare with
children from 6 to 14 year-olds. While social pedagogues worked with children below the
age of 3 years and with children and adults with special needs including those in
residential institutions. Each group of pedagogues had their own initial education.
Following reform in 1992, there is now one profession and one training, undertaken in 32
specialist institutions: Pædagog-Seminarium (pedagogue colleges). Pedagogues have a
3½ year basic education at a higher education level. In 2002, the training attained degree
status, as did teacher and social work training, the three types of training having been at
an equivalent level for a long time.
Today, there are around 90,000 pedagogues in Denmark, who together make up three per
cent of the total workforce. The pedagogue is a professional who works in many settings:
they can, it is said in Denmark, work with people aged 0 to 100 years. Three-quarters
work with children under 10 years of age in services for young children (nurseries for
children under 3 years, kindergartens for 3 to 5 year olds and age-integrated centres for
children from 0 to 5 years or older), in classes for 6 year olds in schools and in school-
based leisure-time facilities. But pedagogues also work with older children and young
people (for example, in residential care homes), as well as with adults with disabilities,
including some who work with elderly people (Jensen and Hansen, 2003).
The other main group working directly with children in centre-based services for young
children are pædagogmedhjælpere – pedagogue assistants. This occupation does not
require any formal qualification, and many workers are young people spending a year or
two working before going on to further study, including some gaining experience before
training as pedagogues. However, since 1997, a 19 month basic training has been
introduced aimed at a variety of workers, including pedagogue assistants. Some of these
courses take place in specialist pedagogy colleges, others in Social and Health Care
In Hungary, the two main occupations each work with a particular age groups of children,
rather than across the whole pre-school age range. Gondozónő (infant and child
caregiver) are the main workforce in nurseries for children under 3 years, supplemented
by a small group (around 10 per cent) of unqualified workers. Unqualified workers must
train while working, with the center funding the course. Óvónő (kindergarten
pedagogues) make up 97 per cent of the kindergarten workforce.
Another distinction between the occupations concerns their level of basic education.
Nursery workers take a 3 year training at a secondary level in specialized vocational
schools: although a new, higher form of training has become available from Autumn
2003, it is still not possible to study for work with children under 3 years at the tertiary
level. Kindergarten pedagogues, by contrast, have a tertiary level training leading to a
degree. While doing a tertiary level course used to be optional for work in kindergartens,
since 1993 it has become compulsory. Moreover as part of a reform of higher education,
the colleges that previously specialized in training pedagogues are now in the process of
integrating with universities.
The passing of the LOGSE in 1990 led to a restructuring of the workforce in Spain. There
are now two main occupations with different levels of basic education: maestros
especialista en educación infantil (teachers specializing in early childhood education) and
técnicos especialista en educación infantil (technicians in early childhood education).
Teachers take a university course, but at the lower level (primer ciclo de formación
universitaria) lasting 3 years (in contrast to a high level course lasting 5 to 6 years, which
is what a pedagogue or psychologist in Spain would take). Work with young children is
one of seven teaching specialisms.
Technicians take a 2 year technical training (formación professional de grado superior).
Teachers work with children from birth to 6 years of age, while technicians only work
with children from birth to three years old. Regulations require that, as a minimum, a
third of staff working with children under 3 years must be teachers, and in some places
the proportion is substantially higher. However the new law (LOCE), which introduces
the possibility of removing services for children under 3 from education, may also reduce
the number of teachers working with children under 3.
There are trade unions in each country to represent the workforce in services for young
children. But the situation in Denmark is exceptional, both in terms of the extent of union
– almost universal – and the leading role played by the pedagogues’ trade union (BUPL)
not only in negotiating pay and conditions but also working to improve the status and
public understanding of the work. BUPL, a senior official says in her interview, is
working “to set the agenda as regards quality in daily life of children in institutions”.
2.4 Services: orientations
We shall look in later chapters at how practitioners and others actually understand the
work in services for young children. Here we shall concentrate on outlining the broad
concepts that underpin policy and provision.
Although within the welfare system in Denmark, the main concept underpinning policy
and practice is not ‘care’, but ‘pedagogy’. Pedagogy is a theory and practice of work with
people (whether children or adults) with roots leading back to 19th century Germany, and
which can be found, in various forms, in most European countries. Pedagogy is a holistic
concept that recognises the whole child (or adult) and the inseparability of care,
education, health and upbringing: from this perspective, neither ‘care’ nor ‘education’ is
viewed as a distinct field but as dimensions or elements of pedagogy. Another Danish
national report for the first stage of this study describes pedagogy in these terms:
Talking about upbringing/education, development, socialization and learning the
words ‘pædagogik’ (pedagogy) and ‘pædagogisk arbejde’ (pedagogical work) are
used more frequently (in Denmark). The word ‘pædagogik’ is etymologically
based in the Greek word ‘paidagogike’ or ‘paideia’. The modern meaning is
opdragelse og dannelse (education and cultural formation) which is a very
essential Danish way of thinking. It is difficult to translate the concepts
‘opdragelse’ and ‘dannelse’ into English. The words are more easily translated
into the German words ‘Erzieung’ and ‘Bildung’.
In short: ‘Pædagogik’ (pedagogy) and ‘pædagogisk arbejde’ (pedagogical work)
aim at improving learning and developing options on behalf of ideals of
individuals and society. The pedagogical theories combine 1) ideals of a good life
(philosophy) and 2) understandings of individuals and groups and their resources
and needs (psychology and biology) and 3) understandings of social resources,
values and demands (cultural and social sciences).
Due to the fact that ‘pædagogik’ (pedagogy) and ‘pædagogisk arbejde’ are the
key concepts for children it becomes problematic to translate the Danish
dagtilbud til børn into the English term ‘childcare facilities’. The work carried
out in ‘dagtilbud til børn’ is mainly described as pedagogical, social and caring
(Jensen and Hansen, 2002a)
Services for young children in Denmark, therefore, have a far broader function than
simply supporting parental employment, and the official understanding of the work in
these services extends well beyond care. The Serviceloven (Social Services Act)
stipulates three purposes for these services: pedagogical, social and care-related. The
national policy maker interviewed for this case study emphasized that these aims were
considered equally important. She, like all other policy makers interviewed, talked about
the perception of services for young children having changed: from being just ‘childcare
for working parents’ (labour market measures) to being environments for children’s
development in its widest sense and learning: “this is society’s way of providing sound
conditions for children’s development”.
They are understood to have an educational role, but the pedagogical orientation
distinguishes education from schooling. These services therefore are not so much
concerned with preparation for school and school education, as with leading the good life
and all round development, with a strong emphasis on social and cultural capabilities and
with a particular understanding of the child. The Danish national report for this case
study refers to the Danish term dannelse (cultural formation) to encapsulate this concept:
There is a discourse (in Denmark) on care and pedagogy, which deals
with the ideals of cultural formation (‘dannelse’). This is a complex
concept that is not easily translated. It expresses the ideals of upbringing
and development with a view to living a good life of the individual and
the community. You could say that daily life and its activities are
continuously and reflectively adjusted on the basis of overall ideals of
development (these ideals usually embody the democratic, independent
and free human being). This discourse, which has long-standing
traditions in Denmark, has, during the past ten years, become
increasingly associated with discourses concerning the child as an equal
and competent human being as well as with the pedagogical aims of
supporting the child’s perception of itself as something valuable, that is,
as a human that is valuable solely based on its existence and not due to
its performance. The competent individual has taken centre stage in the
pedagogical debate, although it has often been underlined that its
individuality is not opposed to the community (in fact, the democratic
society assumes individuality).
Hungarian services also treat care and education as closely related. A Hungarian national
report for the first stage of the study notes that
when talking about children in Hungary, most of the time the word ‘nevelés’ is
used, which does not have a good equivalent in English. Its meaning corresponds
more to ‘upbringing’, and it involves the concepts of both care and education. It
expresses that care and education are inseparable concepts. When you provide
care, you also teach children directly or indirectly (Korintus, Vajda, and Egyed,
The Hungarian word for ‘care’ also carries a broad meaning. Gondoskodás refers to
satisfying human needs – not only physical, but also emotional, social and mental. This
holistic approach is found in policy. The 1993 Education Act, for example, defines
kindergartens as “professionally independent educational institutions whose most
important functions are protective, social and educational”. Their function is both to
provide care for children while their parents are at work and to prepare children for
school: the Education Act defines kindergartens as the first phase of the education
system. Nurseries are intended to offer a comprehensive programme concerned not only
with children’s physical needs but also with their psychosocial development. The
European pedagogical tradition is apparent in the workforce, the óvónő (kindergarten
pedagogue) defining herself as a ‘pedagogue’ rather than a ‘teacher’ (there is also an
occupation in nurseries specifically called pedagógus – pedagogue – that supports and
trains practitioners, as well working directly with children).
In Spain, services for young children, both under and over 3 years, have in recent years
been developed from an educational perspective, rather than as ‘childcare’. While the
need to provide care for the children of working mothers is recognised, there has been a
radical shift in the concept of services for children below compulsory school age -
transforming the concept of these early childhood centres into educational services for
children. This is a result of the post-1970s reform movement, referred to above, that
culminated in the 1990 legislation (LOGSE). Policy manifestations of this educational
orientation were the definition in law of 0 to 6 as the first stage of the education system,
the use of the term ‘escuelas infantiles’ (schools for young children) for centre-based
services for young children, the introduction of a national curriculum for this age group
and the restructuring of the workforce around a teacher specializing in work with this age
However, despite the strong influences supporting an educational orientation across all
services for young children in Spain, other influences have worked against its
achievement. Decentralisation and limited funding, with priority given to services for
children over 3, have left services for children under 3 under-developed, both in quantity
and content, with many traditional nurseries, provided privately, having no educational
project and still operating in some cases outside educational regulations. It is also
noticeable that though teachers (like pedagogues in Denmark) can work with children
under and over 3, in Spain (unlike pedagogues in Denmark) teachers are much less
common in services for children under 3 years. Last but not least, the new education law
(LOCE) makes it possible to remove children under 3 from the education system.
Moreover, even where services are unequivocally established as educational, in provision
for children over 3 years, some argue that the educational project is too dominated by
preparing children for primary school, rather than developing and implementing a
distinctive education focused on the needs of 3 to 6 year olds.
On the other hand, as noted, decentralization may now enable some areas of Spain to
maintain an educational framework for all services for children from birth to 6 in the face
of the new national level policy to remove children under 3 from such a framework.
2.5 Concluding comments
Our choice of case study countries produces very different contexts within which ‘care
work’, as defined for the purposes of this study, is constructed and practiced. Denmark
has an integrated system of pedagogically-oriented services, located within the national
welfare system, a Nordic welfare regime and a strongly decentralized system of
government. Generous funding, based on high tax levels, has contributed to a steady
expansion of services to the point where they are now generally available to all parents
who want them for their children, whether under or over 3, and are widely viewed as an
important infrastructure making an essential contribution to economic, cultural and social
well-being. Publicly-funded services are provided both in family day care and centres,
and centres are both age-segregated and age-integrated, but in all cases separate from
schools. The coherence of the system, across the full pre-school age range, is
underpinned by a strong profession, and by a holistic and integrative theory and practice.
Hungary also has services that adopt a holistic approach, not confining themselves to care
or education. However, responsibility for services is split between the welfare and
education systems, and this split runs through services and the workforce, with different
types of centre and different types of worker for children under and over 3. Whereas
provision is extensive for children over 3 years, it is low for children under 3, in part
because leave policy is intended to encourage care of younger children at home by
Whereas the development of Denmark’s services has been marked by continuity,
Hungary’s have experienced some discontinuities. Nursery provision, for example, was
first built up, then reduced, initially in response to new leave policies and later as a result
of low birthrates and cut-backs in the post-1990 transition period. This period has also
seen a major process of decentralization in responsibility for services, from national to
local government, which has in some cases had adverse consequences.
Spain has tried to move from a split system, with responsibility divided between welfare
and education, to an integrated system located in education. This turn to education has
been only partially achieved. Decentralization of responsibility for education from
national to regional governments has produced marked variations: some regions have
made real progress with services for children under 3 years, whilst others have given this
age group a low priority. As in Hungary, two sets of services, one for children under 3,
the other for children over 3, have remained the norm; although unlike Hungary a new
integrated profession – teachers specializing in work with children from 0 to 6 – has
emerged. These teachers, however, have only a minority position in services for children
under 3 compared with a majority position in services for older children.
Unlike Denmark or Hungary, private providers (many for profit) predominate among
services for children under 3, and are also significant among services for children over 3.
This has proved to be another factor militating against the emergence of an integrated,
education-oriented system. Since 1996, government policy has been in favour of more
private provision, and most recently legislation has been passed that, if implemented, will
reverse the movement towards an integrated, education-based system of services for
young children. More so than our other two countries, policy and provision in Spain has
been marked by discontinuity.
Lastly, it is important to note that both Hungary and Spain have much less public funding
with which to support the development of services and the position of the workforce.
This arises from a mixture of lower national income and a lower tax take. Apart from
differences in the pay and conditions of workers, which we shall discuss later, this
manifests itself in low levels of provision for children under 3 years (although other
factors are at play, for example leave policy in Hungary). High levels of provision are,
however, achieved for 3 to 6 year olds, services for whom are in the education system in
CHAPTER THREE : THE WORKERS
In this chapter, we introduce the practitioners we interviewed in the three partner
countries, providing a current and historical context for their work. First, we offer an
overview of who they are – a simplified socio-demographic profile - and their
employment conditions. Next we consider how, when and why they have come into work
with young children, and also look to their future prospects in terms of the career
opportunities open to them. Finally we look at them as workers with family lives and
examine the relationship between employment and family, including their own care
responsibilities as parents.
3.1 The profile of the care workers
As noted in Chapter 1, we sought to interview workers in each country who were typical
of the workforce in general. As Table 1 shows (in Chapter 1), we interviewed 12 centre-
based workers in each country. In Denmark, eight worked in ‘age segregated’ centers,
four each in vuggestuer (with children under 3 years) and børnehaver (with children aged
3 to 6 years), and four in age-integrated centres (aldersintegrerede). In Hungary, six
worked with children under 3 years in bölcsőde and six with children over 3 years in
óvoda. While in Spain, six worked with children under 3 years, four with 3 to 6 year olds
and two in an age–integrated centre.
Our informants were all qualified in Spain, as were all but one in Hungary (and she was
studying for her qualification on a part-time basis, as well as working) and all but two in
Denmark (both of whom were pedagogue assistants). Half of the qualified informants in
Hungary have qualifications at a medium level of education as gondozónő (nursery
worker), and half have qualification on the higher level, as óvónő (kindergarten worker).
Four of the informants in Spain have qualification at the medium level of education, as
técnicas en educacion infantil (technical workers in education of young children) and
eight on the higher level: seven as maestras especialista en educacion infantil (teachers
specializing in the education of young children), and one as a pedagogo (pedagogue).
Ten of the informants in Denmark have qualification as pædagog (pedagogue), and two
are unqualified. The three different pedagogical qualifications that existed prior to 1992
are represented. (For definitions of low, medium and higher educational levels, see van
Ewijk, Hens, Lammersen and Moss, 2002)
Four of the six centres in which the Danish workers were employed were provided by
municipalities (local authorities), one was independent (selvejende) and one was provided
by a group of local people under the pool scheme (see Chapter 2 for an explanation). In
Hungary, all six centres were provided by local authorities.
In Table 6, we summarise the socio-demographic profile of the care workers, starting
with gender. Our project has addressed the issue of gender in the childcare workforce in
earlier reports (van Ewijk et al., 2002; Johansson and Cameron, 2002). These have shown
the gender imbalance in the workforce, with men particularly few and far between in
work with young children and elderly people. Our aim in this study was to include at
least two male workers per country, but this proved impossible in Hungary and Spain. In
Hungary, for instance, the researchers could not find one centre employing a man in
direct work with children. There are some men working with young children in Spain, but
the number is few overall, with most in services for children over 3 and hardly any in
centers for under 3s.
Table 6 : Socio-demographic profile of workers
Denmark Hungary Catalonia (Spain)
Men / women 2 / 10 0 / 12 0 / 12
Age range / average age
(median) 29 - 50 / 37 years 34 - 50 / 39
Living with partner /
children 10 / 10 9/8
Number with children of
any age / Number with
children under 16 years 11 / 9 9/8
It was easier to find male workers in Denmark: although also in a small minority, men
workers are rather more common than in most other countries, making up around 5 per
cent of the workforce in services for young children. Five of the six centres where staff
were interviewed employed men: one had three, three had two and one had one. Of the 10
men employed in these centres, two were heads, two were pedagogues and six were
pedagogue assistants. Of the two men interviewed in the study, one was a qualified
pedagogue, 47 years, and with more than 20 years experience. He was also deputy head
of the centre, but worked most of the time directly with the children. The other male
worker interviewed was a pedagogue assistant, aged 31 years with five years experience.
Most of our informants were between 30 and 44 years of age, with an average age in the
late 30s. Both in the Danish and the Hungarian sample, ten out of the twelve informants
lived with a partner. An interesting feature of the Danish situation is that four of the 10
partners also worked with children, three directly and one more indirectly as a trade
Most workers had had children, and most still had children living with them. Mostly
these children were of school age (i.e. 6 or over) or older. Only two Danish workers lived
with children under 6 years. The children of Hungarian workers were of school age or
3.2 Employment conditions
Most of the informants worked full time: all in the case of Hungary and Spain, and eight
out of 12 in the case of Denmark. This comparison needs qualifying in two cases. Danish
practitioners are more likely to work part time than their Hungarian or Spanish
counterparts, but part-time work in this case means rather long hours, between 30 and 34
a week. In one case, a pedagogue assistant, part-time work was all that was available, and
she would have preferred a full-time job. For the other three, working shorter hours was a
choice, related to having a better family life.
Second, all Spanish practitioners worked full time, but this meant different hours in
different settings. School-based teachers with children aged 3 to 6 years worked a 6 hour
day, whereas staff in nurseries with children under 3 years worked 8 or 9 hours a day.
The former worked in institutions open for ‘school hours’, the latter in institutions
offering ‘full day’ opening.
In an earlier report from this project (van Ewijk et al., 2002), it was noted that there were
considerable variations in earnings between workers with young children in different
countries. In Denmark, for example, monthly salaries in 2001 for pedagogues (working
with children under and over 3 years of age) averaged €2990 (DKK 22,234) and €2290
(DKK17,020) for pedagogue assistants, at least twice the level of nursery workers in the
United Kingdom. Hungarian workers earned far less, with nursery staff, working with
children under 3 years, averaging €183 a month in 1999, while kindergarten pedagogues
(with children over 3) averaged €206 a month. However, the ratio of earnings between
trained workers with young children in Denmark and Hungary (pedagogues and
kindergarten pedagogues respectively) and school teachers was similar: about 85 per
The Danish pedagogues in this case study earned between DKK17,000 (€2300) and
DKK23,600 (€3190) a month, the lower figure for part-time workers, the higher for full-
time workers with seniority and management responsibilities. The two pedagogue
assistants earned DKK14,000 (€1895) (part-time worker) and DKK17,000(€2300) (full –
time worker) Allowing for small inflationary increases, this is in line with the national
average figures in 2001 quoted above.
The Hungarian practitioners in our study had far lower salaries, even allowing for price
differences. The net monthly salaries for the nursery workers ranged between HUF
40,000 and 50,000 (€160-200), while for kindergarten pedagogues the range was
HF47,000 to 97,000 (€188-360). These very low earnings, not much more than the
minimum wage, have since improved considerably. The government, which came into
office in spring 2002, committed itself in its election manifesto to a significant pay
increase (i.e. on average 50 per cent) for public sector workers. This was introduced after
the interviews were conducted, but the practitioners welcomed this measure, with a 50
per cent increase being beyond their expectations.
Earnings in Spain vary between public and private sectors, between services for children
of different ages and between regions. According to collective agreements for 2002,
teachers employed by the regional government in Catalonia earn a basic wage of €1270 a
month in centres for children under 3 years and €1658 per month working with children
aged 3 to 6 years in nursery classes in primary schools. By comparison, private sector
workers earn, respectively, €1133 and €1246 a month, but they in turn earn more than
their private sector counterparts elsewhere in Spain (the collective agreement for teachers
in private services sets a basic wage of €1038 without differentiating between those
working with children under or over 3 years of age).
The difference between sectors is greater for workers with lower qualifications: técnicas
en educación infantile. In Catalonia, those working with children under 3 in regional
services have the same basic salary as teachers, i.e. €1270 a month, but the basic salary is
far lower in the private sector: €677 in Catalonia, and €620 for the rest of Spain. To put
these earnings in perspective, the minimum wage in Spain is €442 a month, while the
average wage at the end of 2002 was €1508 a month. In other words, only public sector
teachers working with children aged 3 to 6 years earn above the average wage, while
many workers in the private sector earn two-thirds or less of the average.
3.2.1 Second jobs
This subject was only discussed in Hungary where, due to low pay, the Hungarian
research partners expected that workers in nurseries and kindergartens would often seek
ways to supplement their basic salaries, in particular through taking on child-related
second jobs such as providing private childcare outside normal working hours
(‘babysitting’ as it is termed). The results, however, did not confirm these expectations.
At the time of the interviews, none of our interviewees reported doing additional work
and only one of them said that she had done such work previously.
The question arises whether some of the Hungarian informants did not choose to mention
that had second jobs. Our assessment is that this was not the case. Although none of our
interviewees reported doing other paid work at the time of the interviews, many of them
confirmed that they could have done so. The opportunities were there.
Parents often ask nursery workers or kindergarten pedagogues to take care of their
children, mostly at the week-ends or during holidays. It is clear that parents would like to
put their child under the care of a person whom the child knows and likes, and with
whom the parent is also on familiar terms. The fact that this does not take place, at least
in the case of our interviewees, is mostly explained by the fact that – although they would
like to receive additional income – they do not have the energy for doing extra work after
eight hours work with children. As these two workers comment, one in a nursery and the
other in a kindergarten, they need free time with their families, and during the holiday
period they also need a rest.
We had a one-month holiday recently, as we do every year. A mother from a
rather well-off family wanted me to take care of her child. She couldn't take her
holidays, so she asked me whether I could take care of her child for the month in
question because I already knew the child. I told her that I didn't want to refuse it,
but it was enough for me to do this job during the rest of the year, and I needed
one month’s rest and recreation so as I could do my work well the following year.
So I've never undertaken work like this.
This requires a lot of energy and I don't have the energy after looking after 24
children until 1 or 2 o'clock, and after that preparing for the next day, because we
always have to prepare for the next day, and in addition to all this if I undertook
babysitting for 4-6 hours, this would kill me within a year. This means no.
In fact the only informant in our three countries to do such work was a Spanish teacher,
who reported working with children outside school hours. But rather than providing
childcare, she saw these children in the role of a psychotherapist and speech therapist.
The Danish informants can be split into three groups. Among the fully qualified
pedagogues, there are five who been in the job for at least 10 years, with the longest
serving worker having been a pedagogue for 26 years. The other five are more recently
qualified and have worked as pedagogues for between 1 and 5 years. The two pedagogue
assistants have worked with children for 3 and 5 years respectively.
The Hungarians have all worked with children for a long time, in all but one case for
between 13 and 22 years. The one exception has nine years of experience.
3.3.1 Routes into the work
The average age of students starting a Danish pedagogue training is around 27 (Jensen
and Hansen, 2003). Students, therefore, often start their training at a relatively advanced
age, with a certain amount of life and work experience, including working as unqualified
assistants in services for children (although as we discuss in Chapter 4, the proportion of
students entering training direct from school has been increasing). The pedagogues in this
study reflect this pattern of entry. Many of them had other work experience or had done
other higher education before entering work with children. All of them had been
pedagogue assistants, often starting somewhat by chance, before deciding to train as
pedagogues because they found they enjoyed the work.
Once qualified, the pedagogues in our study had not changed job often. The more
experienced group (with 10 or more years in the job) had only worked at two or three
centres. While the more recently qualified group had, with one exception, been at the
same centre since completing their training. The exception had started on a 9 month
temporary contract before finding a permanent job.
The Hungarian informants had mostly started in work with children at a rather earlier
stage than the Danes: indeed, they had worked with children almost their entire working
lives. With an average age of 39 years, they had been working in centres for 18 years on
average. Starting their career of work with children at around 21, those who had done
other jobs beforehand could have done so for at most 1 or 2 years.
Against this general background, we can see two main routes into centre-based work with
young children. Many of the kindergarten pedagogues went from school to do a full-time
course as a kindergarten pedagogue at college, then started to work in a kindergarten. But
two of the nursery workers first started to work without qualifications, and later obtained
qualifications while they were working. This was quite common in the 1970s and 1980s,
but today it is unusual. Now only one course offers training for unqualified nursery
workers while they are working, while it is not possible to get a job in a kindergarten
without first obtaining a qualification.
It is also remarkable that the people we interviewed have been working at their current
workplace for 14 years on average. This supports observations that Hungarian employees
in services for young children tend to be somewhat occupationally immobile. The
phenomenon is also characteristic of the Hungarian population as a whole, though one
can see a different trend beginning to develop since the transition years. Moreover,
people tend to stay long in their jobs in nurseries or kindergartens because they are highly
committed to working with children. As a final factor, many centres, especially nurseries,
have been closed down during the past 15 years or so, reducing job opportunities.
Spanish workers, like Hungarians, mainly enter training at an early stage. Most
commonly, students training as teachers specialising in work with young children enter
courses after finishing school at 18, although some are ‘mature’ students (over 25 years
old) and some have done technical training before moving on to take a higher
The interviews with the Spanish informants also demonstrate a strong commitment to
children from the very start. Some of their earlier jobs were also child related. One was
regularly babysitting while she studied. Then it was a straightforward route into a private
centre, then to the present one 12 or 13 years ago. Another one said she stopped working
in childcare center for a while and opened a shop. After two years and after having her
own children she returned to her profession. Others wanted to be a teacher. Still another
gave lessons to a child during summer.
3.3.2 Motivation for entering the work
As already noted, most Danish pedagogues entered work with children and took training
after other experience. Few – only three of our informants – had always known they
wanted to work with people, including children, and none of these said they had always
wanted to be a pedaguogue. In many cases, there was an element of chance in getting into
the work, with informants taking an assistant job, often because it was available and
convenient, then finding they really liked working with children.
This is typified by this pedagogue, who started work as a skilled farm worker and
attended an agricultural college. But then she tired of farm work, partly because of the
long hours. She got on a higher preparatory course, and began working as a pedagogue
assistant: “began to think I’d like to try that for a bit. I got bitten by it”.
[Going to work as a pedagogue assistant] was a little by chance. It was because I
had a friend who knew someone who was looking for someone. So it actually
started as a temporary job. I thought that’s fine, I can earn a little money on top
of my (student) grant. I could see that I liked it. Also because I thought I was good
at it. I noticed that the parents liked me and the staff liked me and the children
liked me, and the things I did. It was a case that while I was doing it, it made me
happy to come to work. I would rather go to work sick than miss out on a day at
Before opting for being a pedagogue, several had considered other professions working
with children, for example as a school teacher or as a nurse: there was no long-term
ambition to be a pedagogue. This pedagogue, having first considered going into the
police, decided to train as a teacher, with a pedagogy course as a fall-back:
I applied for the school teaching and pedagogue courses at the same time, just to
be absolutely safe. I would surely get on to something. Then I actually got
accepted on to the pedagogue course and I thought ‘oh well, I can start it, and see
how it is, and apply for the teacher training course in 6 months or a year if I find
out it’s not for me’. The first 4 months went by and I was biding my time and
thinking, ‘this isn’t what you should be doing’. But then quite suddenly I had a
revelation and discovered that this was it. There was something exciting about it.
It was the psychological aspect. The thing about learning how a person is from
when they are little and what it is that happens. The connection between the child
and your adult life, all those things suddenly fascinated me. Then I discovered it
could only be this.
Money was certainly not a motive for entering or remaining in the work. It was taken for
granted that women work and contribute to the upkeep of the household or else support
themselves. The pay, too, as we shall see later, was considered poor. What keeps people
is the work itself: “I’ve chosen my work because of what interests me and what I like
doing. Otherwise I just don’t think people would work in this profession. I feel that it’s
not only badly paid but not so highly thought of”.
The earlier entry into work with children in Hungary was accompanied by most
informants stating that their attraction to the work was already established in childhood:
in other words, they had always wanted to work with young children. Younger children
in the family or the example of a mother, sister or more distant female relative working at
a nursery or kindergarten often drew the attention of the future worker to this profession.
Some regularly visited an institution like this when they were very young and they liked
the work done there.
At the time they were considering their future careers, several of those interviewed had
considered other professions involving higher level training and qualifications. Some of
these did not involve children – engineering, economics – while others did: one
informant, for example, initially wanted to be a pediatrician, another a physical education
instructor, while a third had completed a secondary school specializing in economics.
They turned to nursery or kindergarten work after unsuccessful entrance examinations for
their first choice career.
Love of children, therefore, was a major and long-standing motive for entering the work
in Hungary, overcoming the disincentive of low pay, which as noted above is very low.
But there was also an element of nursery or kindergarten work as second best – or at least
as second choice. For this nursery worker, her first choice had been to train as a
I’ve always had this dream, since my childhood, as long as I can remember, to
work among children. After taking the secondary school final exam, I tried to get
into kindergarten teacher training college, but I didn’t manage it so I came to
work here. I don’t regret it because I feel that the small children I take care of
now have given me back much more of what I gave them than the older ones
would. I can follow their development to a greater extent than with the older ones.
Similar motives – liking children – were expressed by Spanish workers.
As we shall see later, in Chapter 7, once in the work, new motivations to remain arose,
not least an appreciation of the importance of the work and an increasing fascination with
the work. Realisation of how responsible and wide-ranging the work is may only
gradually emerge with experience.
3.3.3 Career opportunities
Once in the work, what opportunities are there to develop a career? In Denmark, one of
the career possibilities for a pedagogue is to become the director or deputy of a centre.
Four out of five of the experienced pedagogues either were or had been in such positions.
One, however, had declined promotion to a deputy director’s job.
There are, however, other possibilities. Two informants who were currently policy
makers, including a senior trade union official, and three trainers had been pedagogues.
With high trade union membership (nearly all pedagogues and assistants are members of
a trade union), and therefore an extensive union structure, and a large number of training
and policy making jobs, all these are real possibilities for pedagogues who want to move
out of direct work with children.
Finally, given the nature of the profession, there are many opportunities for pedagogues
to move sideways into other sorts of services – with children, but alternatively with
young people or adults.
We have already seen that our practitioner informants were rather settled in their work,
with few job moves. No one expressed any thought about giving up being a pedagogue.
For most of them, working as a pedagogue is a job for life. However within this broad
profession, there are differing plans for the future. One group of respondents are quite
sure that they will continue working in centres for young children, either as pedagogues
or directors. This pedagogue with 21 years experience still enjoys the work:
I can’t actually imagine anything else because I’m so happy to be here. I really
feel that I am still getting so much. I think too and really hope that I will still have
something to offer in 3 years’ time
But four pedagogues, including three who were relatively newly qualified, were thinking
about other jobs, still as pedagogues but within other specialist areas. This is generally in
line with results from surveys of the job market for pedagogues, which show that
pedagogues usually start in a general service (like the centres covered in this study), then
move onto more specialist areas that require greater experience. One informant had many
thoughts about future work, including in a free-time home (school-age childcare), with
children with disabilities or with elderly people. Another was considering a move to
working with young people with additional needs. She illustrated how pedagogues can,
and do, move between fields and how experience and knowledge can be transferred in
I can imagine myself working with young people, who for some reason or other
have got off on to the wrong foot in life. In my second placement period (while
training), I was at an institution for vulnerable children and I’d really like to try
that again. I know, too, that I’ll have some experience. I notice I have a use for
that when dealing with parents, and (I also have) experience and knowledge
about the development of children
For pedagogue assistants, future career progression depends to a considerable extent on
gaining a qualification as a pedagogue. The older assistant in our study was very content
to continue where she was. She had thought of taking the recently introduced 1½ year
basic training as a first step, but had rejected this both on financial grounds and because
she did not want to leave her current centre. The younger assistant was considering
pedagogue training, but he had decided to defer following this up because he had a lot of
work on hand as a trade union representative.
Career opportunities, whether upwards or sideways, were much less in the other two
countries. Indeed, the clear answer from the Hungarian workers was that there were no
advancement opportunities, except as the director or deputy director of a nursery or
kindergarten. Moreover to be a director requires gaining special qualifications. Even this
limited progression was not an option for most of the workers, as they would lose the
very part of their work that they enjoyed the most: the opportunity to have direct contact
The answers reflect a central feature of the Hungarian system. There are in fact no
opportunities to move between different services, either from nurseries to kindergartens
or vice versa, and very few for moving from either of these services to other work with
children: a qualified worker could become the coordinator of centres in a district of
Budapest or in a local authority, but there are only a limited number of such jobs. In
reality, therefore, a nursery worker will remain a nursery worker and a kindergarten
pedagogue will be a kindergarten pedagogue.
There are a number of professional training and special courses available for both groups
of workers, but they cannot advance even if they complete these. Moreover, many
institutions do not support further training for their staff, for example into different
professional areas, because they see no need or benefit from it. Workers' ambitions are
blocked, as this kindergarten pedagogue explains:
Well, it (i.e. supporting further education) depends on whether there is a demand
for it. But I would tend to say no, I think there is hardly any possibility for it. As
for those who wish to achieve professional advancement, well, it depends on the
size of the institution, and the larger the institution is, the more people have a say
in the matter. Say, for example, I would like to be a speech therapist and I would
like to study this field, but the director or the director's chief says that we don't
need a speech therapist in this institution, because we already have one. This
means that they won't support my professional advancement, because they say I
have to do it myself. But this requires their support, and if they don't want it or
don't need it, then I should rather choose to leave and try to achieve it elsewhere.
Despite poor career opportunities, and pay, most of the workers interviewed did not want
to leave either the profession or their particular institution. Out of the practitioners
interviewed, only one was seriously considering leaving the profession, while one other
was preparing to move from one institution to another. As already observed, the
workforce is very stable.
This does not mean, however, that workers did not think about other opportunities.
Others - both nursery workers and kindergarten pedagogues - mentioned that they had
thought about changing. The main reasons given were, first of all, financial (better pay),
followed by the threat of the closure of their institution, and the exhausting nature of the
work either as experienced now or anticipated by workers as they get older. However,
there is a difference between thinking about moving and acting:
I would be lying if I said no. Sometimes it has occurred to me that I should leave,
especially, as I have said, for financial reasons, but if I think twice about it, I
cannot imagine doing anything. I was thinking about it, but never in terms of
actually seriously doing something about it
Spanish workers face similar constraints to their future careers. Both types of worker –
teachers and technicians – are qualified to work only with a particular groups of children,
i.e. under 6 year olds.
3.4 Employment and family
3.4.1 The role of a family adviser
Pedagogues in Denmark, although they are not employed as family advisors, have very
close contact with parents. They are often asked by parents for advice and information, a
part of their work we shall discuss further in Chapter 6. But another issue concerns how
far ‘care workers’ become sources of advice and information within their own social
circles. Does their work, in this way, spill over into life outside work, including family
Several of the informants mentioned that because of their professional expertise they can
see things happening in the families of relatives and friends, but that it is difficult to
decide if, and when, they should ‘get involved’. Here is an example from one of the
informants answering the question, “Is there anybody within your circle of acquaintances
who asks you for advice?”
I can make good use of the knowledge I have, so I’ve become much more
straightforward. I also get respect for that. They respect me for what I say, and
that’s why I’m not so afraid anymore.
Another pedagogue comments that family and friends sometimes ask about her view on
things that they have seen at other institutions. She is surprised when they want her
opinion, but provides an explanation herself in terms of the respect for her profession: “I
am sometimes surprised about this, because some of my friends are well-educated in
related fields and they should be able to do this themselves…so in a way I consider this
as a sign of respect for my work and profession.”
Most Hungarian workers mentioned that relatives or friends ask for advice in connection
with bringing up children, for example about a specific problem or education issue:
Q.: Do your relatives often ask for your advice in connection with bringing up
Well, my relatives don't, because they live far away, rather my neighbours do,
especially those who I've got a direct connection with and who have children of a
similar age, they ask my advice on how to do something.
Oh yes, during conversations I try to explain what our work is like. In the family,
of course; one of my sisters was a district nurse, but later she started to work at a
childcare centre, so already two of us are always saying in our family that this is
a valuable work, and it is judged differently in our family, of course. The children
of relatives are growing up and we have noticed that they often ask for our
opinion or help. So they really look upon us differently.
The answers show that workers are careful not to prescribe for non-professionals what
they should do, recognizing there is no right solution for every case. They try to direct
friends and relatives in a tactful and careful way to the solution they consider to be right.
They give friendly advice or explain how they handle similar issues in the institution, just
like they do in the case of parents of children in their group.
3.4.2 Work-family reconciliation
Most workers still had children at home, although few were very young. So in most
interviews, we got into the question of how the informants combined their working lives
and their home lives.
Broadly speaking, Danish practitioners mentioned few problems in combining work and
family life. In most cases, the hours they worked suited them, only one saying that she
worked too much. There seemed to be a willingness to accommodate particular needs.
For example, practitioners expressed great satisfaction with the timings of their staff
meetings and mentioned great flexibility among their colleagues in changing the times of
these meetings if, for example, someone’s child was sick, or if someone’s husband could
not get home to be with children.
Four qualifications should be made to this picture, two concerning the general Danish
context and two suggesting that combining work and family life is more of an issue for
some workers than others. First, and most generally, Denmark (like other Nordic welfare
states) has a welfare state that is generally supportive of working parents and dual
breadwinner families, in particular through paid leave entitlements and the widespread
availability of services providing care for children. Second, transport to and from work
was not a problem for the informants. Indeed, as there are so many institutions, it is
probably never going to be a problem finding one nearby where you want to live.
External conditions are therefore favourable to pedagogues with children.
But some pedagogues have particular care needs: they must either adapt their hours or
else face more pressures. Three female pedagogues voluntarily chose to work part time so
that their work and family lives could be more compatible – although their part-time
hours were quite long (see the discussion in Chapter 2 about the relatively high level of
part-time employment among women in Denmark, compared to Spain and especially
Hungary). Two of them had young children and had chosen to work part time so that they
can spend more time with them. While the exception to the general satisfaction with
hours was the one pedagogue who was a lone parent. She lived alone with her teenage
son and found that work took up too much time in relation to her home life. There were
often meetings in the evening, and, she also pointed out, none of the pedagogues
employed at her centre had small children.
Otherwise there were several examples of how in subtler and not necessarily stressful
ways work and family life might affect each other.
I also live with a pedagogue who works at a free-time home [i.e. centre providing
school-age childcare]. It’s great because we can often discuss professional things
without getting into long explanations about this and that. A lot of it is just mutual
understanding. It’s really nice.
One pedagogue stated that her own experiences as a mother were important in
discussions with parents. While one of the pedagogue assistants used her husband’s work,
as a policeman, in her daily teaching job and sometimes took the children to the police
station, where her husband showed them round.
Similarly in Hungary the work did not cause any marked problems. It is worth noting
here that State provision is quite supportive for working parents: a paid parental leave
entitlement and near universal services providing care for children from 3 years upwards.
In several interviews, the informants mentioned that their work was referred to as a
luxury or a hobby by the family, since poor pay meant that husbands had to do most of
the providing. It did not seem, however, to cause big problems in the families concerned.
Husbands were proud of their wife's profession and they accepted the financial
My husband accepted it, because he also thinks that those taking care of children
can be empathic people, more flexible and able to overcome difficulties, although
it's true that the financial part is unattractive. In the family of those working in
this profession, the husbands have to be the breadwinners.
Husbands are reported to help a lot in the home and with taking care of children, while in
several cases grandparents also support workers. The situation is also helped by no
workers having young children and because workers are able to organise their working
time in a flexible way, sorting things out with their colleagues. As in Denmark, centres
appear to be rather sympathetic work environments when it comes to managing family
Spanish workers raised the significance of age of children. A teacher with a 9 month old
daughter as well as a 12 year old said that she now found herself “in this situation of
having more difficulties in combining work with my family responsibilities”. The problem
was not, however, unique to her type of work: “But I don’t have any more difficulties
than in any other profession. Whatever your job, it means that you can’t dedicate yourself
to your children as much as you would like to”.
Five practitioners referred to the benefits of working in centres for young children, in
relation to the hours of work and the increased chances of getting a place for your child.
These are both important considerations in a country which is less supportive of
employed mothers, with services insufficient to meet demand:
Well, the school hours I think are the best for being a mother, as you work the
days and the hours that your children are in school. I think that it is the best job
for a mother, to combine it…Also, when they were very small they came here.
When they were ill, I always had a grandmother or an aunt who looked after
them, and now they go to the school and the college and so I don’t have any
They were in the same school but not with me, they were quite far away. As the
crèche is very big and I was at the opposite side and there was no interference.
Q.: Didn’t you want to have them in the same group?
We make sure that we don’t have them. Everyone who is a mother has had their
children here apart from one person.
Q.: Are you given priority?
Yes, of course, yes, yes. We have priority because we work here.
We are lucky, the people who work here who have small children can bring them
and this helps us a lot. Not on a financial level, because the financial level is an
important expense, but on the level of tranquility. You know that they are safe,
that you have them with you, and that these three years are a step
I have two children aged 16 and 12. The timetable lets me to leave at the same
time as they leave school, so I have been able to be at home with them in the
3.5 Concluding comments
The informants in all three countries reflect the profile of the wider workforce: female
and mainly in their late 30s and 40s. Mostly with older children, but also working in a
sympathetic environment, managing work and family life is not particularly difficult,
although it is likely to be more so for some groups such as workers with young children
and lone parents. Another common theme – dissatisfaction with pay – is emerging and
will re-appear in subsequent chapters. Despite this, the workforce in each country is
rather stable and committed to the work, another theme to re-appear later.
The main national variation resides in employment careers, and this is linked with
different structuring in the workforce and its training. The Danish pedagogue comes
across as different to workers in Hungary and Spain (and in most other European
countries). People enter the profession relatively late, and therefore with more life
experience including education and employment. Many pedagogues start into the work as
pedagogue assistants, an example of how a highly professionalised majority workforce
can be complemented by an untrained and non-professionalised minority, with mobility
common between the two. The Danish pedagogue also has many career opportunities
available, both through moving up into managerial and training jobs and by moving
across into a wide range of settings: the qualification of pedagogue offers entry,
therefore, into a range of jobs, while the extensive system of services in Denmark (not
just for young children) means there are both many and varied jobs.
By contrast, the Spanish and Hungarian workers enter the work at earlier ages, often with
little experience, and once trained have limited career opportunities restricted, essentially,
to moving between jobs in services for young children. These differences go to the heart
of the work. The Danish pedagogue is a generalist practitioner, whose training equips her
to work with a wide range of people in many different settings. The Hungarian and
Spanish work groups are specialist, whose training equips them to work with young
children in a limited range of settings.
CHAPTER FOUR : TRAINING FOR WORK WITH YOUNG
Training – the level, length and training – directly reflects public understanding of a
particular occupation or profession: what the work entails, what its status is. Work with
young children in our three case countries mainly requires a basic training, at least for
those working in centres. Moreover, the level of training is relatively high, at tertiary
level for a substantial group of workers in each country. In this chapter we consider what
the basic training entails, both content and format, as well as opportunities for further
training. We end by looking at the views of various groups of informants about current
training, not least whether it equips practitioners for their work.
4.1 Basic training
The training for Danish pedagogues consists of a 3½ year course undertaken in a
pedagogue college and leading, since 2002, to a degree. Courses have to cover a number
of subject areas: pedagogy and psychology (which make up 30 per cent of the total);
social studies and health studies (20 per cent); communication, organisation and
management (10 per cent); and the arts and other creative subjects - Danish language,
music, drama, arts and crafts, movement and physical education, environmental studies
(40 per cent).
The importance attached to these creative subjects reflects the value placed on the artistic
and aesthetic elements in pedagogical work. In addition to the theoretical elements of the
course, students must acquire practical skills in these areas. Colleges have special rooms
and equipment for arts and creative subjects - workshops, drama rooms, music and
movement rooms - and therefore look very different from traditional universities. We
have already referred to the importance attached to nature and the outdoors life in
services for young children. A separate subject, environmental studies, focuses on the
ways in which outdoor space can be used, including playgrounds, woods and beaches.
An important element of the course is placement periods, which add up to a total of 15
months (or 36 per cent of the course). In the first study year, the practice period is about
12 weeks long. The student does not count as a member of staff in their placement
institution: she is supernumerary worker. During the second and third study years, the
practice periods are each six months and, on these occasions, the student receives a
Students can go abroad for one of their placement periods, and this is quite common. For
example, some 20 per cent of students at the college where the Danish research partners
for this study are located, Jydsk Pædagog-Seminarium, spend their placement periods in
different places around the world, not only in Europe. A trainer says that this “probably
provides first and foremost a sense and impression of other cultures…[I]t gives them
[students] an impression of [the country]...[T]hey discover the relationship between the
culture of a country, its system of government and history and its institutions and its
Although there are some variations between colleges, placements generally follow a
broadly similar course. Preparation occurs at college before the placement, students
planning their practice and setting up goals, an opportunity to relate theory and practice.
Then the trainers follow students throughout their practice, partly by means of meetings
at the placement institution (practice visits) and partly by means of so-called ‘convention
days’, i.e. days during the placement period when the students come together at the
college. After completing the practicum, a gathering of experience takes place as this
Before starting their placement period, they prepare what you could call a
placement project. They find out in advance what their practise institution is like
[…] They need to know a little bit about which public administration and what
laws apply and their implementation… What are the objectives, what is the
staffing, how is management arranged and how do they handle cooperation with
users and other parties involved. They need to examine all of these things. This
will provide them with a basis of knowledge before they go out there.
Subsequently, they have to try to establish something called personal goals,
something called knowledge goals and something called action goals.
In 1997, the rules concerning these practice placements were changed. Placement
institutions were given decisive influence, with the responsibility to develop objectives
and training plans for the students working there. In short, the position of these
institutions was quite changed – from being mere testing grounds for the college students,
they became much more engaged in the education of the students.
There is an ongoing discussion in Denmark about the practice part of the course. First,
the period is quite long, some would say too long. Second, should students receive
salaries while on placement, as they do since 1997, or only their normal grants? By being
paid in this way, students are counted as ordinary members of staff, sometimes making it
harder for them to be students. Finally, institutions offering placements are working to
improve the education and supervision they can offer students.
We have already described the strong element of decentralisation in Danish services for
young children, with the government setting a very broad policy framework, but
delegating a high degree of responsibility for interpretation and implementation to
municipalities and individual institutions. The same occurs in pedagogue training, this
time between the Danish Ministry of Education, which is responsible for training, and the
pedagogue colleges. The Ministry has formulated guidelines for pedagogy courses,
covering structure, subjects, practical placements and examinations. But individual
colleges have a large measure of freedom, in both content and methods: there is no
centrally prepared curriculum and each college prepares its own pedagogue training
programme, which serves as a local interpretation and organisation of the national
As a consequence of local autonomy within the national guidelines, the subject matter
and methods differ from one college to another and from one teacher to another. One
trainer describes his autonomy as high and relates it to wider Danish values – he could as
well be speaking about pedagogues and the centres in which they work:
My level of freedom is very high…[The guidelines] establish a framework and in
doing so they follow a very generous culturally radical Danish tradition, which
states that: We trust that people can manage. Maybe we groan, but the confidence
in decentralised institutions is kept intact. It is an old Danish tradition, as far as I
am concerned you are not limited by regulations but you have a very high degree
of freedom to choose your teaching methods
Another informant, who also works in a college, illustrates the very personal approach to
content. He explains that his choice of subject matter for pedagogy teaching is essentially
based upon considerations of the kind of children that are produced by present day
socialisation processes. For this reason, he finds it important to teach social theory,
including theories of socialisation linked with societal relations:
thus everyday life is built up by political, financial, cultural socialisation factors,
I mean, what interests me is the socialisation, the real socialisation, which makes
people what they are. I believe that this is what one has to grasp. In that sense, I
am a completely traditional material historian… I want to get to grips with the
real conditions and the theorists, who try ever so discretely to ask what general
trends there are among the young, from a social psychology point of view, those
are the things that interest me very much. This is one of the sources of knowledge.
Another source of knowledge is sociological knowledge. I mean, concrete
information about anything and everything; I think that social research is
important as a basis for knowledge. And what comes next is experience in how to
meet in dialogue, in teamwork between adults and the new youth. And it could be
pedagogical theories, pedagogical theorists, but it may also be learning theories,
learning theorists. Well, I don’t like that term, learning, because it sounds as if
the concept of play is excluded. I fear that the concept may be overly influenced
by didactical thinking and that it will begin to smell of school or something like
that. I still distinguish within pedagogy which has to do with school.
Many different forms of teaching are used in pedagogue training. This college trainer
explains that he likes the lecture form but
I also like to delimit the lecture form, set it aside and change to group project
form. I like working in projects, especially using the AUC-model2, what I would
call the framework-managed project work form. The name of the game is shared
responsibility for learning. The teachers have responsibility for setting, in a good
democratic spirit, the framework, maybe take advantage of their knowledge to
include a few learning parameters that may act as supporting frames for the
training. The student’s duty is to actually do some studying, to work, to
participate in the group processes. To acquire knowledge individually and in
‘AUC-model’ is an approach developed at the Aalborg University Centre, in which extensive use is made
of projects connected to problems in society.
groups, but I believe it’s a shared responsibility, because I see it as a process,
where it is imperative that the teacher utilises the additional knowledge he/she
In addition to the basic training for pedagogues, since 1997 there has been a 19 months
basic training for pedagogue assistants – Pædagogisk Grunduddannelse (Pedagogical
Basic Training). The aim is to qualify the students to perform pedagogical work in a
wide range of institutions – for children, young people and adults – as well as to work as
a family day carer. The training covers subjects such as pedagogy and psychology,
cultural and social studies, hygiene, welfare, Danish and some optional subjects. The
course is also intended to help students develop personally, as well as enabling them to
proceed on to further education, such as training to be a pedagogue. This training is at
upper secondary level and does not always take place at pedagogue colleges.
Following basic training, there are a range of opportunities for further training. As well as
different types of in-service training arranged by, for example, the individual centres and
local authorities, the pedagogues may also attend short courses at pedagogue colleges or
at Centres for Further Education (CVUs). Pedagogues can also attend longer-term
diploma courses provided by CVUs or a university, formally at the same level as the
basic training for pedagogues. These diploma programmes are often a way into further
university studies at a Masters level, which have become quite popular among
pedagogues now they have the possibility to take such courses. Such training enables
pedagogues to take forward particular interests. For example, in their observational work,
pedagogues in recent years have become interested in anthropological methods, and this
has stimulated interest in studying at the Department of Educational Anthropology at the
Danish University of Education. In September 2002, pedagogues made up 56 per cent of
students, well ahead of school teachers.
Responsibility for shorter courses rests with individual centres, which can decide how to
allocate time and funds. But for longer courses (such as diplomas) the municipalities may
pay. Training will be included as part of pedagogues’ working hours. None of the
informants except one was obliged to participate in further training, but as one notes
“there is an expectation of professional and personal development although this isn’t a
A number of the pedagogues interviewed have participated in further training courses,
including two who have taken higher degrees. The practitioners interviewed in the study
expressed some contrasting views about the adequacy of opportunities for further
training. Half were satisfied, but a third were not.
The basic training of nursery workers in Hungary takes place in the system of social
vocational training, while that of kindergarten pedagogues is in the teacher training
system. This means differences both in the level of education (the former is at an upper
secondary level, the latter at a tertiary level) but also in administrative responsibility. The
Ministry of Health, Social and Family Affairs is responsible for the content of nursery
worker education, the Ministry of Education for the education of kindergarten
There are also differences in the traditions of the two types of work. Health and care
aspects have always been strong in nursery work, reflecting perceptions about the needs
of the age group of children. This is part of the reason why education for this work has
remained within the secondary vocational system. However, the central role of nevelés in
kindergarten work and changes in the interpretation of the concept have strengthened the
intellectual aspects of the profession, and ensured a higher level of basic education.
The initial education of nursery workers consists of a 3 year course in a vocational
secondary school, taken after the completion of secondary education. Out of a course of
4,600 hours, some 5 per cent is allocated to pedagogy and the division between theory
and practice is 50/50. There is a central curriculum, but some scope for schools and
teachers to emphasise certain topics and choose their methods: so there are some
differences between the schools.
Soon, however, a new form of basic training will be available for nursery workers.
Though the number of hours is reduced, it is intended to be of a higher standard, since it
will be delivered by better-qualified teachers in teacher training colleges, and the
qualification will be at a higher level. Increased attention will be paid to pedagogy, which
will have the same weight as health, emphasising the equal importance attached to care
and education. The proportion of time allowed for practical placements will fall to 33 per
By contrast there is no central programme for the education of kindergarten pedagogues,
although the National Curriculum Development Committee requires 75 per cent
similarity between the training of the various teaching institutions. Thirty per cent of the
course is allocated to practice placements.
In Hungary, further training is compulsory for staff both in nurseries and in
kindergartens. The present system requires both groups to obtain a certain number of
credit points every seven years by completing accredited courses. This is a necessary
requirement for registration, as this informant explains.
People who want to work as care workers have to register themselves. This means
that during the course of the registration process they undertake to collect the
necessary 60 credit points in various further training programmes over the course
of a 7 year period. If they achieve this within the 7 year period, they are entered
into the records for a further 7 years. If, however, they don’t achieve this, their
registration ceases. Thus, it is necessary to collect this number of further training
points every 7 years in order to be able to work in the profession.
In theory, workers are free to decide what kind of courses they wish to attend. But in
practice, the freedom of choice may suffer as the institution can prescribe the completion
of a certain course by a given employee; or, if the institution does not support the course
chosen by an employee, then it can claim that such additional knowledge is not needed
and will not, therefore, be paid for. A national policy maker observed that courses are
getting more and more expensive and that, while the completion of compulsory
programmes is largely supported by the state, state subsidies have not increased at the
same rate as the cost of these programmes.
Spain, like Hungary, has two substantial groups of workers with young children: teachers
and technicians. Like Hungary, their basic training differs, with the group working
exclusively with children under 3 (technicians) having a lower level. Initial education for
teachers, consisting of a 3 year university course, totals 2460 hours. There are four main
subject areas. The first (accounting for 25 per cent of the total) deals with the history and
theory of education, including developmental and educational psychology and sociology.
The second (32 per cent) is a combination of subjects like language, literature, maths,
social and natural sciences. The third (20 per cent) is devoted to arts – music, movement
and dance, amongst others. Finally, the students can choose from a range of other
subjects (23 per cent). The degrees in primary and infant education are separate, but have
up to 50 per cent of their credits in common.
Initial education for technicians specializing in early childhood education is technical,
rather than at university, and consists of a 2 year course, totaling 2000 hours. There are
three main groups of subjects to be covered. The first (accounting for 48 per cent of the
total) deals with the history and theory of education and psychology in the early years.
The second (21 per cent) is about didactic methods, and a the third group (21 per cent)
covers issues such as music, arts, movement and play.
Practice on both courses has a relatively minor part. It accounts for only 13 per cent of
the teacher training course: two weeks in the first year, one month in the second and two
months in the third. The time alloted to practice on coursse for technicians – 20 per cent –
is more than for teachers, but still less than for Danish pedagogues.
Courses are the product of national guidelines and some institutional autonomy, though
less than in Denmark. Most of the course – between 60 and 80 per cent - is determined by
the Ministry of Education in Madrid. The rest is decided by individual universities, but
subject to Ministry approval.
Further training is not, as in Hungary, compulsory – although as one trainer observes it is
‘morally’ compulsory: “[teachers] don’t feel obliged to do it, rather they want to do it.
The demand for continuous training is very high”. It can take various forms. Many
teachers go on to do masters degrees. There is training on the job organised by centres for
their staff: much of this focuses on practitioners’ own experience (‘advisory’ training).
Universities, other training institutions and regional governments offer courses. Then
there is the summer school, a strong tradition in parts of Spain, which are organised
during the summer holidays at a municipal level, for workers from the area: Barcelona,
for example, has a large summer school, attended by hundreds of workers with a varied
programme of seminars and lectures.
Further training requires not only a supply of courses and other opportunities, but also
conditions to create demand, including the availability of time and funding. In Hungary,
not only is further training required and (in theory, at least) funded by institutions, but
time is built in to the weekly work schedule. In a working week of 40 hours, 6 to 7 hours
are for direct work with children, the remaining ‘non contact’ time being available for
other tasks, such as preparing work and further education.
In Spain, the contract for school-based teachers stipulates that 5 of the 30 hours in their
working week should be ‘non contact’ time. But this has to cover a range of activities and
is still not felt to be enough:
The 5 supplementary hours are for internal meetings or meetings with parents,
co-ordinating with colleagues and preparing classes. Yes, we have (these non
contact) hours, but they are not enough, because once you have taken away the
meetings with parents, interviews with other professionals and the team meetings,
we are left with very few hours to prepare. The majority of us have to use our own
time to prepare classes.
The basic hours of work for teachers with children over 3 years and the availability of
some contact time, however inadequate they may be considered, are a distinct
improvement on the conditions for workers with children under 3 years. Another teacher,
employed in a non-school age-integrated centre, worked from 9 to 5.30, without non-
contact time: “there are a mountain of things to be prepared and we don’t have school
hours. Therefore you could say we are with the children almost all the time”. While a
leading member of the educational reform movement was insistent that practitioners
working with children under 3
should have working hours similar to those who teach in primary schools, that
means, 5 or 6 hours with the children. Moreover, within their working hours, they
should have some hours dedicated for training, for thinking, for discussions and
for talking with the parents. In this day and age, the only people contracted to do
40 hours in this country are teachers in infant schools [i.e. nurseries] belonging
to the Department of Education, they do 8 hours a day while most people do 37½
hours per week. It’s obscene!
Some courses were available during working hours and practitioners’ costs were paid by
government or other sources. But others took place outside working hours, and
practitioners might have to pay themselves, attending summer schools being one
4.2 The students
Pedagogue students in Denmark are admitted to the training programme based either on
their school exam marks (quota 1) or on a joint evaluation of their academic, professional
and personal background and experience (quota 2). A majority of the students are
admitted through quota 2, which favours older entrants, but in recent years the proportion
of quota 1 students has been on the increase. This is leading to more students being
admitted directly after high school or with only one year of work experience subsequent
to leaving high school: the tendency, though still not strong, is towards students being
A college lecturer in pedagogy notes the change: “You can say that many of those that
are admitted today are more prepared to study than was the case just 4 or 5 years ago,
when the quota was different”. The changes, however, have both positive and negative
consequences, because the improvement in the students’ formal academic background
has taken place at the expense of general life experience. The same lecturer points out
that the more experienced students admitted via quota 2 have their strong points:
Quite typically we always end up having some 36 to 38 year olds, and I even have
a 50 year old student right now in one of my classes, and it is evident that his
ability to reflect is extremely high, and he is also good at studying, but he has
incredibly low self confidence - he is not sure that he knows enough, that he will
be capable of writing anything. ‘Oh God, now I need to work with the PC.’ So his
problems are different to the ones the younger students have, who can make
everything look very professional just with the touch of a button. But when it
comes to adding reflections to their [written presentations] then some of them are
sometimes really at a loss.
The Danish system therefore encourages a rather diverse student body, varying in age,
maturity, experience and qualifications. This can present a challenge to trainers: “My
level of freedom is very high, but in reality it isn’t very high, because it’s the students
[level of competence that decides] what can be taught and what forms of teaching are
most appropriate…In relation to differentiated teaching, it is very important that it is
sensitive to … that it is personalised toward where the students are.”
In Hungary, trainers of nursery workers also note some change in students, but not, as in
Denmark, in terms of age but rather motivation. Nowadays there are few course entrants
who do not really want to work with young children, who “only come here because they
were not accepted anywhere else”. However both here, and in the training of
kindergarten pedagogues, the selection process is inadequate. For students training to be
nursery workers, there are no entrance examinations and no tests measuring the aptitude
for the profession: a school qualification is sufficient criterion for entry. In the case of
kindergarten pedagogues, there is rather more opportunity to filter out the students who
are not really suitable for the profession, but it is not really adequate either: some entrants
do come on courses because they were not accepted elsewhere. At present there is a
tendency that young people graduating from secondary schools, if they are unable to get
into the college or university of their choice, complete a “less difficult” teacher training
course. They then use their degree as a pedagogue as a stepping-stone, moving on to train
for the profession they originally wanted to follow.
An issue in Spain is the lack of employment for students once graduated. This trainer of
technicians estimated only 20 per cent of her students went on to work in services for
The rest of them don’t find places….In my last group we found (jobs for) 4. The
others work in other areas. We have students that work as secretaries, that work
as lunchtime supervisors, that work on assembly lines. They study infant
education but afterwards they don’t look for work of this kind. Because it pays
less. An infant teacher earns much less. They study it because they enjoy it. And
they think one day they will do this type of job. But many don’t end up working in
infant education. Not many at all.
4.3 Opinions on training
Much of the reflection in Denmark revolves around the possibilities and limitations of the
post-1992 basic training for an integrated profession that is now very wide-ranging in its
areas of work – the pedagogue as worker with people from 0 to 100! A local policy-
maker involved in the development of the integrated training supports the ‘generalist
approach’ because she believes there are certain common capabilities that are required by
pedagogues whoever they work with:
I believe that the fundamental parts of a pedagogue’s work, the fundamental
elements, remain the same regardless of whether they work with senior citizens or
children in a day-care nursery. The knowledge you are required to have of the
target group is, of course, not the same, but you do need to have a knowledge of
people’s development from 0 to 100 or the life of a person and what is important
during the different phases of life. This is something that I believe they should
bring with them from the training and which has not been targeted sufficiently
A counter-argument – that important specialist capabilities have been lost – is put by the
trade union official, who was
a little concerned whether or not the new programme would be capable of
covering what the old programmes did. I do believe we have lost something. The
social pedagogues will say that we have lost the social pedagogy and the leisure
time pedagogues will argue that we have lost some of the leisure time pedagogy.
Some experienced pedagogues feel that new pedagogues lack knowledge, and some
placement institutions have been irritated to receive students who are not familiar with
their practice area. Trainers themselves recognise that under the generalist approach all
students cannot be equally equipped to deal with all possible work settings. One trainer
suggests that the current courses are better for some types of work than others, being
adequate for work in services for young children and perhaps, too, school-age childcare,
but not with regard to youth work. Another, however, sees courses providing possibilities
for students to become more specialised:
Now that the training programme has been extensively expanded, it is obvious we
cannot impart insight and abilities covering all of the enormous practice area
covered by the programme. The way it works is that they become more or less
specialised through the work placement and immersion periods they select
The national policy maker felt that the implication of generalist basic training was the
need for stronger continuous training: “basic training is fine, but more is needed. On-
going training is very important. To expect we can accommodate everything in the basic
training programme – it just wouldn’t work”.
Several informants express a concern about ‘academisation’. This takes various forms.
The trade union official fears that important areas of pedagogy may get lost in the process
of upgrading basic training, most recently to degree status:
What worries me a lot is whether we will lose the creative subjects…I sometimes
fear that everything becomes a little too…well-educated. Well, too scientific or ..
while at the same time we need extensive theory and a basic knowledge, I do feel
that many colleges have downgraded these things…This is what has happened
within the nursing area. I think they have lost something in their eager attempts to
academicise their education, or that’s the way they would look at it.
Others are in favour of the increasing level of training, but recognise the risks of losing
something important in the pedagogical tradition. A trainer believes that increasing
educational levels is the “best move we have made…[but it is] very important to ensure
that [it] does not lead to the disappearance of the uniqueness of the pedagogical
tradition”. While another trainer recognises the need to “take care in what we are doing,
when raising the bar of the profession, that it does not become one-sided, that it does not
become too theoretical and that practice and cultural and activity subjects remain focal
Another trainer notes a similar issue. He points out that, in principle, pedagogues perform
work which ordinary, untrained people can handle. So given that society today requires
you to have 3 ½ years of education in order to handle such tasks, this must be done with
great humility: one purpose of such a long education may be to become more aware of
what you do not know. A pedagogue touches on the same area, when she expresses a
worry that training may take the place of necessary life experience, especially where
pedagogues go into training straight from school.
In Hungary, informants were positive about many aspects of basic training and on-going
training opportunities. There were, however, three substantial reservations. One
concerned the structure and orientation of current training. While two questioned the
structure of training (and, by implication, of the workforce).
The training for nursery workers is more practice oriented than the training for
kindergarten pedagogues, which places more emphasis on theory. But both sets of
practitioners often said that the practice element of training was inadequate.
Improvements were also needed in terms of training students better in implementing and
using theoretical knowledge and in reflecting on practice, to be more able to think for
themselves. This was most clearly articulated by a trainer of kindergarten pedagogues.
She argued that more emphasis needed to be placed on applied knowledge and problem-
solving thinking, which in turn required a ‘paradigm shift’ in the whole Hungarian
education system rooted, as it was, in ‘Prussian traditions’ – in short, a shift from a
transmission model of education.
The entire school system is based upon such receptive knowledge. They say, you
know, that the student receives the knowledge, thus in truth the creative,
independent work, which is of vital importance in any career, does not receive the
required place in primary or secondary schools and when the students come here,
then this is the most difficult thing to achieve, although one of the most important
conditions of suitability for the career is the extent to which they are able to use
the knowledge they have obtained flexibly, creatively, in life situations and
problem situations, as this is what the whole practice is all about. In processes,
many things are quite unpredictable. ..and in these cases you need imagination,
creativity, flexible ways of thinking, well here there is a problem that applicable
knowledge, I mean studying or teaching in preparation for problem situations, is
pushed into the background. This is rather the result of a reproductive, skill-
storing knowledge, so they study many things in theory, you know there have been
attempts in Western Europe because they are looking for the solution there too as
to how to make preparation more effective and in such a problem-centred system
they try to think, I mean they arrange the training based around pedagogical
problems… I believe that it would represent a change in the entire teaching
method, in the teaching method which goes into the whole system if they were to
be capable of forming their own views, the students don’t tend to do this, it is hard
to get anything out of them and then they say that they have always just listened.
Almost all informants in Hungary criticized the present training system for providing too
low a level of training for nursery workers. They are not satisfied with the upper
secondary level training currently available, and think tertiary level training is needed.
Some think that the relatively low level of training deters young people from studying to
become nursery workers. A national policy maker argued that low level training
adversely affected nursery workers’ employment conditions: “The only problem is that
we have not succeeded in providing college education for nursery workers. This
represents an obstacle to pay rises and advancement on the public sector wage scale.” At
the same time, kindergarten pedagogues mentioned that the level of training in itself does
not guarantee good status and earnings: they were trained at tertiary level, but still felt
pay and status were poor.
The third reservation was about over-specialisation – the exact reverse of Danish
generalism. One of the informants participating in the training of nursery workers
expressed her views about the split system of services and training. She considered the
two services for young children and the work in them very similar so there is no
justification for the present split system: in her opinion the two types of training – nursery
and kindergarten worker - should not be divided. Early childhood does not end at age 3,
and it would make more sense to cover 0 to 6 years in the training, with perhaps an
opportunity to specialize in under 3s or 3 to 6 year olds during the second half of the
More generally, informants voiced their worries about their professions being and
becoming more and more specialized. Some criticised the lack of transferability.
Qualifications – whether for nursery or kindergarten work – are usually recognised only
for these particular services, so it is not possible to work anywhere else. Recently,
however, there have been some positive changes in this respect at some colleges where it
has become possible to obtain a combined kindergarten pedagogue and primary school
teacher degree. However, this is still not very common.
The main criticism in Spain was that there was too little practice in training. This teacher
trainer identified the problem from a training perspective:
The ratio [of practice] should be about 50 per cent. But, in reality, the practice
part is not sufficient, it’s limited. Theory feeds practice, but practice should feed
back in to theory. If there isn’t a contrast, theory remains dead. I would say there
is 90 per cent theory, separate from the practical.
This view was shared by practitioners, such as these three practitioners, the first two
teachers, working with children under 3 and 3 to 6 respectively, the third a technician:
In the university, it was basically theory and the practical side was missing
I think that what really helps you to learn is working with children. It’s good,
obviously, that there is all of the theoretical part (pedagogic, didactic,
psychological), but I think that the way to learn is by being with the children and
going to work with them…I think that the actual training doesn’t sufficiently
prepare for the practical part. I don’t think that it is a disaster: the people who
go, they are put to work and disasters don’t happen. But ideally, no. It is a job
which carries a lot of responsibility. I think that there should be much more
preparation. Many things are missing, because it is a job with a lot, a lot of
responsibility. They are dealing with human lives and you are responsible for how
they do this.
The course gives you a title, it helps you to know people, but there has to be more
face-to-face experience with the children. Lots of things are missing. For
example, if there was a child now with some kind of syndrome...I have no idea
what I would do.
4.4 Concluding comments
Centre-based work with young children requires basic training and qualifications. This is
the case in all three countries, and no informants doubted the necessity not only for
training and qualification, but also at a high level. Key staff groups in all three countries
were trained at tertiary (university) level, and there was some feeling in at least one
country that other workers should be trained at this level too.
Moreover, there is clearly an upward movement in terms of levels of training. The Danish
pedagogue training is now at degree level; colleges for training Hungarian kindergarten
pedagogues are being integrated into universities and Spanish teachers are also university
trained; while the training of Hungarian nursery workers has also just been enhanced.
However, in Hungary and Spain there remains a split system of training, with students
training for jobs working exclusively with children under 3 having lower levels: the
younger the child, the lower the training.
The issues in basic training are therefore not about whether and where, but about what
and how. We have seen three issues emerge. First, the degree of generalisation or
specialisation. At the one extreme is the Danish pedagogue training, for a profession that
works across the life course and in very many different settings. This breadth is the result
of a 1992 reform that brought together three previously separate professions and training
courses. At the other extreme, the training in Hungary is limited to work with a very
narrow age range and in one type of setting. Spanish teachers have a rather wider remit,
but are specialists in work with young children only.
Second, there is the place of practice placements in training. There is no dispute about the
‘academisation’ of training, in the sense that it should be part of higher education, nor
that there needs to be a theoretical component. What is more contentious is the
importance of working with children as part of training (the place of experience in
gaining knowledge) and how big a part that should play as part of training. Is there, at
present, too much or too little practice?
Practice placements are rather prominent in Danish courses, but rather restricted in
Spanish courses, especially for teachers. There is the issue also of the student’s position
while on placement, and the role of the placement institution. Different concepts of the
student’s position are matched by different concepts of the role of the institution, in
particular how actively it is engaged in the educational process.
Practice placements can also be seen as part of a bigger issue: the relationship between
theory and practice. How can theory play an active part in work with young children?
How can practitioners work with theory as a tool to improve their practice?
Third, there is the issue of diversity and uniformity. To what extent is training specified
by government and what autonomy is left to trainers to shape training locally. Denmark
seems to allow most local flexibility, in line with a strong commitment to
decentralisation. In this respect training and service provision have a similar position.
Further training is available in all three countries, although only in Hungary is it
compulsory. It can take many forms, from in-service work on individual practice through
to trained workers studying for further degrees. Important questions concern not only the
range of subjects and courses available and accessibility, but also the levels at which
training is available and to what extent further training opens the way to new
CHAPTER FIVE : WHAT IS WORK WITH YOUNG CHILDREN?
In this chapter we get to the heart of the matter: how is work with young children
understood? Because we have focused on centre-based services, we begin by asking what
our three case countries consider to be the purpose of these institutions. What are they
for? We then consider how the practitioners view their work, and what skills and
capabilities these understandings require. Lastly we look at whether there are any clear
and overt influences on their work, theoretically or in terms of inspiration from particular
individuals or other experiences of work with young children.
5.1 The purpose of services for young children
The Danish practitioners share the general policy orientation, discussed in Chapter 2, that
services for young children are not only to provide childcare for working parents. Indeed
all informants share a view that the role of the Danish early childhood institution, and the
perception of that role, goes well beyond a ‘care’ function. They see these services
providing a broad social function, which can be summed up as contributing to the
upbringing of children, in co-operation with the parents. Today, as the border between
family and formal care has been shifting, parents and institutions both play an essential
role in this task of children’s upbringing, as this pedagogue reflects:
Although (upbringing) is a terrible word, I cannot think of any other appropriate
description. And who has the greatest influence on the upbringing of children – us
or the parents? I have been thinking a lot about this issue and I still believe that
the parents have a significant influence, but I also believe we (pedagogues) are
gaining an increasing influence on the upbringing of children…
Q.: Is your work important for society?
Fifty years ago I would have answered no, I do not think so, it is more the fact
that parents are there that matters. But I do believe so many things are happening
and society has changed. The parents are preoccupied with their lives and
careers. This may not be the right form of development. I am not an expert on this
issue. But this is the way it is. The children must be placed somewhere but they
should not be stored away in that place. They must be given a good life. A life
with challenges, a life that is worth waking up to. They should be looking forward
to the day at the kindergarten or the nursery…It is important and this is also the
way we do things. We teach the children many different things. We teach them to
socialise, they learn about materials, the forest, the world and basically
everything. We teach them how to eat food in the proper way, to be friends and be
good to one another.
We can see expressed in this quotation a number of key ideas found in today’s Denmark
about the purpose of services for young children. They create spaces where children are
happy, can live a good life and develop, and they prepare children for life. They
foreground the social and encompass culture and values, learning in its broadest sense
and development. These ideas are also expressed by a kindergarten pedagogue when she
puts the task of institutions such as the one in which she works in this way:
The key goal for me is for the children to develop and grow well. In the old days,
we used to talk a lot about the need for the children to be taken care of, but today
we have fortunately moved away from this strategy to focus on development
instead…[I]n the current environment, with a society in which both mum and dad
are working for several hours, then it is our job to create a free space for the
children where they can prosper and develop and become acquainted with each
Centres are also seen as ‘spaces’ for the transmission and production of culture. As this
in a day care institution such as this one…there is a considerable amount of
culture communicated by the adults to the children and I interpret culture in its
broadest sense, and that…in a place like this, there are numerous traditions,
routines and norms and values that we automatically – I mean, we are after all
role models for the children – that we transfer to the kids…I consider the
institutions as providing a cultural space with a high degree of culture
communicated, between the children themselves, I mean it is a children’s culture
and also there is the culture between adults and children. At the same time, there
is a great production of culture.
Centres have a very important social function: they are places where groups of children
and adults live together. Pedagogues, and parents, believe young children benefit from
being together, at least from their second year of life: “the parents are not really
discussing whether or not their children should be at the institution, rather it is taken for
granted they will meet other children there”. Centres provide opportunities to gain social
competencies, which enable children “to interact with other people and learn how to pay
attention to and collaborate with other people”: such competences are essential to
successful development and a good and productive life. Centres are group settings, and
participation in a community, including its daily life, is a core theme of these institutions:
centres support “each child individually and as a member of a group”.
They provide a challenge to, and defense against, a time-governed and strident world:
“People are very rushed these days and need to do so many things in a short time. You
only have one childhood and it is important to say that you should take your time and the
children need to experience peacefulness as well”. In this, but other respects too,
institutions for young children today complement, rather than substitute the home: they
offer possibilities that are unique to a group setting given over to the interests of children.
Another function is to inculcate democratic values: “this is the main theme for me. If I
had to give a one word summary that would be democracy, that the children learn to feel
they are participating in a democracy”. In this respect, it is important to note that
children’s participation is among the principles recognized in the Serviceloven (Social
Services Act). While Denmark has also been the scene of much innovative research and
practice on young children’s participation (e.g. Langsted,1994; Poulsgaard, 2001; Clark,
McQuail and Moss, 2003).
While emphasizing the universal role of services for young children, it is also widely
recognized that they serve a child and family welfare role. Another of the principles in
the Serviceloven is that centres must be regarded as a resource in connection with
preventive work, i.e. the staff must, in co-operation with other professionals, provide the
special support that is needed by some children and families.
Centres are well placed to perform this role because of their universal scope: so many
children attend and problems can be spotted and acted upon at an early stage. Staff can
also provide counseling for parents, who are often uncertain and lack knowledge and
experience about children’s upbringing.
Hungarian centres also see their purpose in holistic terms. Their task is to meet the child’s
physical, emotional and psychological needs, and to support his or her learning and
development - emotional, social and cognitive. They are essential in children’s
socialization. All children need to be with peers, especially those who do not have a
brother or sister.
Kindergartens should help children reach school readiness, but not through ’school-type’
teaching methods or teaching children the alphabet or numbers – though many parents
think this is exactly what kindergratens should be doing. Kindergarten pedagogues, like
their Danish counterparts, distinguish themselves from school teachers. Their purpose is
broader: to help children grow up to be healthy, active and interested in the world. Here,
for example, is a statement of general principles and pedagogical goals from the
programme of a particular kindergarten (each kindergarten must develop a programme
within national guidelines), illustrating this breadth of purpose:
The definition of the goals and tasks of upbringing/education (here the Hungarian
word ’nevelés’ is used – see Chapter 2) in kindergartens, on the basis of the
functions of kindergartens is as follows:
Looking after, protecting, social, pedagogial and personality development
Promoting the complete and harmonious development of children’s personality
between 3 and 7 years of age, taking into consideration age and individual
characteristics as well as different rates of development.
Creating an optimal development level of school readiness.
Protecting health, developing a positive relationship with the environment and
acquaintance with the branches of art; as well as cultivating/fostering the mother
tongue and national culture; compensating for disadvantages and preventing
their formation; and fostering unfolding talents.
Ensuring physical, emotional and mental well-being of children, as well as their
To contribute to the development of an attitude of being responsible for healthy
life and for the environment through an experience and activity-oriented
pedagogical influence in an intimate atmosphere rich in emotions.
Complementing family upbringing, ensuring comprehensive development by
taking into consideration the maturation processes of the kindergarten age group,
promoting the development of children’s personality through diverse activities,
promoting healthy physical and mental development.
Meeting the physical, emotional, social and mental needs of children in an
intimate, family like atmosphere, through the co-operation with the family and the
wider environment, by observing the ethics of pedagogy, and by keeping the high
priority of play activities, offering a choice of varied activities and the possibility
to obtain various experiences. It is also the goal to ensure the necessary
To ensure the development of the children in an intimate, loving and cheerful
atmosphere through attractive activities based on their interest, on their love of
physical activities and play…To develop an approach based on protecting the
natural and social values, ensuring the development of social sensibility and self-
Within these general aims, certain specific objectives are set for the individual children,
depending on their developmental status and particular needs. So, specific objectives are
always tailored to the individual children and/or groups within the broader aims.
Again as in Denmark, there is a feeling among practitioners that their responsibility for
the children and their future is very great, not least because children can spend longer
time at a centre than at home:
The influence of the workers and the environment determine to a great extent
what kind of person the child is going to be. She learns a lot in the centre: to
walk, to talk, to learn about himself, to live together with other children, to think,
to play and to be creative. It is not an easy job to take care of them, to ensure
their safety, physical and emotional well-being and to support their development.
As in Denmark, there is also a feeling that these institutions are increasingly
supplementing or complementing the role of parents in a fast changing world, in which
the border between home and centre, informal and formal upbringing, is changing: “the
world has changed a lot around us, everyone seems to be in a hurry. There are many
families who do not seem to have the time to be with their children”. This kindergarten
teacher feels that
I am doing what a decade ago was completely, naturally primarily the task
of the family…Nowadays, making up for many of the things parents do not
provide is part of the kindergarten’s basic functions, whether we want it to
be or not. However, in the interest of the child, the kindergarten pedagogue
has to be good at an ever greater number of things.”
Sometimes these reflections are tinged, perhaps, with a rather more critical view of
parents and their inadequacies or at least a feeling that many parents today are not
coping: “There are families who do not really look after their child [not only due to
financial difficulties] so it is a better place for her or him.” Some practitioners even say
that the child and the family should be educated together since many new parents do not
know enough about caring and looking after young children. Others take this even
further, expressing a view that there is an ever growing number of young children who
need provision specifically to help parents learn about supporting their child’s
Centres in Hungary, as in Denmark, also have an explicity child welfare role. The system
of child protection can require parents to use nurseries where children are deemed to be at
risk or if parents are otherwise considered to have failed to meet their obligations towards
their child. Under education legislation, kindergarten workers are required to cooperate
with child welfare agencies whose task it is to coordinate action involving different
professionals and services. The same law requires the employment in every kindergarten
and school of a part-time professional worker with responsibility for child protection;
although the law does not cover nurseries, most now also employ a similar worker.
5.2 How is the work understood
We have already described how in each of our three case countries there is a broad
conceptual context that provides a particular orientation to policy, provision and practice:
in the case of Denmark, the context is explicitly pedagogical, in Spain (at the time of the
fieldwork) explicitly educational; while in Hungary it might be said that there are
elements of pedagogy and education. In no case does the concept of childcare dominate,
though in all three countries the need to provide care for children while parents are at
work is recognised as an important part of the larger, more holistic concept defining the
work. Now that both parents usually work, it is necessary to ensure children are cared for
safely – but that is just one part of the purpose of institutions and of the work that goes on
Within these broad contexts and given how practitioners understand the purposes of the
institutions in which they work, how do they understand their work? What is it they do?
What does it mean to be a pedagogue or a teacher or a nursery worker?
If the Danish centre is a place for upbringing, then the Danish pedagogue is an upbringer
of children. But ideas about what this means have changed over the last 20 years. Then
there were two dominant and conflicting understandings of the role of the pedagogue.
One arose out of struktureret pædagogik (structured pedagogy), where the pedagogue
had a very central and directive role in the children’s activities. The other was
erfaringspædagogik (experience pedagogy), where the pedagogue’s role was more
withdrawn and non-directive, though none the less important. From the last
understanding came another: selvforvaltningspædagogikken (self-management
All three are about dannelsesidealer (ideals of cultural formation). We have already
referred (in Chapter 2) to the importance of the concept of dannelse (cultural formation),
which “expresses ideals of upbringing and development with a view to living a good life
of the individual and the community…on the basis of overall ideals of development”.
Much of the work of the Danish pedagogue can be understood in relation to this concept,
with a continuous and reflective process of adapting practice to better achieve these
The Danish practitioners talked a lot about certain themes in their work: self- and co-
determination; freedom and equality; nature and outdoor life; culture and playing;
comfort, intimacy and contact; viewing the child in the right perspective and responding
to the child on the child’s terms; learning and the support of development. The work of
the Danish pedagogue is shaped by these interlinked ideals about values, images (social
constructions) of the child and relationships: these define what they are working towards
and their practices.
What are the ideals of development that the pedagogue is working towards? Principally,
the goal is the autonomous, competent and self-determining human being – but also a
person who can combine individuality with community, the personal with the social. The
interviews with the Danish pedagogical staff clearly show the importance attached to the
free, competent and democratic human being. Democratic values are fundamental, both
to inculcate these in children but also to relate to children democratically, treating them
as equal and with respect. These ideals – of the free, capable, independent and democratic
individual – are central to understand the work of pedagogues, because their work is
largely about supporting children’s development according to these ideals.
In the practice of pedagogy, there is a lot of talk about co-determination, self-
determination and self-management. But the concept of self-management, which has
been popular since the early 1990s, is now being debated and criticised partly because of
its ambiguity. A distinction is drawn between ‘self-management’ - where children
essentially make all their own decisions, which young children are not yet ready for; and
‘self-determination’ - where some limits are set by adults and autonomy is seen is
something done in relation with others:
We have placed the toys in baskets that are on the shelves within easy reach of the
children and this means the children are able to go and get the toys they want to
play with. This gives them a feeling of control over their own world. It helps to
develop their independence…We apply the pedagogical concept of self-
determination. The children should be allowed the greatest possible influence on
their daily life, whilst still being subject to certain limitations. We should not
force the children into doing something they do not like.
In addition to selecting their own toys, other examples of self-determination frequently
mentioned include choices about where, when and with whom to play. Children being
able to eat and drink when they want, rather than in accordance with institutional
timetables, is also cited: “in some institutions the children are not allowed to eat until the
adults allow them and that is really a pretty stupid routine that has developed and which
is obstructing the children’s views on things and their needs and desires”.
The pedagogue fosters self-determination and co-determination, the ability to recognise
personal needs, internal control, making choices and appreciating their consequences,
listening to others and negotiation. This requires a balance all the time between the
individual and the group or community, and social competence is as important as
independence. This pedagogue explains that he wants to teach children under 3 years that
it is good that we are together, and that you can do things on your own, but that
you can achieve more when there are two, three or four of you. That it is
important to have someone to comfort you when you are sad. And that it is
important to have someone to be angry at…[W]e want to train the individual’s
self-understanding in a community. Damn, no, this is not the proper explanation,
but we focus very much on each child as well as on the group and the community
and your ability to be part of it.
In this context of self-determination, the focus now is much more on the perspective of
the child, with the pedagogue more withdrawn and less directive. But the pedagogue and
pedagogue assistant are still important and active: as role models for the children and to
guide, support, motivate, stimulate and create opportunities to ensure a good life for the
children and the development of skills. And the concept of self-determination, with its
central issue of the balance between child autonomy and adult authority, is a source of
much debate in pedagogical work. What can and should children decide for themselves?
And when and how should adults set limits?
Another important quality, much emphasised today, is self worth – a strong, internal
ability to accept yourself, which requires supporting children’s identities. One pedagogue
working with children under 3 years summed this up as institutions providing children
with opportunities “to get to know themselves better” and to feel confident that “I have
my own personality and that it will also be accepted”.
A key theme in pedagogical work with young children is nature. An important aspect
concerns the child’s relationship with nature, and in particular the importance of the
external environment – the ‘natural world’ – and natural materials. This pedagogue works
in a kindergarten with a large area of surrounding land and several animals:
There is more freedom and more room for shouting, screaming and running.
There are many activities to do outside and all the things that develop the
children’s motor functions as well as developing them socially are to be found
outside as well. You can pick up a little earthwork and hold it with a pair of
tweezers, you can do anything outside where there is lots of space…and in terms
of health it is often said ‘ I don’t know if it’s a fact, but you are tired in a different
way when you return home.
Another pedagogue is equally keen on nature, though in this case she works in an age-
integrated institution in a city centre:
Many of us like to be outside with the children and I also think it is important you
experience things in nature together with children. It provides you with chances
to do other activities when you are outside…We believe the children should come
out and get some fresh air everyday…We try to be very flexible so that all the
children do not necessarily have to all go out at the same time. Some children can
easily be allowed to continue playing and go outside later…but because of the
health aspects we believe they need to go out everyday for some fresh air. So to
keep some variety we try to do something different and on Fridays we have a fire
The importance attached to nature is not just expressed in playing outside. Children often
go to the countryside, and kindergarten children go on annual overnight trips, staying in
forest cabins or camping. Indeed, there are several hundred ‘forest kindergartens’, for
groups of children who spend all their time outside.
The discourse about nature has other facets. Freedom and nature are intertwined, where
nature refers to the child’s nature. The child should be given the freedom and opportunity
to express her nature in a natural way, often through creative activities. This means
striving to avoid barriers to free expression, such as strict rules, and providing conditions
for self-expression, such as space, rooms where children can play away from adult
supervision and having the right furniture. Play is a necessity – although respondents
make surprisingly little mention of play and the underlying pedagogical and
psychological theories of the importance of play for children.
Pedagogues attach importance also to children’s senses and to offering stimulating
experiences: they go on many trips outside their centres, create beautiful surroundings
including growing herbs and flowers, attach importance to food and eating:
Our staff believe that beautiful surroundings have a psychological impact. What
pleases the eye also pleases the soul…We think the same goes for the children, so
they should also be looking at beautiful surroundings on various levels…We
always have fresh flowers, for example on the tables
The pedagogue’s work involves children’s learning, but in this respect the pedagogue
differentiates herself from the school teacher. Our respondents generally do not support
the introduction into the services in which they work of systematic, school-oriented
teaching or centrally developed and prescriptive curriculum requirements. Indeed, several
define pedagogy and pedagogical work in contrast to a particular perception of the school
and of the school-orientation of services for young children in some other countries:
I got the feeling that we are more – that we put more focus on soft values than
others do. I think other [institutions for young children] around the world are
more focused on school and are thus more bound by rules and timetables. I don’t
think we are so pre-occupied with time
Another pedagogue captures the same ‘soft values’ and the centrality for pedagogues of
living alongside children, of bringing yourself as a human being to the work, of
informality and of working through relationships (also a view of a centre as more home-
like than institutional):
When you talk about activities, it sounds very adult, it is not a word I would use at
home…It is associated too much with institutional work, I believe. We do things
together. We play. We talk. We spend time together. We do nothing together. We
sometimes argue amongst each other. This is what you do at home too. This is the
way that people are together.
But the practitioners do talk about learning and the support of development as an
important part of bringing up children: they are not incompatible with informality.
Learning does not require a curriculum to occur, and is far broader than the transmission
of subject-based knowledge. It takes place in the wide range of varied activities and
relationships on offer in services for young children. It can, for example, take place
because children learn from the pedagogues:
In a day care institution like this one there is a considerable degree of cultural
communication between adults and children and I perceive culture in a broad
sense…[In] a place like this one there are lots of traditions, routines and norms
and sets of values that we automatically transfer to the children because we are
their role models. That is the role of the adult. The children look at you and it is
really vital you act properly in every aspect of life we meet together. I think you
have a big responsibility to think about this
Learning, therefore, includes many social and cultural aspects, including traditions,
norms and competencies. It also involves the acquisition of personal skills necessary for
greater independence: “Food is given a high priority, it is a time for getting together,
talking and learning that food is not just something we should get over and done with. We
spend the time that it takes for them to pour and serve the food and to make their open
sandwiches every Thursday”. Creative work also figures highly: working with clay and
wood, painting, music, song and reading.
We have emphasised throughout that pedagogy is more than care. It is possible to provide
care without being pedagogical. But care is an integral part of pedagogical work: “there
is a lot of care in the work I am doing although I am a pedagogue”. The caring aspect is
expressed, for example, in the attention paid to closeness and creating a sense of security
and trust: “you may plan a dozen things with the children, but what they really need is
care and the feeling that the adult is present, that we spend time together with them, that
we hug them if they are sad and that we sit next to them. Intimate contact, the social
dimension, is very important today when everyone is so busy”.
Closeness and a feeling of security, as well as other prioritised requirements of the work
such as peace, time to be alone and rest can be summed up under the concept of
‘cosiness’. This is expressed in the language used to describe institutions – reference is
made to the ‘house’ rather than the ‘centre’; in furnishings – epitomised by the frequent
presence of sofas; in children having free access to most areas – just like at home. Indeed,
despite their name, day care institutions have been rather de-institutionalised. This is
epitomised by one centre that goes to great lengths to create beautiful surroundings.
Candles at the children’s eye level and a sofa are two examples of creating a ‘home-like’
environment, an aim acknowledged by a pedagogue: “Yes, that is something we like.
Again, this (candles) is one of the ways in which we provide lighting and cosiness”.
Being a pedagogue is not confined to working with children. They have a lot to do with
parents, and the pedagogues’ role extends to proffering advice and counsel:
The parents actually use us a great deal, so when it comes to the parents right
here, then we are very important, first of all because we take care of their
children but also with regard to confusion and despair in day-to-day life. ‘What
are we doing wrong? How can we do better? How do you do it?’. In this context
they ask us for advice the same as they would ask a nurse for advice, so they use
us a great deal in the upbringing of their child.
This role is not confined to parents with less education or overt social problems. This
pedagogue has a group of parents who are
all well educated and well-funded…but I sense they are very uncertain. They are
often first timers or new parents. In this context I feel I make a big difference. It is
incredibly important that we co-operate with the parents.
Perhaps, as some pedagogues observe, they are taking over some of the tasks that
grandparents used to perform.
Before leaving Denmark, we need to ask whether the work of pedagogues and pedagogue
assistants is understood differently. Do they have clearly distinguished roles and tasks?
The answer, at least as revealed from interviews rather than observation, is ‘not really’.
Both groups to a large extent do similar work, and the pedagogues speak of the assistants
in a very respectful way. Any difference, in the view of the pedagogues, arises from their
training, and is in the way the work is done. This pedagogue’s view is typical:
Of course, there is a difference by virtue of the fact that we as trained staff have
an education and a theoretical background and experience, many years of
experience compared to the assistants who in general terms come and go. So in
the day-to-day work you do notice a difference…But when examining who
handles which tasks there is no big difference.
Another informant suggested that, on the basis of her experience both as an assistant and
now as a pedagogue, there was a difference in understanding of the work, related to
responsibility for the well-being of the children:
When I was an assistant, I obviously felt responsible for the running of the
nursery. I was also responsible for the orderliness of the nursery and obviously
for the children when we were out. But when I became a pedagogue, I suddenly
realised that I was responsible for the individual children as well. If there was a
child with problems, I also realised that I should take care of things. It was very,
very important, I believe, that I was responsible for the developmental functioning
and that the child’s social and physical state was as it should be. In this way, I
suddenly felt as if I was in another box, where before I might have said ‘yes, I do
take care of the child, but at the end of the day, I’m not responsible.’ That’s how I
Another element of difference, perhaps played down in the interviews, is the amount of
support and supervision that assistants get from pedagogues. A large Danish survey has
observed that, compared to workers in general, pedagogue assistants ’have a much higher
level of quality in management, social contact and support on the job’. The high level of
training of pedagogues may make an important contribution to this relationship with
Although Hungary, unlike Denmark, has different groups of practitioners for work with
children under and over 3 years, both groups – nursery workers and kindergarten
pedagogues – share certain important understandings of their work. Both view their work
as involving the development of children’s autonomy and the creation of opportunities
for learning. Both attach importance to ‘active learning’, where the emphasis is on
children’s own experience, and both place great emphasis on the role of play in this
learning process. When asked what they consider to be the most important aspects of
their work, in the questionnaire and in the course of the interview, all mention “to leave
as much time as possible for free play” and to “provide a safe environment”. Both give
second place to the ’creation of a safe environment’: this is considered important for
building a good relationship with parents based on confidence, since parents leave
children in the care of nurseries and kindergartens for the entire day – parents need to
know their children are in a safe and loving environment.
There is however some difference in emphasis between the two groups of workers. In
third place for importance, nursery workers mentioned “to teach children to care for
themselves and participate in the care routines”, while kindergarten pedagogues referred
to “passing on cultural values and preparing children for school”. Nursery workers talk
about the importance of “children spending time with their peers”, while kindergarten
pedagogues thought “creativity and independent thinking” to play a bigger role.
This does not mean that kindergarten teachers are not involved in care – as we have seen
these services are open on a full day basis, and provide inter alia ‘childcare for working
parents’. Nor does it mean that nurseries do not see themselves as having an important
educative and development role, even though this may not be recognised in the wider
society: “everyone believes we are no more than nannies…this picture is wrong”. As one
nursery worker put it “the essence is that with all playing and caring activities, with every
act of care work we try to educate the children for something that is necessary at their
stage of development”.
However, kindergarten pedagogues are a different occupational group, trained differently
and working within the education system. They work with children at a later stage of
development, which brings different possibilities and expectations. During the
kindergarten years, children’s education becomes increasingly more structured.
Kindergarten pedagogues are encouraged to provide as much time as possible for
playing, but there are also more formal occasions. By the time children are 4 and 5, there
are one or two ’circle’ sessions a day. These initially target attention, listening and
memory skills, then pre-mathematical and language skills. And although, as we have
seen, kindergarten pedagogues distinguish themselves from school teachers, one of their
tasks is to ready children for entry into compulsory schooling. So there are some
differences in emphasis between the two groups of workers - and between kindergarten
pedagogues in Hungary and pedagogues in Denmark.
The situation for workers has changed a lot since the socialist era. Pluralism and choice
are now important principles, with centres allowed to choose their own approach to
working with young children within the broad national guidelines. This trainer of
kindergarten teachers suggests that
60 per cent of [kindergartens] choose a programme, therefore there are a lot of
programmes in Hungary these days, institutions working according to different
principles…[T]here is pluralism, so the kindergartens operate according to a
variety of principles, thus the parents have the possibility to choose. Even the
kindergarten teacher has the possibility to choose whether she wants to work in a
Montessori kindergarten, a kindergarten that specialises in tales and verses,
whether she wants to work in a kindergarten with a looser or more fixed
system…What is emphasised in kindergarten work, that depends on those who
work and live [in the kindergarten] and as the possibility of choice is great in this,
there is not a general programme…[and] I believe there isn’t actually a need for
one as they create everything for themselves through innovations.
This diversity is even apparent within individual kindergartens. Many kindergartens use
various methods in their different groups: in one groups, tales and poems may be
emphasized, in another exercises are the key feature, while in another group alternative
pedagogical principles are applied. In addition to this, there are ‘traditional’ groups in
every kindergarten. Parents have the opportunity to become acquainted with the work
done in these groups, before choosing what group they want their child in.
As in Denmark, being a nursery worker or kindergarten pedagogue involves working
with parents, both on a day-to-day basis, but also on occasion when there are problems
within the family. As we have seen, nurseries and kindergartens have specific
relationship to the child welfare system.
All the interviews in Spain confirm a basically educational understanding of the work:
“definitely, we should be talking more about education and infant pedagogy than about
care or looking after”. The very first years, before 3, are seen as of great importance, a
period when children are learning and acquiring a wide range of skills – motor, cognitive,
social, linguistic and emotional.
The first years [are important], because I consider this is the moment at which the
human being consolidates his or her biological and psychological
foundations…[for] all of his development, cultural, social, environmental.
Therefore, I think it is a fundamental period in anyone’s life…We define the
people of the future in those first moments. At the same time as biological and
family factors…educational institutions [i.e. centres for young children] provide
the means for strengthening the basis of his or her own development as an adult.
In the earliest years, influenced by the work of the Lóczi Institute in Hungary (discussed
in section 5.4), practitioners talk about a ‘pedagogy of daily life’. This means paying
attention to the routines and activities of daily life, attaching value to them and
recognising their pedagogical significance and potential:
Sometimes adults, because of their own background and culture, are conditioned
into planning what we teach children, even the youngest ones. And generally what
we want to teach them is of no interest to them. [The value attached to daily life
by Lóczi] helped us to discover what is really important to them [young children],
so we came up with the idea of what is called ‘the pedagogy of daily life’. This
means what is important is eating, sleeping, changing nappies and playing.
5.3 What skills and capabilities do workers need
Central to the work of the Danish pedagogue are capabilities to do with relating and
reflecting, which enable the capable pedagogue to respond to the needs of the individual
and to set those in the context and needs of the larger group. All the Danish practitioners
talk about watching and listening to the children and about being close to and paying
attention to individuals. The Danish national report describes these qualities as
‘recognition and acknowledgement’, emphasising that these terms imply a relationship of
mutuality between equal parties. Two practitioners exemplify these qualities:
I encounter in the children an enormous ability to cooperate. I believe it’s
because they see me as someone who listens to them and respects them and takes
them seriously. And also who is attentive and focused on them, not this stressed-
out adult who is always interested in something different and who never really
has time to talk with the children, time to listen to them and time to comfort them,
when they need it. I very rarely need to raise my voice and I also believe that I
radiate security towards the children.
[The children] are taken into consideration during the entire day. We obviously
meet the needs but we also teach them that they are part of the social community.
There should be room for everyone and we all matter, whether you are a child or
an adult. …This also applies when we are talking, so we are not just talking with
the child over there, but rather I am talking with you right now. It is about being
listened to. You are being listened to as much as possible. They may all be
shouting at the same time, but you hear what the child tells you.
This attentiveness and responsiveness is complemented by other qualities: the ability to
show empathy; being able to communicate well – with children, parents and other
professionals; observing, describing findings and making interpretations. Because
pedagogues do not follow prescriptive programmes and detailed timetables, they have to
be flexible and able to negotiate and collaborate. It is a condition of their work that there
are no certain and objective answers – the concrete situation always plays a role and must
This leads to one of the most important capabilities required of good pedagogical work:
reflectiveness. The pedagogues talk a lot, implicitly and explicitly, about reflexivity. It is
what especially marks out a professionally trained worker, this ability to think critically
about the work and your relationship to it. Reflexivity needs to be applied to many
aspects of the work: listening, personal attitudes and roles, how to respond to and make
best use of a particular situation, the needs of individual children and the group,
collaboration with colleagues, the child’s perspective:
The children see the world from a different perspective than I do. This may be
difficult, although I strive to see the world from their point of view, but I think it is
difficult. I am an adult and they are children. I believe these are two very different
ways of seeing the world, but I try
Last, but not least, pedagogues must be willing and able to discuss. The pedagogical
culture is characterised by a democratic tradition, so the daily work is inevitably marked
by many discussions. Almost all respondents state that the daily work is based on
decisions jointly taken and continuously modified by pedagogues. Values and actions are
continuously reflected upon and discussed:
Everything must be discussed down to the tiniest detail. Can the children sit on
the table or not. I might think it is OK as long as they are not eating….but this is
my opinion and it cannot be taken for granted that others think the
same…Everybody here, I think, demands influence and wants influence
In Hungary, the most typical answer of the interviewed practitioners and trainers was that
those working in this profession have, first and foremost, to be fond of children. It is
impossible to assess how widely this view is shared, given the limitation of our sample. It
is certainly true that nursery workers who are still in centres are the ones who have stayed
in the profession for a long time, despite low pay, low prestige and extensive closure of
centres. Maybe these are the ones for whom love children is the most important aspect of
Practitioners, it was said, also need to be tolerant, empathetic and persistent, and to have
the necessary communication skills.
A pedagogue cannot undertake this job without the love of children…an inner
disposition is needed!
Tolerance is the most important! To accept others as they are, not to change
them, because it is not our job, and cannot be done, anyway! … Well, in this
profession you need a lot of patience, love, calling and disposition.
Both of these practitioners used a word that most nearly translates into English as
‘disposition’. In fact almost every person interviewed used this word. However the term
was rarely explained. Those who tried said that it meant a ‘commitment’, a view of life
that is focused on children from every aspect. As we shall see in Chapter 7, practitioners
thought the work had low public status and was very badly paid. To take it up therefore
required treating it as a vocation – a sort of labour of love. Asked what kind of advice
they could give to young people contemplating entering the work, almost every answer
contained the following: they should not even look for a job or start working unless they
feel they have enough persistence and commitment. These, together with a love of
children, are the qualities that work with young children mainly requires, as this
kindergarten pedagogue explains:
[there needs to] be a sort of determination, which is necessary in the modern
world, but I don’t mean by this the determination of the go-getters. In any case,
how could someone be go-getting in this profession? There aren’t too many
possibilities for that in it. But what I mean is the kind of determination which is
necessary in order to be able to handle bravely any matter relating to a young
child. So, they shouldn’t be afraid straight away of the first such problem, when
they come across it for the first time, and which they have to solve, because it isn’t
written into the child’s file that mummy or daddy will solve this at home, but
rather it is their job to solve it. Healthy self-awareness is needed for this. And,
under all circumstances, I consider it to be important to have a love of children
that cannot be learnt from a book. So, the person should either bring this with
them, as my old teachers used to say, or they should have a sort of pedagogical
vein, or not. Well, it is possible that this can be replaced over many, many years,
but it is never 100 per cent sure that it will be.
Trainers added some other qualities from their perspective, in addition to those already
mentioned such as empathy, selflessness and communicational skills. A trainer of nursery
workers mentioned physical and mental stamina, openness and an optimistic nature.
While a teacher of kindergarten pedagogues mentioned wisdom, respect, courage and a
sense of responsibility.
5.4 Theories and inspirations
At times in the past, Danish pedagogy has been more dominated by prescriptive theories,
for example 20 years or so ago when ‘structured pedagogy’ was very influential. Courses
today offer a long menu of theories rather than pushing a particular line. But theory as an
explicit guide to practice can be readily left behind once qualified:
[Theory] is something you study at the college and which you are totally nervous
about when you sit the exam – do you know Daniel Stern’s theories and other
stuff well enough, and then when you enter real life and the institutions to work as
a pedagogue, then you realise everything is not as black and white as all that. It is
one big mixture of things and there is a great deal of freedom to choose what you
believe in at every institution.
Perhaps this informant can be interpreted as offering a more nuanced view about the
place of theory. Rather than being a-theoretical or, at the opposite extreme, following one
particular theory in a rather rigid way, she suggests a practice that involves reflecting on
and combining theories into “one big mixture of things”. As another pedagogue put it,
when discussing a particular theory, “we do not apply this theory, we incorporate it into
our understanding…we more or less read everything”.
This view is confirmed in the other interviews. Although our informants make little
explicit reference to the influence of specific theories, their frequent reference to concepts
like ‘the competent child’ and ‘self-determination’ suggests that they have been
influenced by certain contemporary discourses about children and childhood (e.g. the
child as active subject, children’s rights). More generally, they give us a picture of a
dynamic profession incorporating many theories and inspirational sources: it is also
apparent that the pedagogues do not believe that they can simply take over theories and
Pedagogues read and several authors are mentioned, for example Sigsgård, Brostrøm,
Kampmann, Sommer, Stern and Juul. But there are many other sources of inspiration:
colleagues, children and students, from the daily working life, at staff meetings and staff
weekends. They read professional magazines and professional books and follow the
public debates. They participate in seminars, lectures and theme evenings. Experts on
various subjects are invited to speak. They visit other institutions and in turn are visited.
We also find examples of study tours both at home and abroad. They participate in the
projects initiated by municipalities.
One of the participating institutions is itself a place of inspiration for others. Many
visitors come from both home and abroad, also students and teachers from pedagogue
training colleges. The pedagogues hold seminars and write articles. But as one of the
pedagogues says, they in turn are eager for inspiration from others:
We would simply not be able to work on a high professional level if we did not
receive some input…We give an insane amount of ourselves in this centre. We
convey all of our thoughts, ideas and values both to parents, children and outside
of the centre. We exhibit, show around and the like. We simply need to get
something back sometimes. We need to have professional stimulation sometimes.
What happens outside of the individual institutions? I feel that it can be just as
exciting to go into a completely standard institution in Malling [a local suburb in
Århus], as it can be to go to a Reggio Emilia-inspired institution in Stockholm…
One has to place oneself in perspective…We keep our fingers on the pulse the
Practitioners in Hungarian nurseries and kindergartens and trainers offered a range of
theoreticians who influence current practice. These include a number of Hungarians
(Falk, Kalmár, Kósáné, Pikler and Tardos), but also a number of current and historical
figures from beyond Hungary, including Freinet, Bruner, Piaget, Montessori and Steiner.
Among alternative pedagogies, Waldorf (Steiner) is rather popular in kindergartens,
while the ideas of Gordon are similarly popular in nurseries. This trainer of nursery
workers describes a fluid situation, in which new influences have been entering the field:
As regards primarily developmental psychology and its results, strictly speaking it
is the Piaget type view which is very prevalent as well as lately the Vygotsky
view…and I would also mention the Bruner theory…The different reform
pedagogy trends obviously have a very significant effect, [and] it is very
interesting that in the expression of ideas concerning the childcare centre field
and the education of the youngest children, one or two ideas have entered thought
in quite an indirect way…Certain elements and the traces of the pedagogy of
Montessori, Freinet or Waldorf are to be found. Therefore I couldn’t say that the
field operates completely. according to the ideas of Montessori or Freinet,
although their effect is definitely there
Both practitioners and trainers say that there is no one dominant theory. Indeed, the
trainers stress that they cannot be biased towards any one theory in their teaching.
Instead, the approach is eclectic, and the work with children is shaped by a mix of
elements from a variety of theories. Still, theory can be treated as something unavoidable
that has to be learnt, and connecting theoretical knowledge, practical experience and the
requirements of parents can be a very difficult task.
The Spanish informants refer more to places than individuals when discussing influences
on their work. There are domestic influences, with inspiration taken from the ideas and
practices that were beginning to flourish in Spain before the civil war, epitomised by the
movement to create the escole bressol – the infant school. Further afield, Italy has been
important, in particular the work with young children in Reggio Emilia, and the
pedagogical thinking and practice of the first director of the services in Reggio, Loris
Malaguzzi. For example, some Spanish centres have learnt from Reggio the importance
of the staff group, so that there are always three teachers working with a group of
children. Apart from avoiding the risk of loneliness, this collective way of working
makes for a thriving social and educational environment, in which the practice is always
subject to analysis and discussion.
Hungary has offered another inspiration. The work of Emmi Pikler and the Lóczi Institute
in Budapest has been important. For example, the importance attached by Pikler to
stability and security in group settings has led many centres in Spain to pay attention to
developing the group of children and respect within the group. Children enter centres in
small groups (around 6 children), and these groups stay together with their own teachers
until the children move on to primary school. Lóczi also emphasises the potential of the
child for independence from birth, so “we have learned how to allow freedom of
movement and activity so that the child can develop its own independence”. A third idea,
already discussed, is the ‘pedagogy of daily life’.
Finally, there are links to the Nordic countries. This leading figure in the Spanish reform
movement describes an exchange of ideas with a Danish colleague:
In the 70s, we became more flexible in the way we looked after young children.
We introduced the idea that the children did not have to be shut in the classroom,
that we need to give them freedom to go from one place to another. We summed
this up in the saying ‘the school has open doors’. Subsequently, one day whilst
talking to someone from Denmark, he explained this concept to me in the same
words, in the same year! Luckily, we now know them [the Danes].
5.5 Concluding comments
Certain common themes about working with young children emerge from all three
countries. Services are seen in a broad, even holistic, way: they have a range of social
purposes, they are part of upbringing children today. Workers are concerned with
children’s development in its broadest sense, socially and culturally, as well as
cognitively and have a large responsibility for children’s futures. Centres provide a space
for children, and play has a central role in that space. Services and workers have not
‘taken over’ from parents, but offer an important source of support. Nowhere is ‘care’ the
only, or even the dominant, concern: education or pedagogy receive equal if not higher
priority (indeed, care would be seen by many workers as an inseparable element of
Overall, however, Hungarian practitioners had far less to say about their work than their
Danish counterparts. It is apparent during the interviews that both nursery and
kindergarten workers in Hungary have difficulties articulating their work and why they
work the way they do. Although they refer to ‘pedagogy’ and ‘pedagogical methods’, it is
unclear what they mean by the terms, except as a way simply to describe everyday
The nursery worker’s role is very important, the way she talks, she communicates,
as the way she pays attention to the child, her movements all have pedagogical
Everything we do [in the kindergarten] is pedagogy.,
This raises an important question. Why are the Hungarian practitioners so much less
articulate and expansive than their Danish counterparts? One possibility is the way the
research was conducted. The Danish interviews were conducted by researchers who also
teach pedagogues, and are very familiar with the field. Because of this experience, are
they better able to draw out Danish respondents? How much of a problem is it that
interviewers in other countries were less familiar with the field?
Another possibility is to do with the content and effectiveness of the training in each
country. The training of Danish pedagogues attaches great importance to reflection and
communication. Do their responses to our interviews show that the Danish training
system does, in practice as well as in theory, better equip future practitioners with the
ability to reflect and express themselves? Is it significant that the Hungarian practitioners
were mostly educated many years ago? Have they learnt, in effect, how to use certain
techniques, rather than how to work with and apply theory and knowledge?
Recent history may have had an influence on the ability of practitioners and others to
clearly articulate understandings of the work. The Hungarian research partner offers this
During the socialist years, generally, it was not common to question the accepted
practice or to debate legislation or guidance. During the transition years, people
were suddenly expected to have an opinion and express it. It has proved to be
difficult for those who were not brought up and educated to form an opinion and
to say what they thought…As far as pedagogy and theories are concerned,
transition brought with it the opening up of borders and communication channels.
As a result, more ideas came into Hungary and people could travel abroad more
often to see other practices. The consequence is that compared to earlier years, a
great wealth of ideas and theories are available, but there has not been enough
time, energy and opportunities to discuss these and ‘distil’ the best ideas for
A trainer of kindergarten teachers also speaks of the effects of transition, including a
move from uniformity to diversity, which have yet to be worked through:
Pedagogy as a science is built on such unsure foundations these days….there
aren’t any great people in pedagogy any more. Well there are one or two names,
let’s say Mr Babosik, but even they don’t undertake to really lay down a
pedagogical system, a book, a study book, upon the basis of which it would be
possible to teach…[T]herefore I would say the change in system from this point of
view shook traditional pedagogy in a lot of respects…[T]his plurality of values
[today], you see, pushes pedagogy towards individual education, in which we
hardly have any practice or tradition in Hungary, well there is some, but not
The Hungarian workers were also more likely to dwell on the importance of being fond
of children and of commitment, against a background of poor pay and low status, which
was not shared by their Danish counterparts. There is a sense of working against the odds
and as a vocation. The Danish pedagogues, in better conditions, talked far more about
working with many ideas and sources of inspiration, in a work culture marked by
discussion, stimulation and exchange.
CHAPTER SIX : THE WORK ENVIRONMENT
We have considered work with young children from various positions: the wider policy
context; training; understandings of the work. We now turn to look at the work in terms
of its organisation and relationships, both within the institution and between the
institution and parents. We also consider external influences on the work, in particular the
extent and nature of regulatory regimes.
6.1 Life in the institution
Typically, Danish institutions organise children into groups, each with its own space:
normally 10 to 12 children under 3 years of age per group and 20 over 3 year olds per
group. Each group has its own group of practitioners, and each institution has a manager
or director and a deputy. The manager is the person with the highest level of
responsibility for the institution and who attends to many of the external functions, e.g. in
relation to the municipality. Apart from the managerial functions, some managers work to
varying degrees directly with the children. The deputy uses a number of hours every
week for administrative and managerial tasks, with the number of hours and tasks varying
from institution to institution. Otherwise she works with the children.
Institutions are open all day – from around 7 in the morning to 5 in the evening - and all
year: there are none which operate ‘school hours’. These long opening hours require shift
working: some staff start early, some finish late, and the highest numbers of staff are
around in the middle parts of the day when most children are present. During the day
there are certain traditions and routines, for example associated with the arrival and
collection of the children, their mealtimes, and for the youngest their afternoon sleep.
These bring about a certain amount of structure to the day.
But much time is given over to play, inside and out. Giving the children time and space in
which to play every day is a fundamental element of the daily work. The pedagogues
place a strong emphasis upon play. A few of them point to participation in children’s play
as the best part of their work. However, even if the pedagogues sometimes participate in
the children’s play, their principal role is to be available in case the children need them:
what they do not do, however, is direct or even guide the children’s play towards a
particular goal. All of the participants in this study stressed in one way or another that
children should have the freedom and opportunity to play freely, that is free of control or
direction. Play is seen as something valuable in its own right, not just as a means to learn
There are also some more organised activities on offer. In some cases these are planned
ahead and may run over a period, for example project work. But in other cases, they can
be more spontaneous depending, for example, on the weather, possibilities for visits in
the local community, sudden inspirations, etc. All of the people interviewed mentioned
theme days or current projects involving the children, such as a circus project, a story
telling project, a project where a room was turned into a beach, and a theatre project.
As discussed in Chapter 5, outside activities are given high priority in all of the
institutions in this study and probably elsewhere in Denmark too. Generally, the children
are outside every day engaging in play and activities, or out on walks in the local
community. Outings to the local community are a feature of everyday life in all of the
institutions. Trips are made to woods, parks and to the beach, or into town to go
shopping, to see something interesting, or just really for the sake of the bus journey.
Meals are important occasions. They have health aspects, of course. But they are largely
thought of as an educational activity, in which culture and norms are learnt, in the context
of a small group. They are opportunities to pay attention to each other.
Staff may be formally allocated to groups. But over the day staff arrangements are far
more fluid. A worker on an early shift may be with the early arrivers, consisting of
children from several groups. During the main part of the day, staff may be distributed
around activity areas rather than with a particular group of children – not least because
that group may be spread around doing different things: “our ideal is to have one person
in each group room, one in the workshop and one or two outside”. There may be other
staff off with children on outings.
There is then a mixture of routine and spontaneity in the work, planning and serendipity,
combined with a constant awareness of the children and their needs, both individually
and in the group. This mix is captured in the words of a pedagogue working with children
under 3 in a vuggestue (nursery), speaking about her working day:
If someone asks me what I do in the nursery, I tell them that it’s not just about
changing nappies and the children sleeping all the time, my job is also about
supporting the individual children. We do a lot of this in the nursery, giving
individual children additional help. I think the job is exciting. Obviously we have
routines in a nursery, as the children also like repetition and perhaps our working
day is fixed. Children sleep, children eat.... there is peace, cleanliness and
regularity. It’s not like this in every situation. Of course the children sleep as
well. This also breaks up our working day in one way or another, perhaps our
working days are generally identical. We open, we serve breakfast, we serve
lunch, the children sleep, we perform an activity, so you could say that our
working days are identical. There is a lot of flexibility within the framework
though. In principle I plan my own day. Obviously based on where the children
are, if we go for a walk or do some painting or singing. We have independence in
our jobs, as far as this is concerned. Whenever I think of a banker sitting in an
office, I think that is why I could never do that. I could not sit still in that way. I
want to do active things for myself.
All this requires very open and democratic ways of working together. The organisation of
work with respect to meeting times, daily routines, and the overall and daily educational
work is characterised by discussions, dialogue, negotiations and wide-ranging
participation. This is conducted partly at planned meetings. There are regular meetings of
all staff in each institution, as well as of smaller numbers of staff working with each
group. These are a compulsory element of the work and are included in the hours. They
take place approximately once a month and last 3 to 4 hours. But this organization and
coordination of work also takes place through many informal contacts, throughout the
If we take the example of decision-making about the educational work, words such as
‘collaboration’, ‘democracy’, ‘discussions’, ‘listening to each other’, ‘self-determination’,
and phrases such as “it is easy to put your own ideas forward” were mentioned during the
interviews. The daily pedagogical work is characterised by great flexibility and co-
operation and with a lot of empathy for the needs of colleagues. Planning this work goes
on continuously. But this takes place within the more formal context of pre-arranged
meetings. The more general educational values, aims and projects of the institution are
discussed and decided on at staff meetings and staff weekends, while the examination of
more concrete actions and discussions of other matters take place at the regular, smaller
meetings of staff working with particular groups of children.
Given these ways of working – with a strong reliance on the whole work group and
collaborative relations – it is perhaps not surprising that a poor atmosphere in the
workplace has been found to be the most common reason for pedagogues to seek
alternative work (Jensen and Hansen, 2002c). At one of the institutions included in the
study, the poor atmosphere is mentioned and several people state that they have left other
jobs in the past for this reason. On the other hand, a good atmosphere in the workplace
generates energy: “Our place functions remarkably well. This releases energy and
resources for the children. It’s very important for them how we grown-ups act.”
Nurseries in Hungary organize children into groups of 10 to12. Each group has two
qualified nursery workers, and every two groups has one technical support person (for
cleaning and other support but not to work with the children). For every two groups
(which is considered a unit) with children under the age of one and a half (i.e. infant
groups) there is usually a fifth care worker. Nurseries having more than 60 places have a
deputy director. The directors are required to have the highest level of training.
Kindergartens organize children into groups of 20 to 25 with two kindergarten
pedagogues. Every two groups has a dajka, the support worker. Support staff assist in
children’s routines, and are responsible for cleaning. Kindergarten directors in smaller
centres also spend some part of their work hours working with the children.
Both nurseries and kindergartens are usually open from 6 in the morning until 6 in the
evening, though there may be some local variations according to the needs of the parents.
Daily routines are rather similar in both types of Hungarian institution, nurseries and
kindergartens. Breakfast, mid-morning fruit or juice, lunch and afternoon snack provide
the framework for the day. Arrival times, breakfast and afternoon snacks are flexible, but
lunch is usually at a set time. The morning is spent with play and also with some adult
initiated activities for the older children. Children usually sleep after lunch though it is
not compulsory. Those who do not feel like to sleep can ‘read’ a book or can play quietly.
Workers have considerable influence on the way the institutions run. In general, workers
can arrange group rooms freely and – taking into consideration the daily programme, of
course – can decide the daily activities themselves. Those involved in decision-making
emphasised that the workers – kindergarten pedagogues most of all – are very innovative,
and, despite the difficulties they face, optimistic. This contributes to a great extent to the
capability of the profession for continuous renewal.
Almost all practitioners said that managers of institutions listen to their innovative ideas
and support their implementation. This kindergarten pedagogue was typical when she
said that it was easy to get ideas put into practice:
I can talk about it to our manager. She is the kind of person you can talk to and
she listens to us, so it's no problem at all. If we have innovative ideas of any kind,
she is glad to help us and we can introduce these, with her approval, of course.
The only difficulty is the financial side: this is the only obstacle to realising new ideas.
But workers try to find the means in such cases as well: by utilising their own resources
or parents' support or through applying for funds.
[The manager of our nursery] accepts every idea, all innovations can be
introduced. She likes it when there are no financial consequences, and we try to
solve it, but anything we ask from her, she listens to us, supports us, and accepts
it, and if she doesn't, she tells us why it cannot be accepted, so we can realise our
The Spanish situation is more diverse. Not only is there a greater variety of providers, but
also of types of centres and opening hours. A local policy maker describes
an enormous variety of situations. For example, there are crèches or schools that
open their doors at 8 or 9 o’clock and close at 2 o’clock, and at the same time
others open at 12 o’clock and close at 6 o’clock. Therefore, there is an intensive
shift in the morning and another in the afternoon, that is with an overlap of time
in the middle, so there is double attention at certain moments. Later, there are
those that are extended from 8 o’clock until 4 o’clock, well eight hours together
as well as a few extra hours that they might add on until 6 o’clock, possibly with
one of the same staff and in possibly worse working conditions. Let’s say that we
have all the range possible
6.2 Relations with parents
We have already discussed how Danish workers find themselves acting as advisers and
counsellors to individual parents facing uncertainties and problems. But the work also
involves more routine meetings and exchanges. Parental co-operation in Denmark is an
important element of work with young children.
This relationship with parents is formalized by law. According to the Serviceloven
(Social Services Act), parent committees are a legal requirement for centres. These
committees include staff, but most members are parents elected at an annual meeting of
the parents. Through these committees, the parents can play their part in the management
of the institutions. They have the authority to decide and “establish principles for the
work of the institutions and for the use of a budget framework” (Serviceloven) and they
also have ‘nomination right’ with respect to the appointment of new staff (i.e. they have a
right to nominate candidates and to participate in interviews, but the final decision about
who to appoint is not with them: their choicecan be overruled by the staff). But any
subjects can be taken up at the committee meetings.
In addition, staff and parents meet regularly on an individual basis. All of the institutions
in the study have meetings between pedagogues and individual parents when children
first start (an introductory meeting), then annually, but also as and when they are needed.
Then there is a lot of communication on a daily basis when parents drop children up and
collect them. Some institutions mention that parents have the opportunity to participate a
variety of other ways: during the working day, at festivals, parties, grandparent days,
coffee mornings, walks with the children, planned parties, and so on.
Sometimes institutions have a ‘primary pedagogue’ system, meaning that parents are
expected to communicate with a particular specified worker. This pedagogue describes
how her centre is in the process of moving away from this system:
Up to now we have operated the primary pedagogue arrangement, at which the
two pedagogues in the group here have divided the children equally between
themselves and have taken introductory talks, [regular] parent talks and have
attended to the daily and more serious contact..If it was something to do with
changing clothes or Wellington boots, the primary pedagogue would take care of
this too. This si something we are now moving away from as we have run up
against a number of obstacles. Just because I am a primary pedagogue for this
child’s mother and father, it is not clear if this mother and father believe I am the
best person to talk to. They may prefer to talk to you. This is why we have chosen
to say that we will divide the introductory talks fairly evenly between ourselves or
whoever is there when the parents can come, and we let the parents decide who to
see on other occasions
Staff at all of the institutions report that all of the subjects mentioned in the questionnaire
are discussed with parents: health, food, general well-being, child development, child
development problems, how the child/children should behave, special events. Another
subject mentioned is the pedagogical work: the how and the why.
In Hungary, parents are not involved in the management of centres as they are in
Denmark. However, there are other types of contact, both formal and informal, some of
which are rather similar. There are introductory meetings before children begin to attend
centres, which in Hungary take the form of visits to the families by staff; there is a
settling in period and procedure for children under 3 years, involving the parents; and
regular family visits to the older children Parent meetings are often organized and it is
common to talk at pick-up and departure times.
However, some nursery workers and kindergarten pedagogues complained about parents'
behaviour. In particular, these workers said that parents sometimes hold unreal
expectations about the institution, for example, they want their child to become toilet-
trained or independent within a short time, although they do not co-operate properly with
childcare workers. Or they do not inform workers about the child's condition or about
something significant that has happened to the child or its family.
Well, it's also difficult with parents. Very difficult. They expect children, for
example, to be toilet-trained a week after they start attending the childcare centre
and I say why would they be toilet-trained, are they toilet-trained at home? No.
Well, they won't be toilet-trained within a week here either. So they have
expectations…It becomes more and more difficult with them because they expect
us to do everything, immediately, and they don't even tell us what happened with
the child, or ask us to pay more attention to something and so on.
In Spain, there is an important experience with centres for young children run as
parent-staff cooperatives, in which both groups are closely involved in all
aspects of the life and management of the centre. This movement appeared in the
1960s, towards the end of the Franco regime, and mainly engaged in providing
care and education for children under three years old. These cooperatives gave
shape to the model of the ‘escuela infantil’ – schools for young children:
This model had a particular style of relationship between parents and
teachers, characterised by a great deal of interaction and harmony. They
were founded at a time when people were calling for an open, plural,
democratic society, and demanding free, public, quality educational
services for everyone. Most parents and teachers at these centres shared
not only ideals but also youth, which bridged distances and facilitated
Parents and teachers were equally committed, and sought to run them on
the basis of anti-authoritarian, democratic and self-management
principles. Most parents were middle managers and liberal
professionals, young couples with both parents working outside the
home. At the same time they wanted to open up similar opportunities to
poorer families. They fought for this goal, often organising
The lack of legislation on childcare centres and the tremendous demand for
them enabled the different collectives to act with total freedom. The result
was the creation of centres that gave rise to advanced pedagogical and
socially experiences – as well as some which failed. What these cooperative
centres had in common was a focus on children, their education and
welfare. They opted to work with very homogenous age groups, to respect
the individuality of each infant, to create a very family-oriented
atmosphere. And to develop their model of working, they sought support in
two main ways: through working in groups and collaboration between
parents and teachers.
Groups and collaboration made these centres work. They were seen as
small educational communities in which the tools and ‘knowledge’ of
each individual were considered equally important and necessary. Their
pedagogical approach was shaped at the periodical meetings of the team
as a whole. The economic and organisational decisions that affected the
centre as a whole were taken together by parents and teachers. (Jubete,
The democratisation of Spain brought with it the normalisation of participatory culture.
Legislation introduced the right to participation of all sectors involved in education,
including public administrations, parents, teachers and children.
The level of participation is, however, variable. Times and conditions have
changed. There are places where the cooperative movement has remained alive
during all these years, while elsewhere there are not the same opportunities or
desire to ‘participate’. The forms of participation have become more varied - as
have the variety of family models, work schedules, and the possibilities of
individuals to devote more or less time to the school that their children attend.
In each centre parents and teachers create, on a daily basis, their own
participatory forms of exchange, their own ways of relating to each other, based
on their specific situations.
However, features of staff/parent relationships in the initial movement have
survived to form the basis of current contacts. These include: meetings with
groups of new parents followed by periodical group meetings; interviews
between individual workers and families; family participation in the daily life of
the centre (e.g. outings, parties); informal social events such as shared meals;
and the use of daily contact when children arrive and leave to share information
in a relaxed atmosphere. The Spanish practitioners in our study speak about
these types of contact with parents, a mixture of formal group and individual
meetings, together with more informal contacts. Two teachers, working with
children aged 3 to 6, explain the range of meetings:
There is a personal interview at the beginning. During the year, once or twice,
one at the beginning of the course and later if we go to summer camp. Afterwards,
at the end of the year we also meet to give them a report. This also depends on the
individual case, because if there’s a child about whom you need to speak with
them 5 times, well, you speak with them 5 times. This is the minimum.
There is a strong relationship with the parents because everyday someone comes
to collect the children, so we see them when they come and leave, we speak to
them, we explain what we have done. It depends on each family’s level of interest,
there are families who ask lots of questions and there are families that don’t, they
collect the children and then they go.
This technical worker in a centre for children under 3 years describes in some detail the
initial meeting for a new group of parents, one purpose of which is to explain the rules of
[Next week, at the end of June], we are going to have a meeting with all of the
children’s parents from the next entry. There, at the meeting, we are going to
show them a video so that they can see a little of what we do, how we do it, what
happens at dinnertime, the work that’s done, the beginning and the end of the day
and the bedrooms, in order to give them an idea, more or less, of what we do.
Afterwards, we are going to explain the functioning of the centre, what the hours
are, when we open, how we function and all of the internal rules, for example,
from 9 – 10 they can arrive, from 4:30 – 5 they can leave, if we can keep to these
times everything runs well. If the mothers are dropping children off all day, it is a
pain because you can’t get any work done, as I said before, when everyone works
to the same hours the centre works to the timetable with the children…Therefore,
we ask that they follow the rules with regards to the hours… Then when I’ve
explained the menus, I’ll explain a little about the framework and then they will
go to the classes with each pedagogue, and there the pedagogue will explain
everything to the parents, they will be given a full explanation of all the materials
that the children have to bring in September when they come, which clothes, all of
the listed clothing, their box, and also 8 photographs because the children identify
their things using the photographs, they have a photo by their jackets, a photo for
their towel, all of the things that they are going to need throughout the course.
Also, they will explain a little about the function of the centre, of the class, or the
program that they’ll follow, how it works.
After this first meeting, in September [parents] have an individual personal
interview with the pedagogue …and they talk about the child, how he is, what he
does, how he sleeps, how he eats and all of the aspects on a more personal level.
Once the children have begun, at the end of October there is another meeting with
the parents of the class, at which they [the workers] explain the entire educational
programme that they will follow throughout the course...From January onwards,
there are individual meetings, each family is given an update on the child’s
progress during the course, if there are any problems, they can be resolved. From
then on, we continue until the end of the course, then we have a party with the
parents, the excursions, the goodbyes and that’s it.
A final point about contact with parents is made in all three countries: that services and
their workforces are having to be, or will need to become, increasingly responsive and
flexible to accommodate changing parental needs and request and to allow parents more
choice. The Danish trade union official says that pedagogues are
incredibly flexible...[They] are possibly one of the most flexible working groups in
this country. We are adjusting all the time. We take in more children whenever
there is a need and adjust to the parents...I believe that the parents enjoy a
tremendous degree of accommodation to their needs...They make more demands,
different demands and their approch is a little like ‘we are paying for the service,
so we want value for money’...Some children may need a special diet, they ned to
sleep in a certain way or require additional care and attention. I belive most
pedagogues are very good listeners when it comes to dealing with parents and
can communicate closely with the parents about what the best is for their child
and try and adapt work accordingly.
Local policy makers express the same view, insisting that their institutions are “very, very
flexible...[and that pedagogues] are very service-minded and endeavour to meet the
parents’ wishes and needs”.
Hungarian informants talk about how, over the past decade or so, institutions have
become much more flexible as regards taking parents' requirements into consideration.
Previously, during the era of state socialism, institutions were rather inflexible. However
today they try to operate as real 'service providers' and alter their activities to suit parents'
needs, for example to fit in with parents’ working hours. The range of services provided
by centres will need to be further extended, in order to meet the changing needs of
families better and to cater for non-employed as well as working parents.
A local policy maker in Spain discussed at some length the need for services to respond
to a wide range of parental needs:
For example, places for parents and children to be together and not in the school
environment. For example, rooms to be able to use [artistic] materials…which
could be for a couple of days a week, it doesn’t have to be a strict timetable.
Places where children can be educated or looked after at times when the parents
are unable to look after them, instead of centres that aren’t open [at these times].
For example, from 5 o’clock in the afternoon, there are families that have
problems because they work in the evening, etc. Let's see how this type of
situation can be solved. That is to say, I can see a big variety of needs. There are
mothers and I say mothers because it is they who have the problem to contend
with, there are mothers where the only thing that they need is to leave the children
with someone for two or three hours so they can go out, simply to go shopping. To
buy a dress, or something, no..., and they want to go on their own. These are the
types of services that you have to offer. There are mothers that not only need help
with caring for the children but what they also need is to be with other fathers and
other mothers in the same room with their children playing, to be talking amongst
themselves or be talking to a specialist about any problems there are with their
child. All these needs related to simply how to be a mother or father appear to be
not so simple. They are all needs that surround the theme of children and they
should all be taken into consideration.
6.3 Regulatory frameworks
Some overall objectives and aims for the Danish system of services for young children
are set out in the Serviceloven (Social Services Act). There are also some health and
safety regulations, a requirement for parent committees, while parent fees as well as
training are nationally regulated. But there is no national curriculum, no national
standards for staffing and no national inspectorate, regulation being left to municipalities.
When asked the reason for the high degree of autonomy given to Danish institutions, and
the benefits, the national policy maker answered that
I do not believe that one can come up with a single explanation for why it is this
way. We do have a very decentralised municipal management and a decentralised
municipal board of directors, where there is complete consensus on the matter of
the national law, which provides the framework, and we accept this and also
expect municipal differences, as the municipalities are self-governing. We do not
force the municipalities to do things in a set manner. I feel that it is right that the
local people, the actual parents in the institution and the local politicians really
participate in making their mark upon it, thus playing a part in affecting
development in their city. I think that this is completely unique to Denmark and
other countries certainly cannot understand how we can govern in this manner. I
can also say that this has its disadvantages but it is, however, a question of choice
of whether one wants complete central control or if one can accept this
alternative way. There is also great interest from the citizens themselves which we
make active in this manner and I think that this has some enormous benefits.
There is here a sense of Danish uniqueness and of the trade off between benefits and
disadvantages that decentralisation involves.
However, this does not mean there are no systems for regulating pedagogical work. A
well-organised profession like that of the pedagogue – with, for example, a well-
established system of professional training and a strong trade union - imposes its own
system of norms. So, too, does a political system in which there are many connections
between the main players – national government, municipalities, social partners. There
may, for example, be no national standards on staffing levels, which are determined by
municipalities. But these tend, nevertheless, to be rather similar: one adult to every three
children under 3 years and one adult to six children aged 3 to 6 years.
Danes do not talk of ‘inspection’ of institutions, but of ‘supervision’. Municipalities are
responsible for this supervision, but decide for themselves how to undertake the task. One
way of undertaking this supervision is through municipalities using ‘pedagogical
consultants’, although the president of the trade union says there is a great shortage of
Denmark is not immune to current managerial discourses about ‘quality’. There is a
debate about how to ensure and improve pedagogical work without instituting and
imposing a prescriptive system of regulation. The trade union president, for example,
would like things to be more systematic, whilst still leaving
room for diversity, because it develops us, spontaneity develops us. But we also
need to be more systematic in relation to professional development and in relation
to quality development at the institutions as a whole. I think it would be
interesting if we had an institute of quality or whatever, perhaps rather a research
unit, which was not made up of controllers, but rather someone who contributed
to ensure the development of quality.
Government, nationally and locally, is also exploring new approaches. The Ministry of
Social Affairs is debating what ‘supervision’ means and how municipalities are
undertaking it, and has commissioned work on the subject. One of the municipalities
included in our study was in the process of changing its supervisory approach, through
developing what was termed ‘dialogue-based supervision’. A pilot project was being
carried out at 12 institutions for young children. The pedagogical consultants participate
in dialogues with a range of people at each institution: committee chairman, a parent
representative, the director and deputy director (of the institution), a pedagogue and a
pedagogical assistant. One part of the agenda for these meetings is set by the
municipality, which may reflect areas it wants to prioritise, such as children’s transition
to school, or opportunities for children’s movement both inside and out. The individual
institution can set the other part of the agenda. After these dialogues, a supervision report
is prepared, which can include requests, actions that the institution should follow. The
local policy maker hoped that “in this way we will succeed in putting lots of reflections
into action, both before we arrive, during the dialogue and in relation to what we write to
them in the report”.
This new supervisory model is being supported from various quarters. Many institutions
want to be seen and acknowledged. The municipality wants to “create a stronger
relationship” with individual institutions, and “create some involvement through
supervision, so that this can stimulate professional reflection”. Sixteen per cent of the
municipality’s budget goes into services for young children, and better supervision would
help to legitimise this expenditure. A more systematic system will enable the
municipality to gain a better picture of its large number of institutions – over 400.
Within the institutions themselves, the director is responsible for the pedagogical work,
as well as health and safety, while the parents’ committee provides another form of
supervision. When practitioners were asked about supervision of their work, most
responded that this involved both the director of their centre and their colleagues, once
again emphasising the extensive discussion that took place on a continuous basis within
the work group: “we do not have direct supervision, but we conduct dialogue about our
work, all of the pedagogues and for the most part also the pedagogical assistants”.
Some were even uncertain or uneasy about the term ‘supervision’, implying it was
inconsistent with their collaborative and autonomous approach to the work, as is the case
with these three pedagogues:
If I think about supervision, I think that an inspector will come and inspect my
work. I don’t think of it that way.
Q.: Because that’s not what happens?
No. Someone comes and inspects our accounts in between, but no one comes and
supervises what we do. We create our own plan of operation and if it is accepted,
of course one can do it.
Q.: So could one ask, whether there is someone who looks at your work, evaluates
it and such?
Yeah, OK. We do this. With each other, one can say, both the manager and the
Q.: Would you use the word ’supervise’ in the institution?
I would rather say self-control…(The centre director) relies on us doing things
correctly because that is what he has experienced. He relies on the staff group
based on what he sees when he walks around the building, he is satisfied with
this. If he is not satisfied with something he sees, he may say ’Another time it may
perhaps not be so wise to say that so and so is also sick again, when a parent is
present. This is something you should think about.’ He can take people to one side
and say this. That is what one can actually call supervision but we used another
word for it.
It is co-operation for us that makes the institution work in the best possible way.
This co-operation also includes keeping an eye on each other, without it
becoming a form of supervision, one can just as well keep an eye on each other. I
keep my eye on my colleagues if they speak cruelly to the children. If I experience
a colleague offending a child, then I will tell that person. I will say: I think you
should consider talking more nicely. You certainly wouldn’t like it if I talked to
you that way.
Nurseries and kindergartens in Hungary are regularly inspected, each by several different
agencies to ensure they comply with regulations. Nurseries are inspected by the local
authority that issues their license, by the environmental health agency and by the child
protection agency. They are also monitored by the county methodological centre, to
assess the quality of their service (the discourse of ‘quality’ having also reached
Hungary). Kindergartens are also inspected regularly by the local authority and the
environmental health agency, as well as by the education agency.
The quality of their service can be assessed by independent experts. These can be
commissioned to do this, either by the local authority or the centres themselves. The
experts can also be contracted just to provide professional assistance and consultation.
Public regulation of services for young children in Spain has been introduced only quite
recently, since the 1990 LOGSE. As already noted, there is a national curriculum for
children aged 0 to 6 years, subject to regional implementation. National standards were
set in certain areas, but as part of the decentralisation process in Spain, regional education
authorities and local authorities can set higher standards if they choose. A system of
registration and inspection was also introduced. But as already noted, this new regulatory
framework has not yet been fully applied to services for children under 3 years, with
several postponements, the latest until 2004.
Staffing levels set by central government are 1 adult to 7 children under 12 months, 1:10
for children aged 12 to 23 months, 1: 18 for 24 to 35 month olds and 1 : 25 for children
between 3 to 6 years. All staff working with children over 3 years should be teachers, but
teachers need only account for 1 in 4 staff working with children under 3.
These ratios are much higher than are found, for example, in Denmark – in other words,
Spanish practitioners work with much larger numbers of children, at least twice as many.
A leading member of the educational reform movement was highly critical of the current
As regards those that teach the 3 to 6 year olds, I think that to improve the work
conditions what needs to be done is to introduce one more teacher into each
group. In the majority of situations in the centres, I think it would be much better,
if, instead of one teacher having to confront a group of 20 or 25 children alone,
there should be two. There would be about 12 children per adult. In this way, you
could really listen to the children and to what they are thinking, and build upon
the children's ideas and upon the interaction between the two abilities (those of
the adult and those of the child). This is not possible if the group isn’t a small one.
For those teaching 0 to 3 year olds, many things need to be improved. Among
them, and without any doubt whatsoever, the ratio needs attention. It makes
people want to tear their hair out that LOGSE (the law) tells them that they have
to have groups of 8 children..(because) what these children need is personal
attention and time dedicated to them.
The inspection system appears to be rather cursory, as reported by this teacher:
Q.: How does the system of inspection work?
Well, they are bad but I suppose there must be a bit of everything, mustn’t there?
The inspectors, or at least the inspector that I had at my school, and for other
inspectors that go to other schools, they don’t come in and check the institutions, I
mean the inspection consists of going to the headteacher’s office and asking for
the relevant documents. It is a very bureaucratic inspection. There are inspectors
who, yes, they know the problem very well, but their ability to act is very limited,
A trade union official paints a similar picture:
The administration, the Department of Education tells you that… the instructions
at the beginning of the year are that these centres have to follow this format. Well,
you have to consider this project, all the classroom projects, the classroom
evaluations. To test that you have completed it, an inspector comes to you and
asks for the papers. OK?…The indication that you get is that an institution is
authorised by the Department of Education, but of course the Department of
Education lowers the necessary requirements to give this indication of quality
because what interests them is covering the existing demand and investing little
money and the way to do that is to lower the quality requirements so that they are
6.4 Concluding comments
These accounts emphasise the importance of the staff group in work with young children.
Much depends on this community and the relationships within it. It provides support,
inspiration, a reference point. The work also contains important elements of routine,
combined with great autonomy and flexibility. The worker, therefore, needs to be able to
live with and connect both elements, combining spontaneity with planning.
The relationship between workers and parents is of great importance. It is multi-faceted,
and which facets are emphasised can and does vary. There is an element of control,
through parents embodying institutional rules. There is an element of managing a
situation in which the child lives her life in two settings: this requires the exchange of
information, the development of mutual understanding, the coordination of certain
activities. There is an element of providing parents with support, through offering advice
and counsel. There is an element of parents being recognised as part of the community of
the centre, with opportunities to participate in its life. Then there is the element of parents
being entitled to a say in the management of the centre.
The relationship between workers and parents is complex, because of the many possible
elements involved, because it is emotionally charged and because of the potential for
different perspectives, understandings and expectations. Some workers at least see the
complexity increasing because of changes in family life, producing more problems and
pressures for parents. Time is at a premium, with parent involvement being increasingly
prioritised at the very time when parents have less time available. There are also
contradictory developments, notably between parents who are more demanding of
services but less confident as parents. The idea of centres as institutions underpinning
society can also seem at odds with an idea of them as services seeking to attract
The work in services for young children is regulated in all three countries, but to varying
degrees and in different ways. Denmark has strong professional and peer regulation, but
there has been much less from government. An interesting issue is the attempt to find
ways to impose more control on individual institutions and the pedagogical work
conducted in them within a strong culture of decentralisation and autonomy where even
the term ‘supervision’ is suspect to many practitioners. How far will approaches like
‘dialogue-based supervision’ prove to offer genuinely innovative ways to combine
accountability with diversity, some guarantee of basic standards with the possibility for
Hungary has moved from strong central regulation to a more decentralised approach, but
still with a substantial structure of control covering individual institutions. There is,
though, also the same issue as in Denmark: how to improve standards while encouraging
Spain is in the process of developing some form of public regulatory system for the first
time. But this has yet to have much impact, in particular on services for children under 3
years. Here official ambivalence about the educational identity of these services has
deferred the introduction of regulation across the whole private sector. Spain, with a large
for profit sector, also confronts the problem of how far the state can or should intervene
to regulate standards in private services, competing in the market and largely dependent
on parental fees.
CHAPTER SEVEN : VIEWS ABOUT THE WORK
Services for young children are expanding in most countries, driven by increased
maternal employment and a belief in the longer-term benefits of early education. But how
do societies respond to this institutionalisation of childhood and young children’s
increasing relationships with paid workers in formal services? How do the views of
workers, parents and the wider society compare with respect to the purposes and
importance of services and the status of work with young children?
We start by considering these issues, in particular how informants involved with services
for young children think society views the work. Having considered the importance
informants themselves attach to the work, we move on to consider their satisfaction with
their jobs. We end by confronting a central feature of work with young children, its
highly gendered nature. We consider informant’s views on this subject and end by asking
how far work with young children is still understood as women’s work
7.1 Status and image
Workers in services for young children share a view that their work is important, to
children and families but also to society at large. This is summed up by this Danish
I have a really big influence on those children’s futures by giving them everything
I can while they are here with me. By teaching them a lot of things, all the basic
things and I do my best to go into things (as a pedagogue) that the parents don’t
know about. It’s a big responsibility and I love having that responsibility. I really
like the feeling of being able to make a difference.
This appreciation of the importance of the work may only develop while doing the job.
Many Hungarian nursery workers, for example, would say that when they first began
they had no clear idea about their work, and that it was only subsequently that they came
to realize the educational and developmental importance of what they did.
But informants’ views about how the work is seen and valued by others is less positive
and in some cases less consistent. Thus one Danish pedagogue can say that there is “an
incredibly low status associated with pedagogues in general but notably with regard to
pedagogues working with young children”, while another feels she belongs to a
“completely respected and highly appreciated profession”.
However within such contradictory responses, certain trends can be detected among the
Danish informants. Not only do the policy-makers, trainers, pedagogues and pedagogue
assistants agree that their work is important, but they stress that the status of their work
has generally improved over the last 20 years. A senior official in the pedagogues’ trade
union, herself a pedagogue, speaks of this changed status:
So, things have changed and there is a greater acknowledgement that it is not just
a labour market policy measure. There is actually a certain level of
professionalism, and the people are skilled, and this is an important area to us,
but going all the way and trying to prepare something in relation to the quality of
the area, that is still missing. If you ask the pedagogues around you, they feel that
the parents believe they provide greater value for society, but there are still many
of them who do not believe that they are appreciated by society, and that is
because one tends to measure one's value for society on the basis of pay.
There is a certain consensus about the fact that users (the parents of the children) respect
the work performed by the pedagogues and pedagogue assistants and they are satisfied
with the centres.
A senior government policy maker goes further, to suggest the importance government
attaches to work with young children. Irrespective of which parties are in power
there has always been a broad consensus that this area is of top priority. This is
an area that everyone has an opinion about, either they know a family day carer
or most have had their children or grandchildren looked after, so we all have
some insights into this system and we believe it is an important thing. [The status
of the field today] is good in the sense that the satisfaction level is very high. The
pedagogues are respected as responsible partners at all levels.
She also adds that the current minister is a user of these services herself.
Another indicator of increased recognition is agreed both by the trade union official and
the senior policy maker: the high degree of contact and cooperation between government
and the trade union. The trade union has a dual strategy: to work both on traditional
issues like wages and on other issues more related to the status, public understanding and
standard of pedagogical work. The union official considers that “we are increasingly
considered as a professional organisation and called upon to take part in the decision-
making process, which was not the case ten years ago”. More generally, policy making
in Denmark seems to involve communication and cooperation between key stakeholders
including government, municipalities (individually and collectviely), the pedagogues’
trade union, other organisations and researchers.
One reason for increased recognition of the work is its increasing centrality in the lives of
Danish families as services have increased to near universal levels. It is, as one
pedagogue puts it, “a natural part of our life today...it is hardly a topic of discussion any
more”. A local policy maker refers to a general improvement in status because the “work
has become a compulsory part of children’s lives”, while a pedagogue observes that
these things are changing at the moment because many people are getting to
know more about day care institutions. There are many parents who learn about
day care institutions and their experiences are positive...In day-to-day life, we see
this expressed by way of acknowledgement, that your work is appreciated...It is a
place of quality, a good place for children to be
Parents, for the most part, recognise the work and are generally very positive, as this
pedagogue assistant describes:
They say we do a great job…they say that they are pleased with this place. I
talked recently to a mother whose boy had left us, she was all in tears because ‘it
is such a great place but I did not think about it until he started in school and his
biggest wish was to come and visit you.’ There are still people who believe that
pedagogues are the worst people in the world but I understand that this is
generally improving. People think it is interesting and that you should appreciate
the work of people who take the time to understand their children’s needs and
development. Ordinary people, parents have begun to read professional literature
and the books that we use as tools to gain a better understanding of their
children. In a way, I see this as a positive development.
Many Danes today not only use services for their young children but have been to them
when they were children.
Society-wise, I feel better about being a pedagogue than previously...[M]aybe it is
because all of them, the adults and the parents and the decision makers have all
at one time been children at kindergartens. This may be the reason why things
have become a little bit easier
As provision increases and finding a place is no longer the big issue, parents are both
more appreciative and have higher expectations. The parents, this pedagogue believes,
seem to consider the pedagogical profession
as being increasingly important. It is no longer irrelevant for the parents or for
most of the parents where their children are placed. Ten years ago you might
have said that ‘we were lucky enough to get our children into that institution’,
but you actually did not care about it. I do not see it that way any longer. Parents
are talking with each other whether such and such is a good place, about what we
do and they ask for information. I think that today parents consider it to be more
important. So, in a way this also applies to the public in general.
However, there are certain problems associated with the status of the profession. One
pedagogue, who felt recent developments were not unqualified improvements, saw one
problem as lack of public awareness: “I still think we need to communicate our pedagogy
better, to make it more visible as a profession”. More generally, many pedagogues still
felt that the work has a rather low status, at least in wider society, that many people
“think this is a trivial job, they consider working in a nursery to be a simple job, walking
around in the playground and stuff like that”. Many pedagogues believe the pay is too
low and argue that this is linked to low status: “we are among the lowest paid people in
the country [yet] sometimes my responsibility involves life and death”. Yet even this
pedagogue recognises that not everyone thinks her work unimportant: “some parents
really appreciate the daily life of their children here and they keep talking about it and
support us in our work”.
Status is also judged not just in absolute terms, but relative to other jobs and especially
teaching and nursing:
Although [our] studies go on for as long as nurses, we never reach their pay
level. It is more evident what they do, they are improving people’s health.
I still think the professions of other people are valued much more favourably.
School, for example, has a much greater status in the eyes of parents and the
public than we do
Other respondents tell us that some users with a different ethnic background do not
respect the efforts of the pedagogues and that this can make it difficult to collaborate
In Hungary, informants mostly felt that work with young children had low social
recognition. Low pay was, again, viewed as an indication of status. This view about the
social standing of work with young children, and its connection to poor pay, is expressed
below by a range of informants: a national policy maker, a local policy maker, a trainer
and two practitioners, from a nursery and kindergarten respectively:
To achieve a higher appreciation of childcare workers, first of all the prestige of
work with 0 to 3 children, and the salary of the workers has to be increased. The
importance of the early ages has to be acknowledged more. In the early 90s, there
was a feeling that society does not think childcare services are needed for
children under the age of 3. There was no normative [earmarked] funding for
these services for about two years. Today, however, I can say the both on the level
of central government and on the level of local government the need for childcare
provision is understood and the services are thought to be necessary.
The work of kindergarten pedagogues is not appreciated enough. Though I think
the younger the child is, the more difficult the pedagogues’ work is and the more
they have to know. Unfortunately, their work is not acknowledged enough either
morally or financially.
The status and prestige of kindergarten pedagogues are not good. The prestige of
pedagogues changes depending on the hierarchy tied to the different levels of
education. Pedagogues working with younger children have the lower prestige
whether you look at their appreciation by society or at their salaries. However,
contradictory to this is the view of parents whose children are in kindergartens.
They usually think very highly of the profession. So, in a sense, there is an
I think the judgement [of our work in nurseries] and prestige is very, very poor.
Judgement within the profession is not so bad, so we are forced not only here in
local childcare centers, but also within the wider profession to increase
recognition for ourselves, as we don’t really get this from the outside. I think that
social recognition is very poor, for example, if we take the media, they don’t
mention childcare centers, in a good sense they don’t mention them at all. If it is
discussed at all, then positive things don’t come out of it, but rather they grab a
particular case and perhaps blow it up a little.
Social judgement [about kindergartens] is very poor. Those parents whose
children go to kindergarten and have a look at the kindergarten, on open days or
on a normal day, or take home their child’s handiwork or the educational
material, verses, songs, information which they receive here and perhaps they
think that this is good and it’s needed, that it is very good. But, as for those
parents whose children have already finished kindergarten, I think they forget
about it and the real problem is that society has become so money-orientated that
if we think about it society only recognizes those who receive a big payment.
Even with the recent and welcome substantial pay rise (see Chapter 2), many
practitioners felt they were still underpaid and their work inadequately recognised: “I
think that even with this pay increase, we [kindergarten pedagogues] earn ridiculously
little based on the burden we have to shoulder. We work a lot more than we get paid for”.
This social positioning of work with young children was often explained in terms of
limited knowledge of and understanding about the work, which many were believed to
view as ‘baby sitting’ and ‘just playing’: “many people are not familiar with the work we
do with children, they think that children just come here, we play with them all day and
that is it”. This was a particular problem for nurseries, working with the youngest
children, as this nursery worker observed while at the same time showing her own
confidence in the importance and complexity of her work:
Nurseries are very complex. [But] everyone believes we are no more than
nannies, and that we do nothing else but care work. This picture is wrong because
in the nursery where children’s minds are broadening, and they are learning how
to move…it requires very purposeful work to help the children then, and only then
when they really need it, to attend to their physical needs when they need my help.
Other reasons for the low status of work with young children in Hungary were also
• a hierarchy of status in working with children was related to a hierarchy in
training of workers, i.e. low status goes with low training (“perhaps what is
missing is that the profession does not have its own ‘intelligentsia’, our own
highly educated experts who would represent the profession well, we do not have
higher level education for nursery workers”);
• a certain acquiescence on the part of the workforces (“social recognition is
missing, but let’s say we can obviously do something about this, because it’s
possible we did not fight enough so they pay more attention to us”).
• the closure of many nurseries (“sometimes [our status] was better, then all at
once they shut a large number of childcare centres”)
The closure of more than half of Hungary’s nurseries since the late 1980s reflected an
ambivalent public view about nurseries, and the informants involved with this sector
were preoccupied with how to improve the position of these services. Although closures
have now ceased, an atmosphere of uncertainty surrounds nurseries: jobs have been lost
and their existence apparently called into question. Recognition and status of the work
have been adversely affected by this period of contraction, and are further undermined by
a widespread belief that children under 3 years are best cared for by a parent. By contrast,
no informants were worried about the future of kindergartens, the main concern being to
maintain their good tradition of education.
Some thought that parents recognised the value of the work in these services for young
children. A trainer, for example, felt that parents whose children are in kindergartens
“usually think very highly of the profession”. Yet at the same time – unlike in Denmark –
several informants expressed a certain ambivalence towards parents. This suggested
tensions that might occur in the relationship which, in turn, could be linked to the failure
of some parents to recognize the value of the work and workers in pre-school centres. A
national policy maker saw the problem in terms of practitioner attitudes to parents:
The prestige of kindergartens would be higher if the kindergarten pedagogues did
not ‘prescribe’ to parents what to do with the children at home, but could achieve
the status of an expert and the parents would understand that she wants to help. A
change in attitude is needed to develop a better partnership between parents and
the kindergarten pedagogues.
Practitioners tended to see the problem being on the parents’ side. A nursery worker
spoke about how some parents - not all though - took the view that centres and their staff
served a limited, rather undemanding ‘childcare’ role:
Well, I think this is changing even on the parents’ side, because there are people
who, for example, recognize our work, mostly in words, because they see the
child’s development and then recognize it. I have come across parents who think
that the childcare centre is only good for looking after their children while they
are working. In the more restricted professional field, perhaps there is
recognition, they see this work and know what the hard part of it is, what the good
and bad sides are, well in general I feel the recognition is not really there. Either
in this way or in financial terms, there isn’t really any recognition.
While another practitioner linked poor parenting with a failure to recognize the value of
the work done in kindergartens:
There are many parents who do not pay enough attention to their children. Either
they are not concerned or are too busy with their own job. They cannot
appreciate our profession. In my opinion, women should have the choice to work
reduced hours with higher pay and they should be better educated and informed
about child rearing. Then, they would know better what it is like to raise a child
and what that involves and they would also appreciate our work better.
The Spanish replies were dominated by two themes, both reflecting features of the
service system. As already discussed in Chapter 2, the reform process expressed in the
1990 legislation – the LOGSE – sought to bring services for children under and over 3
years into a unified, education-based system, with birth to 6 years recognised as the first
stage of the education system. Reformers had wanted to see services for children under
and over 3 equally available and all services staffed by a new teacher specialising in work
with children from birth to 6 years. In these hopes they had been disappointed, with
levels of provision for children under 3 years lagging far behind school-based services for
children over 3, and teachers forming only a minority of the workforce in the former
services (Balaguer, 2003). Moreover, services for children under 3 years are mostly
provided by private, for-profit providers, some are not yet regulated in the educational
system and many are considered to offer rather low standards (Casas, Crespo, Gómez and
There seems to be some difference of view and understanding about the significance of
education for children under 3 years, which means the idea is not widely and deeply
accepted. For some, an educational view of services for children under 3 is especially
important, since a child develops and changes so much at this time of life. But there is an
absence of deep public debate about the subject and how it should be made reality –
instead it is merely fashionable to speak of the importance of education.
What emerges, therefore, is a two tier system with services for children under 3 years,
with some notable exceptions, lagging behind services for children over 3 in many
respects, including availability and staff qualifications. This differentiation comes
through in the Spanish interviews. Despite some improvements, work with children under
3 years has low social standing, as this trainer explains:
In relation to the prestige of pedagogues, we have to distinguish clearly between
the pedagogues in the ages 0 to 3 and 3 to 6. The difference is the result of the
social attention given to both age groups. Despite it being possible to detect a
favourable trend, the general idea still remains that the period 0 to 3 years is not
an important phase for the development of children and it may rather be a place
to look after them when they enrol in a day nursery. This social appreciation has
changed in recent years, but it’s still possible to perceive lower social prestige
among pedagogues who work with children aged 0 to 3. Parents still don’t
demand tangible results from education in the period 0 to 3 years, as they do in
the next one, 3 to 6 years
One reason for the higher status of the workers with children over 3 years was that they
were all teachers and seen as part of the wider teaching profession (although, as we have
seen, some workers with children under 3 are teachers, most are less qualified
‘technicians in early childhood education’). Another trainer notes this distinction while,
at the same time, also suggesting that workers with children under 3 years have a more
If we compare them, the pedagogues for the 3 to 6 age group are in a better
situation. They have a higher social status in life and belong to the large group of
school pedagogues. Their work is not as stressful either as the work of the
pedagogues in secondary school education or that of pedagogues for the 0 to 3
age group. While they, for example, are also exposed to family problems, these
kinds of problems usually remain outside the school.
The status differential is reflected in pay and conditions. Teachers working with children
over 3 in schools get the same pay and conditions as teachers working with children in
primary school. Except in a few cases where local authorities have decided to value work
with children under 3, workers in centres for children under 3 (including teachers) have
poorer pay and employment conditions. A technical worker in a centre for children under
3 here expresses her anger at her pay and the low social valuation of her work which she
feels the pay expresses:
It’s hard work. And it’s not appreciated by society, or by the town hall. And,
financially, it’s a very badly paid job. I earn 146,000 pesetas, more or less, but
my colleagues earn less. In this council, there is no [collective] agreement. I think
that, with all due respect, a person who cleans the gutters, or a gardener, from
the council, earns about 100,000 pesetas more than me. I find this horrific. And
I’m not talking about just this council, I’m speaking generally. I think that it is a
badly paid job
Apart from the higher traditional social status of teachers – and the failure to make
teachers the main type of worker with under 3s – the low status of workers with young
children is linked, as in Hungary, to a wider public failure to understand the educational
and developmental nature of the work. Even among parents it is often seen as just ‘child
care’, a safe place to leave children while parents work, and as traditional women’s work.
As this worker says, as explanation for the low value attached to work with children
under 3 years, “a lot of people, and parents also, think what we do is just to look after
[the children]”. Or, as this trainer bluntly put it, “parents see us as baby sitters, a lot of
Another informant, again a trainer, related attempts to create a new public understanding
of the work to a struggle by reformers to change the term used for centres, from
guarderías (implying a place to keep children safe) to escuelas infantiles (or in Catalan,
escoles bressol, implying a place for education):
At the social level, we couldn’t get rid of the term guardería, which is the concept
with which we are related. Besides, it is a word all the politicians’ use and then
we are once again in social claims, aren’t we? ‘We need more places at the
guardería because women have to be incorporated in the labour market’. We are
at that point when we are taking care of a person, which is traditional women’s
work, taking care of a little person…[But] care work is not only care work but
education because what we are doing with those children, including babies, must
be accepted, they are going to learn everything, from talking and walking to all
the basic concepts and that is an educational period. But the social message is
‘custody and watch over those infants’.
Finally, a leading member of the reform movement argued that variable standards in
services fostered a ‘contradictory image’ of workers:
There is another important factor and that is finding schools [by which she means
centres for young children understood as ‘escuelas infantiles’] with exceptional
staff, or not as the case may be. The families that have had the luck to send their
children to a school in which the staff were trained and considered to be
professionals, fits perfectly at this time with the expectations that they have for the
child’s opportunities. People tend to value the experience they have in a positive
manner. This is not the reality in the majority of cases, because there aren’t many
schools that depend on staff that are well-qualified, well-trained and well-paid.
7.2 Job satisfaction
In general, Danish practitioners express satisfaction with the work. In particular they like
working with children. When asked what is the best thing about the work, most reply
immediately – being with the children. The strength of feeling, even the emotion of love,
is striking, as can be felt from these replies by practitioners:
It’s a lot of fun, because sometimes it’s as if a light shines from above or there is
some revelation or other, then you suddenly understand what you’re involved in
and you suddenly understand. Just think, I’m working right now. I’m doing
something I really like. I’m sitting here with 12 beautiful children with huge
expectant eyes and they are smiling at me and I actually get paid for this. Just
think you can do something that nice. Compare that with working in a shop or an
office. I also tried that a few years back. It was a much less satisfying job and just
not at all developmental in a personal sense. Just think that you can work in these
surroundings and with these people and these sweet little children and see the
development and experience good things happening and just be happy with it.
It’s being together with the children. I feel I can give them something, but I also
get so much back from them. I think there is a lot of giving, that’s the best part.
It’s playing. If I’ve had a good day then I’ve been outside playing. Then if I’ve
had a good game going together with some children, you feel like saying ‘Hold
on, could you really play this with me for such a long time, be absorbed in it for
so long?’ Then it’s been a good day for me.
Nursery children are simply the most divine people you ever could meet. Going to
work is almost like having just fallen in love
The second response, given by several workers, was that they liked being able to decide
their work, without being told what to do:
The best part is being with the children naturally, but it’s also being able to
decide what I do at work myself to a great extent. You could say that we have the
overall direction that we work to, but I decide myself about my methods and
whether I want to be inside or outside, in partnership with the three others I work
with, of course. A great degree of flexibility and autonomy in your work. I think
that is one of the good things.
Feeling close to the children, being so involved with them, also has a reverse side: it can
bring heavy demands on workers and feelings of stress. One pedagogue expressed this
Janus-face of the work:
Working with day nursery children is so terribly exciting. I’m always incredibly
fascinated by them…[But] it can be very intense here at the centre. We place
incredibly great demands on each other and on ourselves to be extremely close to
the children. It needs to be so too, if we’re to live up to our values… It is all about
time, and nothing else…Having enough time not to get flustered or caught up in
By contrast, no clear and consistent answers emerged from questioning on what was the
worse thing about the work. Several informants emphasised the importance of time, and
felt that there was not always enough time for actually working with children. Some reply
that it is the difficult conversations with parents and children who are having a hard time
or the feeling that you cannot help such families:
[It’s] when you don’t feel that you can do enough. When you feel powerless to do
anything about a child or a family. When you know that something is going on at
home and you can’t prove it. That’s the worst part, being powerless when there is
something you want to do.
One of the pedagogue assistants said that pay was the worst thing about the job, which
was made worse for him because he could not see, in practice, “the difference between
assistants and pedagogues”. Most other informants felt that pay was not good: indeed
according to the answers to the self-completion questionnaire, pay was the aspect of the
work where there is the greatest level of dissatisfaction: 2 workers were not satisfied at
all, and 6 were only ‘fairly satisfied’, leaving 4 ‘satisfied’. But most workers seemed to
have accepted the situation and refused to let it overshadow their satisfaction with the
work: “I don’t think there is a worst thing. I could say pay, but I’ve decided that I’m not
bothered about that because I live well.”
The work can be very physical at times, especially in nurseries with very young children
needing frequent lifting. In their questionnaires, 6 of the 10 pedagogues rate the work
‘very’ physically demanding, the remaining 4 and both assistants demanding ‘now and
then’. Only one mentions back problems during their interview or the tour, a pedagogue
working with children under 3. She also reports that others at her institution suffer from
this complaint and that she might have to work with the older children if her back
problem gets any worse.
Another big physical problem in centres is noise. For this pedagogue, noise makes an
important contribution to the stress she experiences at work:
[Noise] is probably the hardest part. I have an immense amount of respect for the
place and believe that we are very competent, but I also believe that we work very
hard and the work is very stressful…We should learn to limit ourselves. We
should help ourselves in our own work and unload stress ourselves in our work…
I have tried hard to reduce the tempo and not to use up excess energy on
unnecessary things. I am also good at coming home and doing things there which
are very relaxing. Despite this I had whistling in my ears, nausea and fever at 3
p.m. this afternoon due to stress and work pressures. Things get very loud in a
building like this. We place demands on each other and on ourselves by being so
close to the children.
Hungarian practitioners, like their Danish counterparts, also love their profession very
much and are highly satisfied with their work. A number of respondents had felt this way
from the very beginning of their careers, while for others this feeling for the work
developed gradually. Many of them said that, prior to starting, they had either no specific
ideas about their future work or else they thought their work would be similar to playing
with dolls. It was only through time and experience that they gradually learned the beauty
of working with young children. Such responses indicate that many practitioners before
they enter the work – as with the vast majority of society – are unaware of what goes on
in nurseries and kindergartens and undervalue the work. As we have already discussed,
for many people working with young children means simply taking care of or 'guarding'
them, even these days.
In the case of nursery workers especially, the feeling of job satisfaction is increased by a
sense of how great is their responsibility, that their work with young children can have a
great influence on these children’s lives. Another source of satisfaction, related again to
responsibility, is the need and opportunity to adapt theory and practice to the needs of
each particular child. As a kindergarten teacher puts this:
This is a wonderful profession, as, in addition to the material learned, you have to
use your own knowledge as well. You have the basis and this has to be
accomplished, but at the same time it needs to be precisely adapted to the
children you have
This means that the profession requires a considerable degree of imagination and
creativity. Many practitioners highlighted this aspect of the work, saying that they would
not be able to do monotonous work involving documents in an office.
It seems these two connecting features of the work – namely the fondness for children
and the sense of achievement brought about by the development of children as a
consequence of their work – make for a general feeling of job satisfaction amongst the
Hungarian informants. On the down side, some sources of dissatisfaction are mentioned,
primarily poor pay and lack of social recognition, though some informants complain
about the exhausting nature of the work both physically and psychologically: on the one
hand you are lifting children, on the other you have to maintain constant attention and
assume a high level of responsibility.
All these themes – mainly satisfactions, but also some dissatisfactions – are expressed in
these heartfelt comments from a nursery worker
The inner drive is what motivates, which is inside people, like you said, that we
are dealing with a small, developing, malleable person and this is a really huge
responsibility. In this profession, you can feel that a small living thing has been
entrusted to me, which belongs to somebody, its parents are the most important,
but I also undertake a significant responsibility in this. There isn’t any financial
or some sort of concrete motivation. It is a feeling of success because a one year-
old child comes in and a three year-old child goes away, who has developed so
much, can do so much by himself, in which I have helped him. It is a motivation
that I can already see in a three year-old child what he is capable of. The small
person who is entrusted to us is responsibility itself. What else motivates? I think
women are motivated by the instinctive will to deal with little ones which is
inbred, don’t you think? In truth, I would say that people get into this profession
and then find out just how complicated and sophisticated it is and how much more
difficult it is than being a parent because people are parents by instinct. This is
the way of the world. But, people choose this profession. This is the difference.
And there can be professional successes too, in terms of how well the child
develops, because this means that he is doing something well. Perhaps one day
we will reach the point that people are motivated by being well paid and
respected. They will have a place in society.
7.3 Views about gender
Work with young children is, as we have shown, highly gendered. It is, in practice
‘women’s work’. As we have seen above, some attribute this to the work being equated
with women’s traditional role of ‘caring for’ young children. While in the last extract
from a Hungarian informant, it was apparent that some workers still think of the work as
drawing on essentially female qualities: “I think women are motivated by the instinctive
will to deal with little ones which is inbred, don’t you think?”
Despite the centrality of gender to work with young children, gender as an issue did not
come up spontaneously from any informant. Denmark was the only one of the three
countries where it is common - or at least, not uncommon - to find male workers in
centres for young children, and there have also been public and professional discussions
about gender and the workforce (see, for example, the discussion of ‘gender pedagogy’ in
Jensen, 1996). Nevertheless, none of the practitioners who were interviewed mentioned
the gender issue without being prompted, not even the two men. Indeed the response by
one of the men, a pedagogue, was that the subject “may well be interesting for some
people [but] actually it’s not interesting to me”. While the other, an assistant, spoke little
about the issue of gender, even when asked, while talking frequently about the position of
assistants in relation to pedagogues: for him this perceived sense of job inferiority was far
more important than being a man in a mainly female work group.
The situation is assessed as somewhat different in Hungary and Spain. In Hungary there
appear to be no men in any services and there has been no public discourse about the
issue, either under the socialist regime or subsequently. There is no policy about it, and
either there are no male students at all (as in the case of training for nursery work), or the
one or two who might study to be kindergarten pedagogues choose to find some other
work after receiving the qualification.
In Spain, working with children is treated as a woman's career. Men are only just
beginning to apply for jobs. According to a teacher trainer, there are hardly any men to be
found among her students. The few men who do study this course are either very good
students who understand clearly from the beginning that this is a profession, or they are
very bad and think that it will be an easy career.
Generally, in all three countries, staff feel it is desirable to have male workers. The Danes
justify this mainly in terms of gender difference, that children benefit from having a
mixed work group because men and women each bring different qualities and attitudes to
the work. A male assistant says that
I probably have a higher threshold with the children than some of the others (i.e.
women). I probably stand and watch longer and watch a boy climb higher and
higher up the tree than many others will and let a tussle go on longer than the
Q.: Is that something to do with gender?
I think so. I know too that our director [also a man] has some of the same
attitudes, but it’s not him I’m dictated by. It’s myself, because I believe it’s
important to fall and hurt yourself to find out that it hurts
A female pedagogue, who has worked closely with a male assistant, shares the same
It’s great. I think we should have men. They do something else. When I play
football with the boys, which I seldom do because it doesn’t interest me, I find it
hard. So it’s completely different when X [male assistant] does it. He’s a big
joker. There’s no one can make a fire like him. You can get sissy fires, but his
fires are definitely macho ones.
One of the centres in the study, an age-integrated institution, makes it a priority to
employ male assistants because “it is important in daily life that children also have the
time to spend time with men…[because] men can do things that women can’t…[and
because] our experience is that the way men play with the children is different to the way
we [women] do”. They tend to employ young men who come
with a different kind of energy and other ways of relating to children which I can
see is worth it’s weight in gold in daily life…For one thing these boys have a lot
of other things going for them like physical presence, they can get things going
much more easily and without the baby language that we female teachers
sometimes lapse into. We try to be conscious of this here in the centre. We wrestle
with the children and play football with the children, but we just don’t have the
energy the young guys have…In some ways they represent other things to the
children, and I think that is very good. But I don’t think they could be left there
alone…We can definitely see who the children turn to when they need comforting
and who they want when things aren’t going at all well for them.
Not all staff buy into this discourse. The idea of gender difference and gender roles can
be oppressive for both genders. Some men, for example, do not want to play the
traditional male role. A male pedagogue says he is not particularly good at rougher
games. While a female pedagogue, who works with him, recognizes differences in how
they work with children but does not put this down to gender:
Of course we don’t always agree. But that happens with both men and
women…We sometimes attach importance to different things…It [having male
and female workers] doesn’t really mean so much to kindergarten children [i.e.
over 3 years of age]. I think that the security that there are adults there means
more when you’re at that age…If [male colleague] can play the guitar then that’s
nothing to do with being a man or a woman, but he can and that’s why they go
looking for him. There could also be other things that they look to me for.
Q.: But not because of gender.
No. Perhaps some of the older boys may look for a man and I think that also
applies more to the foreign boys…it varies from child to child, but some of the
boys perhaps look for men when they need comforting.
Three of the informants in Denmark explain that there is a difference in mixed staff
groups. Men see things in a somewhat different way and they are more direct. But being
in a mixed staff group where there are several men and several women is very different to
the more normal scenario, where the mixed group is mainly women, with just one or two
men. A female pedagogue explains very clearly how difficult it can be for young men to
come into a ”feminine universe”, and how the centre responds to this: by always trying to
employ at least two men and for the female staff to do ‘traditional male things’.
I imagine it could be quite horrible (to be the only male worker)…We are
supposed to have two so that at least they can keep each other company a
little…But we are also women and the way we try and work around that is by also
taking on some of those things. By me climbing trees too. Well, the last time we
went out in the woods, about 14 days ago, we were out to catch tadpoles. Well
didn’t I crawl out on to the tree trunk out over the lake!…I suddenly noticed a
very quiet audience of children at the [lake] edge. I think that they simply began
to feel nervous because, if I fell in, what would happen to them?
Both of the male informants have experienced a lot of specifically ‘ladies talk’ in the staff
groups during breaks. “It was all about births and menstruation and all that stuff”, but
over time the topics of conversation in the mixed staff groups have become “a little bit
A final issue raised concerned the risk of abuse or of accusations of abuse. One centre
with children from minority ethnic backgrounds had experience of some parents not
wanting men to change children’s nappies. The response had been clear, even brusque:
Our stance is that we are a Danish organization and we are all employed to do
the same work as each other and that often involves changing nappies…We tell
them [parents] that is how it is here and they can choose an institution where
there are only women. It’s the same with running around the playground with no
clothes on…But that’s the way a Danish institution is when it’s warm.
However the climate of suspicion around male workers, especially following the recent
conviction of two men workers for sexual abuse, had placed a male pedagogue under “a
great strain” for a time.
I can’t be bothered getting annoyed about it any more because I know that I have
a clear conscience and I always will have. It was particularly bad when it all
came out and there were a lot of phone calls being made. That wasn’t much fun
because I always felt I had to be on guard. The kids sure didn’t get tickled much
at that time.
By contrast, Hungarian and Spanish practitioners had far less to say about gender and
men workers, apart from a general wish to see more/any male workers. Hungarian
workers tended to justify the need for men in centres in terms of an increasing need for
male role models. Many children, they argued, missed out on this due to the great number
of divorces, as a result of which many children in the first years of their lives were
surrounded by women only: as a consequence, their development could be one-sided. It
was particularly important for boys that they could learn gender-specific behaviour from
men. But practitioners, like this nursery worker, were not very optimistic about the
likelihood of much changing.
Yes, it is imaginable that a man would also be among them, especially in relation
to families where only the mother and grandmother are around the child, where
there is no father or in one parent families. It’s for sure that it would be very
important in this case – although this is a dream one does not really properly
consider…When my child was small, I did come across a male kindergarten
pedagogue, bit I haven’t observed a real breakthrough in this field because since
that time I’ve only heard of a few male kindergarten pedagogues…But I think
social recognition would have to change to a great extent in order to attract men
to work here and the pay would also have to be different as this salary is not
enough for any man to provide for a family, that’s sure
7.4 Concluding comments
Informants in all three countries, but especially in Hungary and Spain, tend to think that
the status of work with young children remains too low, both in relation to its real value
and in relation to other professions. The nub of the problem seems to be different
understandings of the work held by policy makers, trainers and practitioners – who see it
as a complex job in socially important institutions, a job concerned not only with care but
with the education, development and well-being of children; and society at large - where
the work is still viewed in simplified terms, as ‘childcare’, ‘babysitting’ and ‘just play’.
Indeed it seems that for improved recognition, there is a need to get beyond viewing and
talking about the work as ‘childcare’, to an understanding of the work as multi-purpose
or, in the Danish term, pedagogical.
Underlying this public perception is the lack of visibility and information about the work.
But it is not entirely invisible: parents mostly are more aware of the work, and recognize
its importance and value. Nor is the public perception unchanging: there has been some
improvement in the work’s standing in recent years. There also appears to be higher and
wider recognition of work with young children in Denmark. How far is this connected to
the high level of training of most workers in services for children under and over 3, and
the near universal availability of services, which gives a large part of the population first
hand experience both as parents and children? Senior policy makers in Denmark refer to
these services as institutions underpinning society, attaching a new social importance to
Yet even though our informants might recognize the importance of these institutions,
some concerns were expressed that others might not, including politicians, and that
services for young children were not the subject of sufficient public deliberation and
interest. A senior trade union official had no doubt about the social significance of
services for young children, but felt that :
Denmark is a little short of vision in the area of child policy. That is a shame
because the scope of the debate about what we want with our children ought to be
much broader...[L]ocal government politicians rarely have any vision on child
policy…This is a major area and very expensive, with many people employed and
many children living their lives here, but we do not really have any
social/political views about this issue. This is something we would like to see. We
are trying, and we have done so for many years, to debate the existence of day
care institutions. Why are they so important as institutions underpinning society
in our welfare society? What are the values we are passing through our system of
In countries where there is a split between services for children under and over 3 years of
age, with differences in staff qualifications, services for the youngest children may have
more problems gaining recognition and escaping the ‘childcare’ label for a more
educational role. Spain provides a vivid experience of an attempt to make this escape, and
the obstacles encountered in achieving a new understanding.
Even when status and earnings are considered low, practitioners themselves recognize the
complexity, importance and educational orientation of their work. They also find great
satisfaction in the work, first and foremost because they like children, enjoy working with
them and believe they can be a force for good in children’s lives both here and now and
in the future. They also value the scope that their work gives them for adapting their work
to the needs of individual children, for being, in short, reflective practitioners able to have
significant influence over their own work, rather than being mere technicians.
Gender is a central issue in the work, not least because while half the children in services
are boys, few if any staff are men. While the great majority of Danish workers are still
women, there are more men workers than in Hungary or Spain. There has also been some
discussion in Denmark – nationally and locally – about gender issues in pedagogical
work. Although this has not led to gender becoming a priority, it is noticeable that Danish
practitioners have both more experience of men and women working together and, when
asked, have more to say on the subject. A lot of these discussions are premised on innate
gender differences, that men and women each do certain things rather better than the
opposite gender. With some exceptions, therefore, the understanding of the work remains
that it is shaped by the particular qualities and interests that women bring to it. While few
people will now say that work with young children is intrinsically suited to women, it
remains in effect ‘women’s work’.
CHAPTER EIGHT : FUTURE DIRECTIONS
We conclude by offering some conclusions about the current situation of and
understandings about work with young children, as well as some indications of future
directions or issues that will need to be addressed in deciding those directions.
• Work with young children is structured in different ways. There may be:
o two main occupations, each working with a quite different age group (as in
Hungary, but also for example France, Italy, Belgium);
o two main occupations with some involvement across the full age range by
only one occupation (as in Spain where teachers are the occupation covering
the whole age range and ‘technical’ workers only work with children under 3
years; or as in the UK and Ireland, where teachers are confined to work with
children over 3 years but ‘childcare workers’ cover the whole age range);
o there can be one or two occupations (a profession, sometimes with an
assistant), both working equally across the whole age groups (as in Denmark,
but also Sweden, Finland and Norway).
One key structural dimension, therefore, is whether or not the workforce is split with
different occupations working with different age groups of young children, as in the
first two cases. Where this happens, the (main) group of workers with children under
3 are worse trained and worse paid, treated in short as doing work of lesser value.
A key question about future directions is whether there should be a split workforce or
one main type of occupation – a ‘core’ profession - that works with children from
birth to 6 years. In the latter case, a further structural issue is whether the long-term
aim should be that the whole workforce is professionalised or whether there should be
some ‘assistants’ working with a professional majority – and in which case what the
proportions should be.
• Broadening the discussion still further, a further structural issue is how should the
workforce with young children relate to others working with children, young people
and, indeed, adults. In Hungary and Spain, the workforce is confined, through its
training and qualifications, to services for young children. But the situation is very
different – indeed uniquely so – in Denmark. Here the main profession in services for
young children is also the main profession in a wide range of services for older
children, young people, and adults with disabilities. Pedagogues can even be found
work with elderly people, though still in relatively small numbers. Does the future lie
in moving towards this type of generalist profession and by extending the theory and
practice of pedagogy more widely? Or is there a compelling rationale for maintaining
more specialist occupations or professions, each focused on narrow age groups or
particular settings? Or are there other possibilities between these two extremes?
Another possibility, for example, is amalgamating occupations around a narrower age
range, but across an even wider range of services. Danish pedagogues are quite
distinct from Danish teachers. Although they can be found in schools, pedagogues’
involvement here is limited, for example to kindergarten classes for 6 year olds and in
school-age childcare. In Sweden, however, reforms introduced in 2001 have
integrated the training of pre-school teachers (the ‘core’ profession in services for
young children), school teachers (for children from 6 to 19 years) and free-time
pedagogues (who specialise in informal learning and school-age childcare). The
‘new’ teacher profession, which will emerge from the new training system from 2005
onwards, will therefore cover the main services for children and young people,
including schools. But it will not extend, as does the Danish profession of pedagogue,
into other non-school services for children and young people – such as residential
care - or into services for adults.
What emerges, therefore, are some clear choices about future directions for
structuring the workforce. At the one extreme is the split workforce model, with
occupations confined to work with young children. While at the other extreme is a
generalist professional workforce (albeit with possibilities of specialism), whose
members work at least across the whole of childhood and youth.
This also raises important questions about career opportunities. For the narrower the
occupation, the less such opportunities will be. The Hungarian nursery worker or
kindergarten pedagogue has little possibility of career progression. But the Danish
pedagogue can, and does, work across a wide range of settings – moving, for
example, between more general and more specialist services – as well as in a variety
of management and policy jobs.
• A further choice concerns the conceptualisation of the worker in centre-based
services for young children. Is the worker conceptualised as a substitute mother, who
undertakes the mother’s care work but in the public sphere? Or as a technician, who
applies certain methods to predetermined and tightly prescribed standards and goals?
Or a professional, who brings reflection and judgement to working towards broadly
defined purposes? If a professional, what is the profession?
None of our informants regarded workers with young children in centres as substitute
mothers, though this does not mean that this concept is dead. This understanding may
well remain widespread among the public at large, at least in some countries. It is
implicit in the concept of ‘social care’ as used in the analysis of welfare regimes
(Moss and Cameron, 2002). It may also be more closely associated with individual
carers, such as family day carers (e.g. the German term for family day carer,
tagesmutter, or the French, assistante maternelle).
However the technician and professional are contending concepts in services, most
obviously in Spain where the two main occupations are respectively technicians and
teachers. Two professional possibilities have been offered in these case studies: a
teacher and a pedagogue. But are there other possibilities? We are saying here that
future directions for work in this area involve finding answers to both structural and
• Workers in centre-based services for young children are mostly trained. None of our
informants argues that previous experience, by itself, is enough for the work, though
experience may be valued as an important complement to training. Not only is the
need for initial training generally accepted, but there has also been a process of
upgrading levels of initial training. This process had occurred in our three countries
within the last 15 years, but can also be seen in most other countries.
Even so there remain considerable differences in levels of training, in our cases
ranging from a ‘medium’ level upper secondary training to a ‘high’ level tertiary
training. Once again, where there is a hierarchy of training, workers with children
under 3 years come out worst, despite a strong feeling (at least among the people we
interviewed) that this was unjustifiable. Is it inevitable that training for work with
young children will move towards graduate level (as it is now for Danish pedagogues,
Hungarian kindergarten pedagogues and Spanish early childhood teachers)? Or will a
fault line remain in many countries, linked to a split occupational structure?
• Training issues, however, are not just confined to the level of education. Length
varies, as does the period allotted to practice. The two are linked. One reason the
Danish training contains more practice than the Spanish is that it lasts 6 months
longer. Whatever the practice period, which is a subject for debate, how to relate
theory to that practice is a recurring question, one that continues into regular
employment where the issue becomes the relevance of the preceding training to the
actual everyday work.
An important, if little discussed, matter is the age at which practitioners should do
their basic training. Many pedagogue students in Denmark start their training in their
mid to late 20s. This implies considerable post-school experience, both in
employment and life generally. Hungarian and Spanish students are much more likely
to train immediately after school or soon after.
Among our informants there was widespread recognition that, once qualified, workers
need regular opportunities to undertake further training. This may range from ‘in-
service’ work on practice, to short-term external courses through to longer-term study
including higher degrees. All require time and funding. On the time front, an
important issue to emerge is the extent to which practitioners have ‘non contact’ time
built in to their working week, and if so, how much and for what purposes.
• The case studies draw attention to the linked issues of status and pay. Earnings varied
considerably across our three case countries, and we have seen other examples of this
variation in earlier work in this project (Moss and Cameron, 2002). One reason may
be related to the type of welfare regime, in particular whether all welfare regimes are
equally capable of supporting good quality employment, including pay (the argument
being that Nordic regimes are more capable of achieving good quality employment
than liberal and conservative regimes).
But even in a Nordic welfare regime, like Denmark, pay for workers with young
children is still somewhat lower than for other professional groups working with
children, notably school teachers. This seems to reflect a second reason for poor pay:
the low status of the work, meaning it is not valued as highly as, for example, school
teaching. This might change, for example as the rhetoric of lifelong learning creates a
new rationale for the importance of work with young children (as a ‘foundation’ for
future learning). But improved employment and status seem to lie in moving public
understanding of the work from ‘care’ to some other concept which includes a
substantial element of learning. Will a recognition that centres have an increasingly
important social and cultural role, a process that some informants suggested was
occurring in Denmark, have the same effect on status and pay?
• An important factor in increased social recognition and status may be making the
work more visible, what one Danish informant referred to as “more solid”. The
argument goes that more transparency is needed to enable the public – the tax payers
– to see what the work is and what it achieves, to convince them of its importance and
that it provides value for money. This (in a wider context of new public
managerialism) is leading to the introduction of various methods to evaluate work
with young children: inspection systems, measures of quality, assessments of
children’s development on various criteria and so on. Here the example of Denmark
is interesting. So far, strong systems of external regulation and evaluation have not
been introduced. But there is some movement towards finding methods that will
combine greater ‘transparency’ (and control) with maintaining a large element of
decentralization and professional autonomy. This seems to be also the case in
Hungary, where national guidelines are combined with considerable local diversity.
The results of these balancing acts will repay further study.
There are many ways of thinking about and practicing evaluation, ranging from very
positivistic and managerial approaches (what has been described as the ‘discourse of
quality’) to those which place far more emphasis on deepening understanding of
practice, interpretation and judgements of value (the ‘discourse of meaning making’).
Standardised measures (such as the widely used Early Childhood Environmental
Rating Scale) are common in the former approach; while the latter is epitomised by
pedagogical documentation, a method developed in Reggio Emilia and now widely
worked with in many countries as a way of making practice both visible and
contestable. The question therefore is not whether or not there should be evaluation,
but what forms it should take and why (for further discussion see Dahlberg, Moss and
• Spain is a particularly interesting experience. It is the rare example of a country that
has tried to introduce a radical change in its services for young children, replacing a
split system of services and workers with an integrated, education-based system
(another example is New Zealand, which began this process just before Spain). Part
of this change has involved reform of the workforce, with an ambition (at least among
reformers) to make the teacher specialising in work with young children the ‘core’
occupation across the whole age range.
There have been some important developments following new legislation in 1990,
including the establishment of the new specialist teacher. But there have also been
significant failures, and the reform process has faltered. Services for children under 3
have received less attention and continue to be seen by many as mainly for childcare
rather than as educational institutions. The idea of a unified 0 to 6 stage of education,
including age-integrated centres, has only been realised in places. The hopes of
reformers that teachers would become the main workers across services for young
children have been disappointed, the workforce with children under 3 mainly
consisting instead of a ‘technical’ worker. Rather than momentum towards integration
building up, stagnation has now been followed by an undoing of the 1990 reform in
new legislation. This reformer sums up what has been achieved and what has failed:
The hopes of all those in crisis, professionals and parents, result(ed) in a law that
recognises that children can be educated from birth and that they have to be
educated in humane conditions and with adequate materials. The problem of the
Education Act is that there hasn’t been time to introduce it properly. What has the
Education Act achieved in 10 years? With regard to children in the 3 to 6 age
range, it has done something very important: provided school for all. On the
other hand, in the 0 to 3 stage, there was a process of improving conditions in the
existing situation: schools that were in a poor condition were closed and
personnel made a huge effort to get trained…
Now, in the year 2002, they [national government] have changed the law, closing
the opportunity for private nurseries to comply with the required standards of the
Education Act. Thus, in the end, two issues relating to the Education Act were not
recognised by the law: comprehensive schools for all children; and, that all
children up to the age of 6 should be together. The [new] Law of Quality permits
services in the 0 to 3 stage without any kind of regulation and destroys the
possibility of the nursery providing what is a school for young children. Instead of
the ‘Law of Quality’ it should be called ‘How to put an end to the little quality
that we had’.
The experience of Spain is important because it represents an attempt at fundamental
systemic change, affecting services and the workforce. Why it has not been more
successful is important to understand for the future direction of services for young
children in many countries. Was it because public understanding of the concepts and
purposes behind reform was inadequate, the climate of public opinion insufficiently
prepared for change? Was there insufficient cross-party political agreement, so that a
change of government left the reform process vulnerable? Was it because certain
structural conditions were lacking, for example adequate public funding and an
already established network of public services? Was it because it became bound up
with other reforms, such as devolution of power to regional governments, with
decentralisation occurring when this particular service reform needed a strong central
• This study has focused on a particular area of work with young children: centre-based
services in nurseries, kindergartens, schools and other institutions. However it is
important to recognise that this is only part of the story. There are other services for
young children and other workers, in particular family day carers and ‘domestic
workers’, i.e. workers caring for children in children’s own home (either as their sole
work or combining care with other forms of domestic work). These other forms of
provision vary between countries: Denmark has many family day carers, but few
domestic carers, while the opposite is the case in Spain; Hungary has few of either.
Even where family day care is common, its forms vary: in Denmark most family day
carers are salaried public employees working in organised schemes, while in the UK
most are self-employed workers paid directly by parents.
In general, these workers are less well paid than workers in group care, and have
less (if any) formal training. Once again, conditions are best in Nordic welfare
states, where pay and conditions for family day carers are regulated and funded by
the state. Only France provides an example of public policy providing some
recognition of and financial support to domestic workers. Generally, these
domestic workers are most common in liberal welfare regimes where there are
wide income differentials, substantial demand for domestic work among high
earning families, limited publicly-funded services and policies that create
conditions that favour extensive employment in low paid service work (Esping-
An important question for future directions in work with young children concerns
the future of these workers. To what degree should they be regulated and funded
by the state, treated in effect as part of a wider and formal pedagogical workforce
and policy? Will the state choose to deter or promote this form of work with
young children, as opposed to group-based services, especially in relation to new
policy interests in education for young children? Will it prove feasible to continue
recruiting family day carers or domestic workers, unless either their conditions are
substantially improved or new sources of cheap labour become available (e.g.
• We end by recognising the increasing complexity of work with young children, a
process which will continue for the foreseeable future. Over a century or more, the
purposes of services have broadened. ‘Childcare for working parents’ has
increasingly merged with more developmental and educational aims (and we
recognise that there is no shared view of the meaning of ‘educational’). As a result,
services for young children have developed a wider pedagogical purpose that
combines learning, care and other facets of upbringing, including the child’s
development as an autonomous and active participant in democratic society. Ideas of
the child are changing too, from the empty vessel and knowledge reproducer, an
object of adult attention, to a citizen and co-constructor of knowledge, culture and
identity, a subject of rights and participation. Parents are seen as being, at the same
time, more uncertain and more demanding, requiring more support as fellow citizens
and more deference as consumers with increasingly ‘flexible’ demands on services.
Centres are social institutions which offer a collective life, yet they are operating in
an increasingly individualistic context; they provide for the generality of children, yet
are increasingly expected to include children with ‘special needs’.
This complexity needs factoring in to consideration of the future direction of work
with young children. It means, for example, that terms such as ‘childcare services’
(routinely used, for example by the European Commission), and indeed ‘care
work’ and ‘care workforce’, are too simple and narrow. They no longer, if they
ever did, do justice to the work.
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Interview guide for practitioners
It is important to get acquainted well with the person to be interviewed. She/he would
have already got the letter introducing the research project and its partners, and the letter
to ask her/his participation. However, we feel it is important to give a chance for her/him
to ask questions about the project and her/his role in it. So, we suggest the following
routine after the interviewer gets to the center:
• Introducing briefly oneself, the Institute, and the project
• Answering questions
• Practitioner taking researcher on tours of their service/unit/group (including
• Interviewing the practitioner
• Collecting available documents for later analysis
Choosing the profession ( )
Motivation ( )
Job or a lifelong career ( )
Similar works before ( )
Skills that make her good at the job ( )
Roles in the family and in the job ( )
Care work in the family ( )
Theoretical or methodical advice to the family ( )
Problems in the family because of the job ( )
Description of own work. The most important aspects of the work ( )
Tasks, routines, etc. ( )
Decisions and plans made (time tables, contents or methodologies, etc.) ( )
Opinions, thinks about the work ( )
Society’s view of care work ( )
Prestige and appreciation of care work ( )
Schools, degrees, diplomas, training ( )
Problems / shortcomings / inadequacies of training ( )
Ratio of theory and practice in the training ( )
Advice to beginners ( )
Importance of the work (children, parents, society) ( )
Does she/he like the work ( )
What she thought of the job at the time of beginning to work and what she thinks now (
Pedagogical aspects/elements ( )
Daily pedagogy, ask for examples. ( )
Is pedagogy only theory? ( )
Application of developmental psychology and pedagogy, ask for examples. ( )
Specific Hungarian traditions in pedagogy and care work ( )
What other skills are important for the job ( )
Choosing to continue it or to leave it ( )
Would NOT continue, why? ( )
Is the job very demanding? ( )
Does she feel tired or low very often? ( )
Want a better paying, more prestigious job? ( )
What kind of a job she would like to get? ( )
Would continue in her present job, why? ( )
Always wanted to be a childcare worker? ( )
Other reasons? What? ( )
Work conditions ( )
Flexibility (new needs) ( )
Work schedule ( )
Environment ( )
Personal space ( )
Time for rest and opportunities ( )
Flexibility (new parental needs) ( )
Relationship (colleagues and boss) ( )
Difficulties (to get to the workplace) ( )
Are these easily accessible ( )
Are these suitable to the needs ( )
Chance for promotion or career ( )
Carry through own ideas and initiatives ( )
Ideas to improve the work or conditions ( )
Support in realizing the ideas ( )
Flexibility of the center ( )
New initiatives, innovations elsewhere ( )
What are the new / innovative elements ( )
Consequences of innovations ( )
Minorities or special needs children ( )
Is it a difficulty she has to face? ( )
Do such difficulties cause problems for the local authority ( )
Other jobs/works ( )
Private (informal) extra work ( )
The greatest problems in the work or profession ( )
Problems in the center ( )
High turn over of staff ( )
Most care workers are women? ( )
Future plans ( )
Own plans for the next 3 years ( )
Comments, suggestions ( )
Interview guide for policy makers
It is important to get acquainted with the person to be interviewed. She/he would have
already got the letter introducing the research project and its partners, and the letter to ask
her/his participation. However, we feel it is important to give a chance for her/him to ask
questions about the project.
• Introducing briefly oneself, the Institute, and the project
• Answering questions
• Collecting available documents for later analysis
Educational background of the decision maker
Reasons for choosing the present job
Similar jobs before / earlier experience with the childcare profession
Description of own work
To what extent is care work ‘his/her’ policy area – degree of expertise in the field
The most important aspects of own work
The present system of childcare (national and/or local)
What purposes/roles does care work with young children currently serve? (labor market,
lifelong learning etc). Are these right in his/her opinion? Should there be any
developments or debates about extending the purposes of such work?
Are the services/is the system functioning well?
What are the areas that need improving in the current system/what changes are afoot?
(working conditions, employment practices, labor shortages, financial support to parents,
education and training, status, new policy measures etc).
What are the barriers to achieving change where identified as needed?
Are there any areas of the current system of which he/she is particularly proud? E.g.,
practice, training, quality assurance, financial support arrangements, means of decision
making, room for innovation etc
Whose task, how it is done
By what method
Inspection and development
Its role in quality assurance
Flexibility of the childcare profession
Ability to adapt to different new needs
Can the needs/requests of parents be considered or not. If yes, to what extent
Childcare as support/help for families
Prestige of childcare
Society’s view of childcare work
Compared to other professions
Is it important work, if yes for whom and why
Need for childcare workers
Is there a shortage
If yes, what is done to make the job inviting for people
Most important requirements for the childcare profession
Plans for reforming the education/training for childcare workers
If yes, what
Does she/he agree
Further training for childcare workers
His/her opinion of available further training for childcare workers
(any system in place, need for further training, level of quality, etc.)
For local government decision maker:
Role of local government in organizing, supporting, financing further training
The (size of) need for further training in the local government area
For Ministerial decision maker.
His/her opinion about existing need for it
Is further training compulsory for anyone?
New initiatives, innovations in childcare
Who initiates, government or the profession
If the profession, what forums do they have to discuss the ideas
Flexibility (on the part of the government or the local government to support the
realization of the ideas
What are some new / innovative elements
Consequences of innovations/changes
What are the future challenges for the profession
How well does she/he think care work will be able to meet possible challenges of coming
decades – rising numbers of children requiring care services due to rising female
participation in labor market coupled with severe labor shortages in many areas and
rising levels of female educational attainment?
Interview guide for trainers
It is important to get acquainted with the person to be interviewed. She/he would have
already got the letter introducing the research project and its partners, and the letter to ask
her/his participation. However, we feel it is important to give a chance for her/him to ask
questions about the project.
• Introducing briefly oneself, the Institute, and the project
• Answering questions
• Interviewing the practitioner
• Collecting available documents for later analysis
Educational background of the trainer
Reasons for choosing the present profession/job
Similar jobs before / earlier experience with the childcare profession
Description of own work
To what extent is care work with young children ‘her/his’ area – degree of expertise in
the field – including work experience, current balance of work
System of training (levels of training and kinds of training offered at his/her institution)
and his/her place within that/what subjects he/she teaches
Does she/he have the possibility to choose the content and/or methods in teaching? What
is regulated and what is not?
What kinds of teaching methods does she/he use and prefer?
For trainers at school
Is there a national curriculum/framework for training care workers?
If yes, what does it describe/require?
What is the ratio of theory and practice, both at the school and at the
placement/center where the students spend their “practice” hours (please ask as it
is in your system!)
What kinds of theories are important/dominant in teaching for
childcare/kindergarten teachers? (ask for names of theoreticians)
Change of dominance over time
For trainers at placements (in centers where the students spend their
How is the training at the centers organized? Why
How is it evaluated?
Her/his opinion about how the system for practice placements work
Trainer’s opinion about the training
What is the influence/role of theories in childcare work? (= implementing theory into
Does pedagogy influence care work? If yes, how? (ask for examples)
What is the role of practice in training?
Is the present form of training relevant to childcare job?
How well can competencies/skills be developed during the training?
Does the training have any objectives in relation to the students’ personal development?
Does training prepare for work with families? if yes, to what extent
Is the training up-to-date in:
ratio of training at the school and at the center where students spend their practice
Flexibility of the childcare training (Ability to adapt to different new needs)
Flexibility of the childcare profession (Ability to adapt to different new needs)
Further training for childcare workers
Any available and/or compulsory
Any system in place to coordinate/organize, etc.? Whose responsibility is it?
Need for further training
Level of quality
Trainer’s opinion about the students
What kinds of educational background do students have?
Have there been changes during the last decade concerning the background, motivation,
demands, etc. among the students?
What are present and future demands concerning students?
How can the education system attract enough students?
What purposes/roles does care work with young children currently serve? (labor market,
lifelong learning etc). Are these right? Should there be any developments or debates
about extending the purposes of such work? Importance of childcare (for children,
parents, society)? Requirements for the profession?
Prestige of childcare work
What is and what should be the status of childcare work? What are the most important
factors in achieving any change identified as needed? (working conditions, pay, societal
views about childcare, financial support to parents, training and professional
development, role of trade unions etc)
If you were faced with a challenge to substantially upgrade the level of training that those
people working with young children receive, and the numbers of people working with
young children were to substantially increase at the same time, how would you go about
it? What structure of training would be best and what content of training would you
SELF-COMPLETION PRACTITIONER QUESTIONNAIRE
“Care work: Current understandings and future directions” is a European Union funded
research project surveying the work conditions of employees of the care sector in six
countries (UK, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, The Netherlands and Hungary). The project
focuses on three large fields of care work – early childhood facilities, elderly- and adult
(especially disabled) care.
The current stage of the research surveys the workers in early childhood services, thus we
would like to collect information about your work and work conditions with this
questionnaire. Please respond to the questions as indicated and choose only one answer
where there are several choices. Completing the questionnaire will take about 20 minutes.
Your replies will be handled confidentially, your data will be used only in this research.
Thank you for participating!
As the questionnaire was designed in a way that can be used in different countries, you
may find some of the questions more or less irrelevant to you.
1.1. Which institutions / professionals do you keep in touch frequently as part of
your job? (Please name the 3 with which you are in touch most frequently)
1.2. Are the following professionals available to help your work?
a, Psychologist ( ) ( )
b, Pedagogue ( ) ( )
c, Pedagogue consultant ( ) ( )
d, Social worker ( ) ( )
e, Special needs therapists ( ) ( )
f, Pediatrician or medical personnel ( ) ( )
1.3. How often do you have a chance for exchanges (e.g. exchange of experience,
exchange visits, meetings, formal and informal discussions, etc.) with staff of your
own center and other institutions? (Please indicate your responses with an X)
Daily Several Week 1-2 Once Few Yearly Never Accordi
times a ly occasion in times a ng to
week a month every year demand
With staff from
With staff from
other institutions at
With staff from
With staff from
ensuring quality of
With staff from
ensuring quality of
How often do you
1.4. As far as you know, does your center have contacts with any of the following
institutions for reporting and cooperating in child protection cases? (Each country has to
fit it to its system!)
a, Family support center, ( ) ( )
b, Child welfare service ( ) ( )
c, Local authority division responsible
for child protection ( ) ( )
d, Foundations, nonprofit organizations ( ) ( )
2. WORK ORGANIZATION
2.1. Who develops your work-schedule?
( ) my boss
( ) we develop it with my boss and colleagues
( ) I coordinate it with my colleagues
( ) I make the decision about it
( ) other:………………………………………….
2.2. Please indicate on a scale of 1-5
how satisfied you are with your work-schedule? not satisfied at all fully
1 2 3 4
2.3. Do you have planning time, time for preparation for the work during your work
( ) yes
( ) no
2.4. Do you receive any of these benefits in addition to your salary?
( ) Money to buy clothes
( ) Additional leave days for working with children (compared to
number of leave days for workers in other professions in your
( ) Travel support to get to work
( ) Meal contribution
( ) Clothes for work
( ) Any other financial benefits
( ) In service training and further professional education
( ) Other:………………………………………………….
2.5. By whom and how often is your own work inspected? (Please indicate your
responses with an X)
Monthly Once in Once in Once a Never Occasiona
or more every 3 every 6 year lly
often months months
Director of center
2.6. By whom and how often is your own work being supervised as part of
developing your work? (Please indicate your responses with an X)
Monthly Once in Once in Once a Never Occasiona
or more every 3 every 6 year lly
often months months
Director of center
2.7. Are there books, journals available in the center for professional development?
Books ( ) ( )
Journals ( ) ( )
Other (unpublished or published) materials ( ) ( )
2.8. Are you satisfied with the further training and development opportunities?
(Please rate the following on the list below on a scale between 1-5, where 1 = not
satisfied at all, and 5 = fully satisfied)?
Not satisfied at all Fully satisfied
Further training 1 2 3 4 5
Conferences 1 2 3 4 5
Books, journals 1 2 3 4 5
Staff meetings 1 2 3 4 5
2.9. Is it compulsory for you to participate in further training?
Yes ( ) No ( )
If yes, do you know who organizes such
Who finances this?
( ) The institution
( ) Partially me and the institution
( ) Other:………………………….
3.1. Are there regular staff meetings in your center?
Yes ( ) No ( )
Length of a typical meeting:……………………………….hours
3.2 Are you paid to attend staff meetings in addition to your salary?
Yes ( ) No ( )
3.3 Does your job description include attendance/participation at staff meetings?
Yes ( ) No ( )
3.4. What are the main topics of staff meetings? (Tick all that apply)
( ) Children’s issues
( ) Organizational issues
( ) Both
( ) Inspections/Evaluations
( ) Special events
( ) Other:………………………………
3.5. Are there regular small group meetings with parents?
Yes ( ) No ( )
Length of a typical meeting:……………………………….hours
3.6. Are there regular individual meetings with parents?
Yes ( ) No ( )
Length of a typical meeting:……………………………….hours
4.1 What are available for parents?
( ) To participate in the management of the institution
( ) To take part in the day to day running of the institution
( ) Parents’ noticeboard
( ) Parents’ meeting space
( ) Other ………
4.2 What kinds of subjects are discussed with parents?
( ) Health
( ) Diet
( ) Welfare
( ) Developmental issues
( ) Developmental problems
( ) Behavior management
( ) Special events
( ) Other
5.1. According to your opinion, which are the most important objectives and tasks of
caring work among small children? (Please indicate the 3 most important ones!)
( ) Prepare children for school
( ) Teaching children managing daily life tasks (e.g. putting clothes on)
( ) Teaching children respect for other people
( ) Supporting children having free time for playing as they like themselves
( ) Teaching children good manners
( ) Giving children democratic values (as supplement to socialization in their homes)
( ) Giving children possibilities being together with peers
( ) Ensure secure surroundings for children while parents are at work
( ) Giving cultural values to the children
( ) Teaching children that all people are equal (independently of their gender, ethnic,
social, etc. background)
( ) Other:………………………………………………………………………………
5.2. What attributes do you find most important for children to have? (Please
indicate the 3 most important ones!)
( ) Independence
( ) Tolerance
( ) Fantasy
( ) Good-manners
( ) Economy (thrift)
( ) Sense of responsibility
( ) Obedience
( ) None of these are important
( ) Other attributes
5.3. Do you consider the physical environment to be satisfactory (please rate the
elements listed below on a scale between 1-5, where 1 = not satisfactory at all, and 5 =
Not satisfactory at all Fully
size of children’s room 1 2 3 4 5
design of children’s room 1 2 3 4 5
furniture 1 2 3 4 5
„tools” for work (toys, books, etc.) 1 2 3 4 5
conditions for having meals 1 2 3 4 5
cloakroom for children 1 2 3 4 5
dressing area for workers 1 2 3 4 5
meeting room for staff 1 2 3 4 5
garden (size, equipments) 1 2 3 4 5
other:……………………………… 1 2 3 4 5
5.4. Please indicate how well you are satisfied with the following aspects your work:
(Please rate between 1-5, where 5 means you are fully satisfied and 1 means you are
not satisfied at all fully satisfied
with your work, altogether 1 2 3 4
with the physical aspects (physical environment) 1 2 3 4
with the atmosphere (social environment) 1 2 3 4
with your salary 1 2 3 4
with other benefits 1 2 3 4
(travel contribution, meal contribution, etc.)
with the schedule of your work 1 2 3 4
with the number of leave days 1 2 3 4
5.5. How demanding is your work physically?
( ) very much
( ) quite a lot
( ) occasionally
( ) not at all
( ) I do not know
5.6. How demanding is your work mentally?
( ) very much
( ) quite a lot
( ) occasionally
( ) not at all
( ) I do not know
5.7. Which, if any, of the following do you consider to cause stress in your work?
(you can indicate more)
( ) huge responsibility
( ) lot of work
( ) bad atmosphere at work
( ) low salary
( ) problems with parents and/or other institutions
( ) other:……………………………………………….
( ) I do not consider my work to be stressful
5.8. How do you consider your influence on your job to be in general?
( ) Extremely satisfactory
( ) Very satisfactory
( ) Satisfactory
( ) I have no influence
( ) I do not know
5.9. Do you experience any acknowledgement of your work?
( ) very much
( ) quite a lot
( ) occasionally
( ) not at all
( ) I do not know
5.10. In your opinion, in childcare
a, – is turn-over a problem? ( ) it is a serious problem
( ) it exists, but the childcare sector has
more serious problems
( ) not a problem
( ) I do not know
b, – is it difficult to find qualified workers? ( ) it is very difficult, there are
( ) difficult but possible
( ) not difficult at all
( ) I do not know
Finally, a few questions about you:
6.1. Gender ( ) male
( ) female
6.2. Age ………years old
6.3. For how long have you been working in this center? ……….years
6.4. For how long have you been working in childcare? ……..years
6.5. Level of education ( ) elementary school
( ) lower vocational school (without having secondary
( ) secondary school degree
( ) vocational secondary school degree
( ) secondary school degree and vocational on the job
( ) tertiary degree
( ) university degree
( ) other:…………………………………………..
6.6. Household arrangement ( ) living alone
( ) living with a partner
( ) living with a partner and child(ren)
( ) living with older relatives
( ) Child(ren) living at home
If yes. How many? …….
( ) children not living at home
( ) what kind of education do your children
( ) education/profession of your partner
6.7. How much is your monthly net salary? ……………….. HUF/month
Thank you for helping our research with completing this questionnaire. A member
of our research team will call you soon to set up an appointment for the interview.
Thank you for your contribution,
Care Work Research Group