The Bigger Picture on the 5-Year Education Plan
By Lindsay Clarke
While critics argue the government’s education reforms that offer school greater independence could allow them to downgrade their work in a broad social context, the government says they will break down the barriers between education, social care and health. Lindsay Clark looks at the government proposals in more detail.
Why is the government reforming education?
It is 60 years since the last major legislation was introduced that shaped most aspects of modern education and the government has increasingly felt the framework was too restrictive.
In 1944 Butler’s education act raised the school-leaving age to 15 and introduced free secondary education, as well as shaping a lasting partnership between Church and State in education.
In the same decade, the 1942 Beveridge Report and the 1948 Children Act transformed welfare and children’s services. These reforms were colossal; they transformed the landscape of welfare and of public services. Their influence is hard to over-state, and has been overwhelmingly a positive one.
However, education secretary Charles Clarke believes that they also created artificial barriers between the services of education, social care and health as well as creating monolithic and inflexible institutions to manage those services.
Broadly, the government’s aims with the new five-year education strategy is to offer pupils and parents greater choice and give greater independence to schools.
What does this mean for the care sector?
Some critics believe the new educations strategy could damage work already underway to improve child protection processes.
Speaking at the Local Government Association’s annual conference in Bournemouth in July, former chair Jeremy Beecham said: “Any attempt to diminish the role of local councils in education, from whatever source, would serve to undermine the thrust of the new education and children’s agenda.
“Removing responsibility for admissions policies, and weakening the connection between schools and other local services, would threaten the development of seamless children’s services.”
However, the government is also to introduce a range of policies designed to boost early years’ childcare, support for parents and better out-of-school care for school-aged children.
Early years and wrap-around care
In February this year, the National Audit Office found that the Government spent £3.6 billion on these childcare and early years’ services in 2002-03. This was mainly through local government funding for early education and initiatives to improve the availability of childcare, but also through the Department for Education and Skills, which spent £680 million.
One initiative, Sure Start, is a particular favourite of the government. It aims to provide affordable or free childcare for parents in disadvantaged areas, and help parents get back into work.
The Treasury is demonstrating its continued commitment to Sure Start. Funding is £1.167 billion in 2005/6 rising to £1.483 billion in 2006/7 and £1.567 billion in 2007/8. This is one of the key features to the early years’ education strategy.
“Disadvantage starts early in life and children who get a poor start tend to fall further behind as they go through the education system,” it says. “And despite the improvements we are still not providing enough childcare places in a flexible way that meets parents’ needs.”
Expanding and combining early years’ services will mean that all parents able to get local one-stop support through children’s centres that will provide childcare, education, health, employment and parenting support.
The government wants Sure Start children centres to spread this successful support so that more families can benefit, while continuing to make sure that those in difficult circumstances have the first call for help.
By March 2008, the government aims to have Sure Start centres reaching all children in the 20 per cent most deprived wards in England. But it wants to go further and plans for a children’s centre in every community. Some centres may be created by developing existing nursery schools, Sure Start programmes, Early Excellence Centres, family centres or other community facilities. Some may be located in schools or on school sites and the eventual aim will be to have a children’s centre within easy reach of every parent.
In some areas, Sure Start centres are also used as a source of social care and healthcare, so for example, children can have health checks at these centres rather than a GPs’ surgery.
For school-aged children the government intends to increase wrap-around care, which caters for children before school starts and after it finishes. The government hopes this will take pressure off working parents and help children in achieving at school and keeping out of trouble.
By 2008, 1,000 primary schools will be offering this model, providing places for 50,000 children. Over time, the government expects every primary school either to be making this offer itself, or to be part of a network of schools who provide it between them, so that every primary school child whose parents want it can benefit from this wrap-around care either in their own school, or in a linked school, with supervised travel. Over time, they want to extend this kind of offer to secondary schools as well.
The government is also to combine education and childcare for early years’ children, under the new term “educare”. The education strategy creates a flexible system of ‘educare’ that will provide 12 half hours free support per week for three and four year olds before they go to school, with more choice for parents about when they use it.
The government expects children’s trusts to integrate and align all public and voluntary sector bodies working with children to enable the coherent implementation of childcare and child protection policy. They will bring together local partners – education, social care, health, Connexions, Sure Start, and Youth Offending Teams, and the voluntary and community sector – so that they can work better to meet the needs of children, young people and families.