Will education take control?


Worries are surfacing that the appointment of
children’s services directors proposed in the green paper on
children will see education favoured as a source of candidates
rather than social services.

Katie Leason

Navy blue often looks like black, and bright pink can sometimes
seem red. But green and white are two colours that are never
confused – except, it would seem, by the government.

While the consultation on the green paper ‘Every Child Matters’
runs until the beginning of December, it is fast becoming apparent
that some of its proposals are definitely a whiter shade of green.
One such “white” proposal is that of the
children’s services director, which children’s minister
Margaret Hodge declared last month to be non-negotiable. And,
interestingly, it is precisely this proposal that has caused some
of the green paper’s most intense debate.

Under the proposals, a director of children’s services
would be appointed in every local authority and would be
accountable for education and separate social services. The
legislation requiring a social services director and chief
education officer would be amended, and the expectation is that,
over time, most authorities would create a single children’s

Although few take issue with the government’s desire to
have one person responsible locally, many are concerned about who
these individuals will be. As responsibility for children’s
social services at a national level has already passed over to the
Department for Education and Skills from the Department of Health,
fears of an education takeover are mounting.

And these fears have been exacerbated by the growing trend of
appointing individuals with education backgrounds to positions
overseeing social services. In the latest example, the London
Borough of Harrow made its former education director the executive
director of People First, a new department providing social
services, education and health. The appointment of an education
director above the social services director in the management
structure raised eyebrows as to whether this meant that social
services had been “demoted”.

But Andrew Cozens, president of the Association of Directors of
Social Services, says directors have never considered an education
takeover as a possibility: “The green paper has to be a new
start locally, and therefore it can’t be seen as a

He adds that the ADSS’s ambition is “broader”
than simply bringing together education and social services, and
needs a wider reorganisation of services.

“We think that the director of children’s services
post is as much about having an influence on other agencies and
developing a network as it is about managing certain aspects of
council services,” he says.

The arguments as to why education is more likely to become the
dominant partner in the relationship have often centred on budgets,
given that education is seen to receive the lion’s share. But
Cozens questions the validity of this, pointing out that as much as
90 per cent of the education budget is delegated to schools, and
therefore not under the education director’s direct

Nitty gritty detail

Exactly how the children’s services director role will pan
out remains to be seen. Although the issue of accountability may
not be negotiable, hopes are high that the nitty-gritty detail is
still open to discussion. Cozens has some personal observations of
ways in which the role could be implemented. These include it being
incorporated in the chief executive, sitting above education and
social services, involving a merged department or being an
additional post on the council’s board reporting to the chief
Yet, whichever shape the role takes, there is little doubt about
its enormity, and this in itself raises serious issues.

“It’s difficult to see how you can keep a focus on
those children who give us the greatest concern when there is that
breadth of responsibility,” says Cozens.

Someone who should know about the size of the role is Liz
Railton, who has responsibility for learning and social care and is
one of three deputy chief executives at Essex Council. She holds
the accountability of the chief education officer and the social
services director, and believes that part of her role “comes
near” to how the children’s services director role is

Whether the role is too large to handle will depend on the size
of the authority, she says. Her council has a head of services for
schools who has an education background, and the equivalent for
children and families with a social work background.

But although Essex is a large council and can afford senior
officers with different specialisms, this may not be the case in
other areas.

Education worried too

On balance, while social services professionals may worry about
an education takeover, it stands to reason that education is
concerned about the converse. Railton has a social services
background and, in the light of this, has encountered some

“There is concern in some of the school communities and
among the council’s education specialists that I don’t
have the background to do the job,” she says.

Despite her experience, she feels that the
education-versus-social services debate serves little purpose,
although she does concede that education enjoys a certain status.
“If money doesn’t get into schools, all hell breaks
loose. There’s a huge pressure in schools, but there’s
also pressure on children-in-need budgets.”

Whenever two cultures are forced to work together, there is
always a danger that they will clash. Andrew Christie, director of
Hammersmith and Fulham’s children’s trust and a
possible candidate for the council’s children’s
services director role, says there is the potential for conflict
over school attendance. Social care workers try to keep children in
need in school, but this is not always a welcome approach by
schools that are under pressure to achieve better results.

Moreover, Christie says getting stuck on the tensions between
education and social services is forgetting the third “leg of
the stool”. He says: “My main worry is not about who
will manage these services but that, in the drive to integrate
education and social services, there’s a danger of minimising
and setting aside the contribution that health has to make. If we
don’t get the health care right, we won’t get the
education or social care right either.”

In many ways, Hertfordshire Council already has much of the
proposed structure in place, with its children, schools and
families department set up two-and-a-half years ago.

John Harris, its director since last month, is an educationalist
by background, and was director of education at Westminster Council
until January this year. He maintains that anyone coming to the
role should not do so with what he describes as “a narrow
professional pedigree”.

“It’s a different job from being an education
director or a social services director,” says Harris.
“It’s important to emphasise that. You can’t
approach this as an education specialist with social care as a
sideline, or vice versa.”

Finding the right person for the job could prove tricky given
that local authorities will be recruiting from the same pool of
candidates. Alison King, chairperson of the Local Government
Association’s social affairs and health executive, says it
could be a case of “hunting a fairly rare

King is disappointed that the proposals for the children’s
services director are not open to discussion, and is convinced that
the one-size-fits-all approach is wrong. She would prefer local
authorities to be told what was expected of them but then given the
freedom to choose their own method of achieving it. “To
legislate for a structure that apparently suits every authority
would be a big mistake,” she says.

The government’s commitment to introducing
children’s services directors is in no doubt, but the exact
form these will take remain unknown. What is important to remember,
however, is that it is not whether they are from education or
social services that matters. It is whether they improve services
for children.

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