Learning together

The children’s green paper aims to bring about greater integration
between education and social care. However, discussions on the
assessment of vulnerable children have tended to underplay the
influence of education. From the experience of working in a newly
developed integrated children’s service at Surrey Council, I
believe greater attention needs to be paid to the educational
context of the child in the framework for assessment and

The Department of Health’s assessment framework focuses on whether
education is being provided, whether the young person is in school
or whether any statement of special educational needs is being
adhered to. It fails to go into more depth about how well a child
is learning or have a more thorough approach to the universal
educational experience of the child. This framework, with its solid
evidence base, has rightly become predominant in the discussion of
vulnerable children from a social care perspective. While this no
doubt reflects the fact that the framework is directed at social
work practice, it is important that a multi-professional common
framework for a children’s service creates a greater balance.

This is especially important because a significant proportion of
professionals using it are going to be educationalists – early
years providers, teachers, alternative education providers or
education-based support professionals.

The impact of education on development
The importance of educational achievement, self-esteem, peer
attachments and role models in the development of a child’s or
young person’s emotional capacity, social skills and resilience has
been well documented. These opportunities are provided by early
years settings, schools, colleges and other learning environments.
These settings are universal and part of every child’s formative
experience. Aside from the family, they are collectively the most
powerful influence on the life of a child or young person. This is
reflected in the green paper’s emphasis on education, improving
school attendance and behaviour, and the long-standing national
focus on school performance and improvement.

The quality of a child’s learning experience and the capacity of
these institutions to meet a child’s needs should therefore be a
fundamental component of any assessment framework for vulnerable

The universal framework for assessment and monitoring of
educational need is the national curriculum framework. The
identification and assessment of children who are educationally
vulnerable is the special educational needs (SEN) code of practice
(and its early years equivalent). However not all vulnerable
children have SEN. The overlap between the SEN population and the
different degrees of vulnerability identified within the DoH
framework is represented in figure one.

There are a minority of looked-after children who do not have SEN
and progress through schooling with usual arrangements for support.
Similarly, although all children and young people with statements
of SEN are regarded as children in need the converse does not

National curriculum and SEN assessments work through a sequence of
“plan, do, review”. In the case of the SEN code of practice this
results in targeted individual education plans. This process of
identifying and monitoring need is represented in figure two.

The overall aim of the education system is to enhance achievement
and development. The child’s or young person’s needs as a student
are in part determined by their intrinsic qualities and in part
reflect family history, the quality of parent support and
resources, community allegiances and attitudes that the child
brings in to schooling. In addition, the student’s needs and
development are determined by the attitudes, expectations, culture
and quality of teaching within the learning setting.

The capacity for a learning setting includes the following: quality
of the learning environment, the nature of the peer group, the
learning setting’s material resources, skills levels of staff,
ethos and attitudes and quality of support services. These can be
regarded as capacity attributes of the settings concerned.

These attributes come into play through the cycle of plan, do,
review that underpins assessment. The outcome is a set of needs for
the student which may or may not be special but which focus on
educational skills and achievement, cognitive skills, self-esteem
and identity, deployment of physical and sensory capacities, social
skills, personal autonomy and attitudes to authority.

All of these are crucial elements of the multi-disciplinary task of
building a comprehensive picture of the child, and for planning
effective and cost-efficient intervention across social care and

They are also significant because from the perspective of the
education setting these aspects may be different from those
perceived by others outside it and suggest areas of strength and
capacity for development that would not otherwise be

Planning for vulnerable children in integrated

Experience of building an integrated children’s service in Surrey
strongly suggests that both education and social care staff must
see their core processes and identity reflected equally in
assessments if a basis for multi-disciplinary working is to be

In both education and DoH frameworks, the essential point is that
the child’s needs are not within the child but are perceived by and
arise through the system of which the child is a part: family,
education or early years setting and community. Assessment has to
focus on the interaction between the child and the context they are
in. The child’s needs therefore properly “belong” to the system and
not solely to the child, although they focus on the child.
Programmes of intervention focus on change in the system as a

Implications for practice
The school and parenting capacities in figure three are contained
within figure four and no changes are implied to the statutory
frameworks and core social work or education. Each discipline
focuses on their part of the framework but has a greater regard for
the other’s. Through this, each is extended conceptually with
implications for better practice. For social care, the education
process is a more explicit primary force for child development and
change. For education, schooling has to take a more explicit
account of parenting capacity. The overarching aim for the child
becomes the aim for an integrated children’s service: to promote
welfare and achievement for all children, particularly those at
risk of social and educational exclusion.

This is also important for moving towards integrated services.
Preservation of core professional identity and recognition of
statutory requirements in the process are essential if major
tensions are not to build up. The integrated vision must
accordingly be inclusive and in all of its aspects reflect the
statutory demands on staff and their beliefs about the key
influences on child development. This extension of the DoH
framework has the potential to accomplish both of these and to
facilitate the collaborative practice that we have failed to
achieve in the past. CC

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