Earlier this month, a study for the Department for Education and found that school staff felt less involved in the Every Child Matters agenda than other sections of the children’s workforce. The finding comes at the same time as campaigners are raising fears that the new education bill’s measures could have a negative effect on disadvantaged children. Amy Taylor and Maria Ahmed talk to Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, about the issues involved.
Some people have said that the government’s Every Child Matters requirement for schools to co-operate with all services to serve all children well is threatened by the trust schools proposed in the education bill. What do you think about this?
This danger does exist. Control over trust schools will lie in the hands of the sponsoring group which may be unwilling to provide the extended services involved maybe because of the cost. The existing extended schools have found that the support they can now provide to pupils and parents has made a significant difference though it is, as yet, impossible to quantify.
What is your feeling about the government’s plans for local authorities to become commissioners rather than providers of education outlined in the education bill?
The question implies a misunderstanding of the authorities’ current role. Schools are responsible for everything that happens within their walls. Local authorities only provide back-up services such as legal advice, payroll and advisory services e.g. a literacy advisor, special needs advisor, induction support for newly qualified teachers or newly appointed heads. They also have responsibility for ensuring the admissions code is properly observed and administered and for ensuring there is a school place for every child. It is in the provision of advisory services and ensuring places that the bill could reduce the role of authorities by moving further down the road of privatisation of support services.
Schools value highly the advice and support provided by local authorities. Equally, they are aware that private providers of the same service will be looking to make a profit thus reducing the funding available for the service itself. That will reduce the support to schools and thus to children. Similarly, the authorities can take a wider and longer term view of the needs of their areas than is possible among the groups or companies that might wish to run a school. They will also have a better in-depth knowledge of the needs of their areas than exists at government level.
A recent report from the department for education and skills found that school staff felt less involved in the Every Child Matters agenda than any other section of the children’s workforce. Why do you think this is happening?
Where schools have decided for themselves to become extended schools, the staff has felt highly motivated and involved in the ECM agenda. Unfortunately in some areas, the decision to adopt this approach has been imposed on the schools and sometimes in an inappropriate manner. Inevitably this has undermined the staff’s sense of ownership of the development.
The DfES report found that almost a third of school staff were unaware of the Every Child Matters green paper and more than two-thirds did not know about the children’s national services framework. It also found that only 53 per cent of teachers and learning support staff felt ECM would have a great deal or fair amount of impact on their job over the next two years, compared to 74 per cent of local government workers, 61 per cent of health professionals and 75 per cent of voluntary sector staff. What needs to happen to embed ECM into the way school staff work?
Most important is to involve schools in decisions on whether they should become extended schools rather than it simply being imposed from on high. They should also be involved in the nature of the ‘extension’ and how it would operate in any particular school. That type of involvement and control over the schools’ role should also apply to developments in the programme.
What needs to be done to improve joint working between education and social care in children’s services through schools in terms of information-sharing and promoting a common agenda?
The answer is very much in the question. There is a significant need for improved information sharing and agreement on a common agenda. Schools are particularly concerned with protecting children’s education and ensuring them that their privacy will be respected as far as possible. There have been suggestions of joint training for teachers and social workers but there is a danger that in trying to make it appropriate for both it would be watered down too much to be of use for either. Nonetheless, there is a need for in-service training for teachers, and in particular for teachers with prime responsibility for child protection, in spotting child abuse, for example.