Must do better

Pressed hard to raise school standards some head teachers struggle to focus on the broader objectives of Every Child Matters policies. Here, John Chowcat, Head of Trade Union Aspect, tells Amy Taylor how less competition between schools and more joint working would help

The five Every Child Matters –  – outcomes: being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and achieving economic well-being, are well known to the children’s services workforce but some argue that they are not being adequately supported by schools.

The Association of Professionals in Education and Children’s Trusts (Aspect) has school inspectors and school improvement professionals among its members. John Chowcat, Aspect general secretary, says that many schools are yet to come fully on board with Every Child Matters’ aims.

“We haven’t got enough practical support from schools and it is a concern,” he says. Under Every Child Matters, education, social care and heath services work together to serve all children well. Schools, of course, are central to this.

Since September 2005 schools have been inspected on the Every Child Matters outcomes but Chowcat says inspection reports don’t tell the whole story.

“On paper there’s quite a lot to like but inspectors in my membership frequently say to us that while they [schools] have got some of the language of Every Child Matters they haven’t really embraced the agenda,” he says.

One reason behind the alleged lack of engagement could be the government pressure placed on schools to drive up academic standards. Chowcat says that this is a factor with many staff feeling that they already have too many policy objectives to cope with. Comments from Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers at the body’s annual conference in May, back up this view.

Brookes hit the headlines after speaking out on the extended schools initiative, under which schools are open from 8am to 6pm. He labelled it a “national baby sitting service” and not something schools should be expected to provide.

The work councils do to get schools involved is crucial, says Chowcat. He says school improvement partners who act as a link between schools and councils with the aim of improving outcomes, play a key part in this. But the role is threatened by ministers trying to get head teachers to do the job on top of their existing duties.

The Education and Inspections Bill 2006, currently going through parliament, brings in self-governing trust schools independent of local authorities, which have control over their admissions and assets. Alongside trust schools the government also plans to increase the number of city academies, which share the same freedoms, from 27 to 200 by 2010. Chowcat says that
the independent status of both types of school doesn’t sit well with trying to achieve more joined up working and that
once rolled out the initiatives could worsen schools’ engagement with other services.

But he adds that the prospect of a change of prime minister offers hope for the future as Gordon Brown, the most likely replacement for Tony Blair, is not keen on the marketplace of competing schools. “There are two schools of thought in government. One believes you drive up standards and you achieve more through engaging in market mechanisms and the other thinks that you can achieve more through joined up working.

“It could be [if Brown becomes leader] that we have a different emphasis where competition isn’t emphasised so much,” he concludes.

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