Schools and social care need to be brought closer together

John Chowcat (pictured) explains why he supports plans to tie schools more closely into the Every Child Matters agenda, in the face of some resistance

The active involvement of schools is crucial to the success of the government’s important Every Child Matters agenda to integrate formal education and other key children’s services, but recent research reminds us that hard work is required to secure genuine involvement.

The January Guardian/ICM survey of 800 head teachers’ opinions revealed that 56% of respondents considered it “unacceptable for schools to have more of a social services role” and blamed social services for not communicating well with schools.

And the latest National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) annual survey of trends in education, based on responses from 1,200 schools, reported that only 17% of secondary and 8% of primary schools were actively involved with their local children and young people’s strategic partnership. Some schools had no involvement whatsoever, and heads identified closer collaboration with other children’s services as their main challenge in delivering the ECM agenda.

It is still early days and we know that a growing number of individual schools are successfully developing extended provision and hosting multi-service children’s centres. However, faster overall progress is necessary. The Department for Children, Schools and Families published a 90-page summary of relevant research data in December to support its new children’s plan. It highlights the strong correlation between poor educational attainment and the levels of disadvantage some children experience.

As a professional association and trade union, which today represents professionals in both the education and social care sectors, Aspect is discussing the plan with the civil servants and national agencies charged with taking the proposals forward.

The plan seeks “to develop strong school-level indicators that, taken together, measure a school’s contribution to pupil well-being”, combining existing and new indicators of children’s progress. It requires Ofsted “to reflect these indicators in designing the cycle of (school) inspections starting in 2009″. This will follow new DCSF guidance to schools on their duty to promote pupil well-being. Ofsted is already at work on the details of such a revised school inspection framework to reflect a school’s wider responsibilities under ECM.

Second, the plan confirms the government’s commitment “to raising the level of challenge and support from School Improvement Partners (school advisers) and the confidence of local authorities to intervene quickly to prevent schools sliding into underperformance”. Modern council school improvement services invest in the continuous professional development of their own workforce. They play a key role in involving local schools in ECM-related initiatives and stressing their relevance to raising educational standards.

Third, the plan highlights local authorities’ promotion of ECM through children’s trust partnership arrangements in their areas, and promises revised guidance in 2008 to reflect this demanding role and consideration of stronger legislation.

Lastly, the document refers to the forthcoming children’s workforce action plan, incorporating further specific measures that are meant to take us a step closer to integrated children’s services.

These are significant government proposals which should assist in bringing schools and social care closer together and thereby – at last – promote a more holistic view of child development in this country.

John Chowcat is general secretary, Association of Professionals in Education and Children’s Trusts

This article appeared in the 3 April issue under the headline “Schools must play their part in holistic children’s services”


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