Children’s secretary Ed Balls yesterday proposed to place schools under a duty to co-operate with councils and other agencies in promoting children’s well-being in new legislation to strengthen the Every Child Matters agenda.
Balls announced the plan in a parliamentary statement as part of a raft of measures to strengthen the integrated children’s services arrangements set up by the Children Act 2004.
Other proposals include putting children’s trusts on a statutory footing and making all public agencies, not just councils as at present, responsible for drawing up and delivering local children and young people’s plans.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families will now consult on whether these should be included in legislation in the 2008-9 parliamentary session to strengthen children’s trusts, in order to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children in particular.
The proposal to bring schools under the Children Act 2004’s duty to co-operate completes a U-turn by the government. During the passage of the act it refused calls from council leaders to include schools under the duty, saying it should be reserved for strategic bodies like councils and primary care trusts rather than frontline delivery bodies.
Balls said the plan would give schools more of an influence over the planning and commissioning of services, improve their engagement with children’s trusts and ensure pupils with additional needs received better support.
He said: “Every head teacher I meet wants the very best for the pupils at their school, but they all tell me they can’t do it alone. They tell me that if a child arrives at school hungry, or they have speech and language needs that are not being met or if they don’t have a stable home to go back to at the end of the day, then it can have a really damaging impact on their learning.”
Balls added: “By extending the so-called “duty to co-operate” to all schools we can ensure head teachers get the package of measures they need to make sure that all children fulfil their potential.”
GPs and Sure Start centres
The DCSF is also seeking views on how other bodies, such as GPs and Sure Start children’s centres, can be better engaged with children’s trusts.
Since its creation last June, the DCSF has placed a stronger weight on schools’ engagement and co-operation with wider services than its predecessor, the Department for Education and Skills. This has included strengthening admissions arrangements.
In April, the government published draft guidance on the duty to co-operate and strengthening children’s trusts, saying that partnerships were better in some areas than others, including in identifying and supporting disadvantaged children.
In May, it announced this would be supplemented by legislation. Yesterday’s consultation paper on the legislation was accompanied by consultative guidance on schools’ role in promoting emotional well-being among pupils, and councils’ role in supporting under-performing schools.