After the chalk dust settles

How feasible is the government proposal that services should be
offered in and around schools to ensure that early intervention and
effective child protection is possible?

The Every Child Matters green paper states that the
government wants “all schools to become extended schools – acting
as the hub for services for children, families and other members of
the community… [offering a range of services] that go beyond
their core education function”. It also hints at the possibility of
multi-disciplinary teams being based in schools, Sure Start
children’s centres and primary care centres. And the children’s
version of the green paper emphasises that children should not have
to wait long or travel far from school in order to get help.

At first sight it seems that the green paper proposes that these
multi-disciplinary teams should have a protection and support
remit. But a detailed look at how they could work in schools
suggests that educational difficulties are the main priority. There
are tensions raised by this which need clarifying by the
government. Otherwise, despite the statements stressing the need
for an integrated approach to children’s welfare, it could be
concluded that meeting educational objectives is the central aim.
And this view would fit in with other developments, such as the
locating of children’s services in the Department for Education and
Skills and the proposed integration of education and social
services departments.

The lack of clarity around the proposals is likely to fuel anxiety
as much among teachers and education staff as for those more
explicitly involved in the protection and support of children. The
pace of change in education in recent years helps to explain why
there has been such a mixed reaction from teachers’ unions to the
green paper. The work of education staff has come under increasing
scrutiny and reform, and many hard-pressed teachers have struggled
to fully engage with the guidelines on working together to protect
children. Most have their work cut out struggling to survive in the
“sink or swim” environment of Sats and league tables, and in trying
to reconcile the tensions between raising educational attainments
on the one hand and reducing school exclusions on the other.

However for some schools, taking a more active role in child
welfare and family support will merely be an extension of work
which is already happening. A large primary school on a deprived
council estate in Rochdale benefits from Working with Families
(WWF), a family support service funded initially by local agencies
and later by the Children’s Fund. The project was evaluated in
2002,1 and its activities were found to be the result of
consultation with parents at the school. Most referrals were to
help children, parents and carers manage unwanted classroom
behaviour. The single project worker undertook one-to-one work with
children and parents, ran parenting groups, organised training for
parents and volunteers, and established partnerships with
specialist services and providers.

While the project was managed by the Children’s Society, it was
initiated and developed in close co-operation with the head teacher
and the charity. Although the educational objectives of the school
and the aims of the project complemented each other to an extent,
they were not a perfect match. But the project worker had the
professional confidence, organisational back-up and personal skills
to work on a range of overlapping agendas. Resources permitting,
she was able to offer services which responded to need, and
feedback from the parents and children showed a high degree of
satisfaction with what was offered.

Yet this was complex and demanding work, and how she carried out
her work was key. For many parents, memories of their own
difficulties at school acted as a barrier to their engagement with
their child’s school. It is a mistake to assume that universal
institutions such as schools are always perceived positively – a
mistake which the green paper is in danger of making. The project
worker had to work hard at connecting with parents and sometimes
needed to clearly identify her independence from the school.
Incidentally, it was this independence that was valued by school
staff, even if it led to tensions over issues such as school

WWF was based on a particular model and was accountable to a
charity located outside the school. A range of other models have
also been tried, but the workers tend to be accountable to the head
teacher and have less freedom to develop their own agenda. This can
lead to difficulties in terms of how responsive they can be to what
parents and children want. Also, it happens that in some projects
the funding is only short term and that relatively junior education
staff are recruited. They may not always have the confidence to
develop their own understanding of why children might be troubled
or doing poorly at school, and may lack the necessary skills and
experience to engage other professionals appropriately. At WWF, the
worker had a clear understanding of how to deal with child
protection issues, for example, and was held in high regard by
colleagues in social services and other agencies

We have found considerable evidence of the benefits of placing
family support services in schools and are optimistic about their
potential. However, rolling out programmes such as WWF involves
tackling both philosophical and practical problems. Support workers
can find it difficult to assert their own philosophies and can
become enmeshed in meeting school targets. The importance of seeing
the child in an integrated way may be lost and their need for
protection and support may be overlooked as a result of a narrower
focus on things like truancy and punctuality. Support from the head
teacher and the whole school community is crucial, and it is vital
to recognise that some parents struggle to see schools as
supportive places. In addition, medium to long term funding and the
recruitment of high calibre staff, often easier said than done in
the competitive social care market, are essential.

The green paper is right to point out that child welfare services
must be accessible, something which has been highlighted
elsewhere.2 It is also right to recognise that there are potential
benefits to locating services in schools. But there are dangers.
First, schools are not always perceived positively, particularly by
the very people who need to be reached. Second, schools have
complex and demanding agendas of their own, so the different roles
must be made clear and there must be dialogue and negotiation about
how children’s needs can best be tackled. Third, services in
schools will require permanent and dependable funding: short-term
government grants subsidised by creative local efforts will not be

Hopefully the green paper will stimulate a debate on school-based
support services. This should provide the opportunity to make sure
that the role of schools in preventive services is maximised and
that any tensions are resolved.

Brid Featherstone is NSPCC reader in applied childhood
studies, University of Huddersfield,

Martin Manby is director of the Nationwide
Children’s Research Centre,


1 B Featherstone and M
Manby, Working with Families Evaluation Report University
of Huddersfield/Nationwide Children’s Research Centre

2 A Cooper R Hetherington
and I Katz, The Risk Factor: Making the Child Protection System
Work for Children
, Demos, 2003


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