A portakabin for every playground?

Ministers have set out an ambitious plan for a children’s centre in
every community, extended schools and increased integration of the
professions. On paper, it’s terrific. But what does it mean in
practice? Is it yet another middle class package imposed on a
working class population whose views have not been heeded?

Islington residents are fortunate. The merging of two schools and
demolition of another means that, with council backing, a
children’s centre is to be built alongside a new primary school and
a special needs school.

But elsewhere valuable land has been sold off and the provision
that already exists is squeezed. Meanwhile, the will to initiate a
radical overhaul of services is absent.

At a conference organised by Kids’ Clubs Network (renamed
4Children) last week, delegates expressed concern about the lack of
government understanding of problems that have to be overcome to
make the vision a reality across the whole country.

Alarmingly civil servants, when faced with a string of practical
problems, seemed to imply that if the objectors were only
passionate enough solutions would be found. As if it’s only a
matter of belief.

On the issue of extended schools two major concerns were voiced.
The first is that many parents are reluctant to see school as a
source of support since in their own childhoods it often
intensified a sense of inadequacy and added to their misery.

Second, opening up a school after hours to other professional
services is fine in theory but is there enough space? Health
visitors, counsellors, adult literacy co-ordinators et al may fill
classrooms and school halls in the evenings but they also require
room to store the tools of their trade -Êunless they are
expected to be permanently nomadic. Will every extended school end
up with a playground populated with Portakabins?

The revolution is possible but not without a realistic
understanding of the scale of change, the expertise and

Meanwhile, a friend takes a job as a social worker with a London
local authority and resigns within three weeks in disgust at the
chaos and bad practice. One case, in which a teenager who has
severe behavioural problems has been moved nine times since January
with no care plan, was found particularly shocking.

The danger of being blinded by visions is that we assume that
structural change alone will guarantee quality of care. It won’t.

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