Conflict of interest

The bold principles underlying the children’s green paper and the
Children Bill have much to commend them, but they face formidable
obstacles to their implementation. The bill answered some of the
concerns expressed following the green paper: it is less
prescriptive, the time scales are longer and it implicitly
recognises that what works in one locality may fail in

But the bill could not change the fundamental thrust of the green
paper; namely the necessity of bringing children’s social services,
education and health closer together. And it is precisely here that
the various frictions between established interests are likely to
generate most heat.

On the education side, the teachers’ union Nasuwt has been
particularly vociferous in the past week. Amanda Haehner, chair of
the union’s education committee, attacked the government’s policy
of putting children with special needs in mainstream schools.
“Teachers now view the trend towards greater inclusion with
cynicism,” she said. Such children, she continued, would be better
served by special schools. The message is clear: academic league
tables are the pre-eminent concern and this is incompatible with
children with special needs who are likely to drag down exam pass

With this ethos it is hard to see how the Children Bill’s much
broader inclusion agenda can be made to work. Extended schools with
a commitment to children’s welfare that goes considerably beyond
academic achievement are the centrepiece of the reforms, yet
teachers, the very people with the power to make or break the
policy, have barely begun to buy into it.

There are scarcely better grounds for optimism on the social
services side. In a new survey, more than half of social services
directors said merging social services and education would do
nothing to improve the protection of children from harm and most
pronounced themselves unhappy to serve under an education director
who had been appointed children’s services director. Among
directors’ anxieties is precisely the tendency of the education
system to overlook children at risk.

These are hardly good omens for the Children Bill; it will soon
become law but the battle for hearts and minds has only just begun.

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