Confusing curriculum

Education is receiving a makeover of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen
proportions. Never mind simply giving the woodchip a new lick of
paint – the government is getting rid of primary and secondary
schools as we know them. Moving in are extended, specialist, and
foundation schools and a new range of “academies”.

The five-year education strategy, published in July,1 is
certainly ambitious (see box). But when you strip off a few layers
some startling conclusions start to emerge.

The first, and most glaringly obvious, is that the government’s
approach to schools is heading off on a different tangent from the
rest of the children’s agenda. Ever since Victoria Climbie, all
agencies involved with children – including health, social services
and education – have been told to co-operate better and share

Yet, while the education strategy rightly points out that
“children’s services and education have been too
compartmentalisedÉ services have not been joined up”, the
five-year strategy seems to do little to remedy the situation.
Observers argue that the plans for education risk undermining the
progress already made in reforming other children’s services.

The Children Bill places a duty on a wide range of agencies –
including social services, health, prisons, and youth offending
teams – to co-operate to promote children’s well-being. Yet
bizarrely, schools are excluded – and the strategy does nothing to
address this. The rationale is that this area is covered under
section 175 of the Education Act 2002. But although the act
contains a duty to promote children’s well-being, it imposes no
duty to co-operate with other agencies in doing so.

Lisa Watch, project officer at the Local Government Association
(LGA), says the government’s lack of consistency is “quite
stunning”. She says that even before the strategy came out, the LGA
was “already concerned about the Children Bill and the lack of
requirements placed on schools”. She argues that schools – where
most children spend most of their time – are crucial and that not
explicitly including them is a huge mistake. “As far as we are
concerned it’s a really important gap. You can’t guarantee that
children’s services will be any better integrated if schools are
left out.”

She says that the government expects schools to co-operate but it
suggests that it’s not appropriate to put a legal duty on them.
“Government believes that local education authorities should issue
tailored guidance. But you can’t ensure that schools follow that
guidance, particularly in light of a strategy which gives schools
greater autonomy and independence from the local education
authority. The expectation that the LEA has any levers is just out
of the window,” she adds.

One of the key planks of the strategy is to give individual schools
more independence. Indeed it says schools will have “an
unprecedented amount of control and certainty”. While this will, of
course, be greeted with enthusiasm by the schools themselves, it is
not going down so well with other children’s services.

The LGA says that the new three-year budgets for schools would, by
removing LEAs responsibility for admissions policies and weakening
the connection between schools and other local services, threaten
the development of seamless children’s services and dilute local

Alison King, chair of the children and young people’s board at the
LGA, says, “A major opportunity to create truly integrated services
for children across all boundaries is in danger of being lost if
things go ahead as planned. It is not easy to see how integrated
children’s services can proceed without the sort of encouragement
that local authorities can certainly bring to bear in

King cannot see how the suggestions for children’s centres,
extended schools, and foundation schools – all integral parts of
the Children Bill – can be achieved if schools are allowed greater
freedom. “It’s as though two different people have been working on
two projects [integrated children’s services and the education
strategy], creating parallel universes.”

Joined-up working, so exalted by the government, is a reasonable
request, she adds, “but it’s difficult to do when coping with a
government which seems to be such a stranger to it.”

However, Paul Roberts, strategic adviser for education and
children’s services at the Improvement and Development Agency,
believes that as well as potential tensions between the strategy
and the Children Bill, there is also some congruence. “The strategy
portrays a local authority role about advocacy for children, carers
and communities. That’s also an important role in the context of
the Children Bill.”

But there’s a potential tension between the Children Bill and the
strategy unless the council has sufficient leverage on some
specific areas, Roberts says. “To ensure there’s equity within the
system it’s vital that schools with increasing autonomy vigorously
apply admissions and exclusion arrangements that are fair for all.”
With the proposal to allow successful schools to expand, planning
and provision of places must be transparent, he adds.

According to the strategy, extended schools, both primary and
secondary, “will increasingly act as hubs for community services,
including children’s services”. But many are sceptical. Watch says:
“There is nothing in the strategy which would encourage schools to
want to look at the broader role it could play in the community, on
the lines of extended schools. This goes against everything in
Every Child Matters and the thrust of the Children Bill, so doesn’t
really fit in with the government’s plans for children’s

Pam Hibbert, principal policy officer at children’s charity
Barnardo’s, agrees. On the one hand there is the extended-school
philosophy that focuses on community-based services, working
together with more than just education, while on the other the
education strategy gives schools wider powers to select and exclude
pupils, she says.

Why would a school choose “extended” status if it could have
foundation status instead, allowing it to own the building and
land, employ staff directly, forge partnerships with charities and
others, and administer its own admission policies?

“With foundation schools, again we are into increasing separation
between good schools that are able to be selective, and those that
have no option and end up becoming extended schools. That seems to
us quite wrong,” says Hibbert.

“Clearly, the schools that will become more independent and chose
to opt out will be in catchment areas of relative affluence. It’s
almost like education is moving into a market economy rather than
being a universal right,” she adds.

However, Barnardo’s has some reservations about extended schools
too, in terms of why the policy should apply only to some schools.
“All schools should be able to respond in a holistic way to
children’s needs, and not just be about academic achievement, says

“The driving force behind education policy, despite the holistic
approach of extended schools, continues to be academic achievement.
If all schools are measured only on academic attainment and
extended schools are doing good holistic work but not getting those
academic results, they will be seen as failing unless we look at
how else we measure school achievement,” she adds

All in all, just like a room designed by Llewelyn-Bowen, the
education strategy’s clash of conflicting ideas and themes somehow
doesn’t quite work.

1 Department for Education and
Skills, Five year Strategy for Children and Learners,
DfES, 2004

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