Duty fails to reassure

Ofsted chief David Bell talks reassuringly in his interview with us
this week about the impact of foundation schools on disadvantaged
and vulnerable children. He says that concerns about extending
foundation status to primary schools, likely to be proposed in a
forthcoming Education Bill, are exaggerated. His reassurances seek
to allay the real fears that social care will be sidelined, not
only with the spread of foundation schools and city academies as
the government tries to improve academic performance, but with the
prospect of Ofsted’s takeover of children’s social services

Unfortunately, they don’t. To mention the contradictions besetting
government policy has become a cliche, but in the case of
children’s services it is impossible to do otherwise. How, for
example, to embed schools more effectively in their communities, as
foundation status aims to do, while making sure that the parents of
academic achievers are not the only voices that are heard? How, for
that matter, to give more influence to private investors, as city
academies aim to do, while ensuring that the extended schools
programme to combat social exclusion gets the recognition it

Part of the problem is the government’s refusal to impose a duty of
co-operation on schools to promote children’s well-being when the
Children Act 2004 was passing through parliament. Teachers’ unions
argued, with their usual effrontery, that their members were
already doing the job well enough. The duty was left with local
education authorities, whose influence on schools successive
governments including this one have sought to reduce.

The other part of the problem is that the government cannot make
its mind up about children. In a recent interview with the
Observer, Youth Justice Board chair Rod Morgan appealed to
politicians, not least the prime minister, to stop calling children

The almighty clash between ministerial contempt for “hoodies” and
their ilk, on the one hand, and demands for a “culture of respect”
on the other ought to trouble politicians more than it does.
Respect, if it is to mean anything at all, has to be mutual and
much of our political class displays a distinct lack of it. What
Blair means by respect is old-fashioned, forelock-tugging deference
to authority, a one-sided affair that is thankfully a thing of the

Beyond the school gates, the contradictions are apparent in youth
justice policy. Local authorities face legal action because they
cannot cope with the flux of young people leaving custody, the
numbers having virtually doubled over the past decade.

The YJB, desperate to spend more money on community penalties,
where young people can be diverted from lives of crime, is instead
forced to spend three-quarters of its budget on prison sentences.

Elsewhere, there is a similar intractability at the heart of early
years services, where voluntary groups worry about going to the
wall as local authorities get their hands on Sure Start funding.
Many of the preventive services that could raise the hopes and
prospects of countless children may be sacrificed to statutory
services for the few.

If the government was serious about the culture of respect, it
would be more serious about the preventive, community-based
services that help youngsters to overcome the consequences of
disadvantage and deprivation. Respect for the academically
successful and the law-abiding would have to be accompanied by
respect for those for whom these achievements, for a variety of
reasons beyond their control, are more elusive. This is not to say
that “anything goes”. It is simply to say that the decline of
deference has produced a society in which respect must be earned
rather than expected as a birthright. And that is so far from
happening, it will take more than fine words to make it so.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.