Don’t be hasty

Rarely has a government attempted to roll out a complex policy
as rapidly as the Every Child Matters reforms. These have gone from
green paper to legislation in little over two years, and have an
implementation timetable that must have managers gasping for
It is important that some attempt is made to look at the reforms as
a whole. And the first significant stab at this is the recent
report from the House of Commons education and skills select

Although press reports have focused on the MPs’ concerns about
the adequacy of funding to make the changes a reality, the general
tone of the report is that of “critical friend”.

The committee acknowledges that the government deserves
substantial praise for embarking on such an ambitious programme of
reform, and commends the commitment shown by those with
responsibility for implementing the changes.

But it identifies several dilemmas that need to be addressed.
One of the key messages is about the tension between
transformational change – the avowed strategy of Every Child
Matters – and evidence-based policy and practice.

The government has set up pilot evaluations of several key
aspects of the changes, notably the children’s databases,
children’s trusts and the longer standing Sure Start programmes.
But there is an apparent reluctance on the part of government to
wait for findings from these pilots before pressing ahead with
rolling out change, the MPs warn.

A second broad area of difficulty is the rhetoric and reality of
partnership and integration. The success of the reforms will hinge
upon the quality of joint working, and to this end the Children Act
2004 imposes a “duty to co-operate” upon strategic bodies such as
local authorities and primary care trusts.

But no such obligation is placed upon providers like schools and
GPs, even though it is at this level that funding will increasingly
be located. This problem is exacerbated where schools and GPs have
priorities other than the social inclusion agenda of Every Child
Matters, such as in the case of the school standards agenda within
individual schools.

Understandably, the committee has called for a review of these
exemptions from the duty to co-operate.

Although the committee’s report touches upon every aspect of the
children’s services changes, one message is loud and clear: the
devil will be in the detail.

All of the evidence to the committee’s Every Child Matters
inquiry backed the general thrust of change. But there is always a
risk of ideas unravelling once it is time to put them into

As the implementation process gathers even more pace throughout
2005, it will be crucial to ensure that this groundswell of support
is not dissipated as a result of hasty and under-funded

  • House of Commons education and skills select committee, ninth
    report, Every Child Matters. HC 40-I. London: The Stationery
    Office, 2005.

BOXTEXT: <279C>Bob Hudson is visiting professor of
partnership studies at the School of Applied Social Sciences,
University of Durham. He is a specialist adviser to the Commons
education and skills select committee.

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