Legislation is being introduced to force schools in England and Wales to promote children’s wellbeing, in a dramatic change to the Education and Inspections Bill.
Children’s services leaders have lobbied for such a duty to stop schools from focusing on educational attainment and standards and engage in the Every Child Matters agenda. Schools’ governing bodies will be obliged to help improve students’ emotional, mental, physical and social wellbeing, as well as their educational attainment.
The amendment to the bill brings schools in line with councils, primary care trusts and other named partners, who all have a duty to co-operate to improve children’s wellbeing. Previously the government had argued it was only appropriate to apply the duty to strategic bodies and it was unnecessary for schools.
Martin Rogers, co-ordinator of the Children’s Services Network think-tank, believes the sector’s consistent lobbying contributed to the government changing its stance. He wryly notes the change comes after the education secretary Alan Johnson attended the recent National Children’s and Adult Services conference in Brighton, where the issue was discussed.
Every Child Matters
The amendment shows how serious the Department for Skills and Education is about joining up the Every Child Matters agenda and the standards agenda, according to Rogers.
“There was a lunacy in not seeing the link between standards and Every Child Matters because the agendas are very clearly linked.”
The impact of the change is not lot likely to occur overnight, he adds, although it will “help break down the silos” that exist to redesign services into a more integrated approach.
“The amendment will greatly strength local authorities’ position in trying to bring schools into this process,” says Rogers.
Association of Directors of Education and Children’s Services chair David Hawker believes the move will strengthen partnerships between schools and other services supporting children.
Hawker, who is director of children’s services at Brighton and Hove Council, says the duty will be a helpful stimulus for his area’s local schools to keep going in the right direction.
However, not all of those engaged with children’s education support the bill’s amendment. John Dunford is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and is firmly against the change to the bill.
He says schools have always accepted and put resources into their responsibility to look after the wellbeing of their pupils but face being swamped with legislation dictating how they do it.
“To place in primary legislation the responsibility of promoting children’s wellbeing is completely unnecessary as school are very conscious of their responsibilities,” claims Dunford. He is concerned that local authorities will use the duty to “become more directive and prescriptive” about the way in which schools operate and will seek to control them.
He argues that it should be down to schools and governors to decide how they operate.
Hawker denies that local authorities will use the new duty to dictate what schools do within their four walls.
“The best councils won’t seek to control schools. We won’t achieve any of this without the spirit of partnership working. If the ASCL are afraid of this then we will happily allay their fears.”
While the decision is welcomed by many in the sector, one part of it is criticised by many: exempting academies and city technology colleges.
Chris Waterman, executive director of the Confederation of Education and Children’s Services Managers, is surprised by this. He says all the education secretary needed to do was amend the DfES’s funding arrangements for the 200 academies planned by 2010 to include this duty.
He says: “What is sauce for the maintained goose has to be sauce for the academy gander.”
Dunford says the ASCL’s members have no alternative but to adhere to the duty and they will seek to ensure any guidance issued once the bill becomes law is suitable for schools.