Roger Smith explains the background to the Common Assessment Framework and how you can make it work in your school.

The thinking behind Every Child Matters is not new and it should not mean any radical shifts in policies or drastic changes. It is really about rationalising how we work with pupils and their parents and bringing together all the other agencies that can be used to help.

This is where the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) comes in. The CAF is being introduced in all LEAs between April 2006 and December 2008. You may be familiar with the process because your school may already be piloting it.

We all want better lives for our young people and we know that some pupils don’t thrive either in or out of school or get support until it is too late. The CAF will help identify them earlier, before things reach crisis point.

The easiest and most consistent way to do this is to make sure that every person whose job involves working with young people is prepared and able to help if something is going wrong. The CAF is a tool that will help identify needs for all services, including health, social services, police and schools etc.

Who does the CAF apply to and what information is needed?

There is no doubt it will be time-consuming, but most children will not require any extra paperwork because common assessment within the framework of Every Child Matters only really applies when:

  • you are concerned about a child’s health, welfare, progress in learning or other aspect of their wellbeing
  • a child’s needs are unclear, different from the norm and/or broader than the school can address
  • using a CAF will help identify a child’s needs and/ or get other services involved to help meet them.

The elements that form the Common Assessment Framework will include collecting together and sharing information about all the following areas:

  • general health
  • physical development
  • speech, language and communication development
  • emotional and social development
  • behavioural development
  • self-esteem, self-image and social presentation
  • family and social relationships
  • self-care skills and independence
  • learning, including: understanding, reasoning and problem-solving, progress and achievement in learning, participation in learning, educational aspirations
  • basic parental care, including safety and protection
  • emotional warmth and family stability
  • parental guidance, behaviour boundaries and stimulation at home
  • family history, including functioning and wellbeing
  • wider family
  • housing and financial considerations
  • social and community factors.

How do you complete the assessment?

You will be able to do a common assessment on a pupil at any time. The decision to carry out the assessment should be taken jointly with the pupil (where this is appropriate) and parents using the following guidelines:

1. Discuss any concerns with pupil, parents and other agencies already involved with the child. (If parents refuse to cooperate you will need to record clearly that agreement to complete the common assessment has been refused. However, it is possible to override this lack of consent, and where you are worried about a child’s welfare or safety you should seek immediate advice from other agencies such as social services.)

2. Complete the assessment with pupil and parents, and at this stage you can agree actions that you can deliver as a teacher and as a school. This will mean involving senior managers and possibly the SENCO in the process.

3. Do what you agreed to do. This may mean discussions with all the other agencies involved who may want to use the school as the centre of the CAF to deliver on their actions as well. To avoid confusion there will need to be a ‘lead professional’ who will check the child’s progress. This could be the class teacher or the SENCO.

What are the outcomes of an assessment likely to be?

The most likely outcomes of the assessment are:

  • that you will have resolved your concerns and you don’t need to take any further action
  • some actions have been agreed and a date has been set for reviewing and monitoring progress
  • as well as your actions other action is required from other agencies and these have been identified.

The CAF cannot offer a guarantee that services will be delivered but, because decisions will be backed up by evidence and more referrals for support and help will be directed to the right place, it should be a more effective way to use the resources available. Vulnerable pupils will receive better support and schools will liaise more effectively with other agencies.