Dr Barbara Spender considers the key questions underpinning Every Child Matters implementation from first considerations about individual school priorities, through visibility in specific curriculum areas, to evaluation and measurement of success

Every Child Matters encompasses principles that few would argue with as being what all involved with the care and education of young people should strive for. But three years in, are schools succeeding in putting ECM into practice to full effect? This month’s Case in Point investigates.

Dr Barbara Spender shows how to incorporate Every Child Matters outcomes across the curriculum, offering strategies for effective partnership working to maximise quality of delivery. One school that has thought very carefully about how to introduce ECM is Ninestiles in Birmingham. It started from the premise that implementing ECM would mean much more than just adjusting the curriculum and other individual areas of school life; it would require a complete change in culture. Dr Barbara Spender spoke to the school’s Assistant Head Terry Smith school about the innovative approaches being developed there to deliver ECM on the ground — she shares her discoveries in this month’s case study.

In summarising what we, as education professionals – and as parents – want for our children and young people it would be difficult to find a more concise and yet more comprehensively ambitious set of guiding principles than those laid down in the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda, introduced in 2003.

  • Being healthy: enjoying good physical and mental health and living a healthy lifestyle
  • Staying safe: being protected from harm and neglect; growing up able to look after themselves
  • Enjoying and achieving: getting the most out of life and developing the skills for adulthood
  • Making a positive contribution: to the community and to society and not engaging in anti-social or offending behaviour
  • Achieving economic wellbeing: overcoming socio-economic disadvantages to achieve full potential in life 

Who could argue against such obviously desirable objectives? But three years after the publication of the Government’s 100-page directive, how are these objectives being met in our schools? How have the major organisational and structural changes that have transformed LEAs into local authorities been reflected in schools and classrooms and in transforming the experiences of real young people?

The Every Child Matters paper of 2003 (Stationery Office) provides an overarching framework. Individual schools and curriculum managers have had to decide for themselves on methods of implementation. They have had to assess their place in local community contexts, determine priorities and devise new ways of working with other agencies – the police and criminal justice system, health and social services among them – and with the families who send children to their school. They have had to determine the routes via which ECM can be integrated into the school curriculum. Most have seen citizenship and personal, social and health education (PSHE) as obvious starting points.

Identifying the issues – listening to students

Making spaces for students to be heard
One community worker, based in a local school, introduced a ‘Big Brother’ screen in a quiet area. Children spoke to it about the litter, decay and unfriendliness they experienced outside the school gates. Speaking to a screen rather than to a visible person made them feel less inhibited. Older pupils described an ideal place where they could meet and socialise safely out of school hours.

You could use this method to gain student perspectives on issues such as bullying or the fairness and relevance of behaviour policies and to find out how pupils see their futures. What are their aspirations for themselves, their families and their communities?

Some of your local priorities will be obvious from what you already know about your school’s context. You will have access to basic statistical data that answers the key questions:

  • What percentage of our students is entitled to free school meals (FSM)?
  • What percentage of our students has special educational needs (SEN)?
  • How many different faiths and minority ethnic groups are represented in the school’s population?
  • How many students speak English as a second language and what languages do they speak in their own homes?
  • How many exclusions have been authorised in the last 12 months?
  • What proportion of students comes from families in underprivileged groups such as travellers, asylum seekers, refugees and so on?
  • How many looked-after children are students at our school?
  • How does our school cater for all these groups and how successful are we in helping them to achieve their potential?

These are questions that can be answered at management level within your school but an integral part of the Every Child Matters agenda is the contribution students have to make through their perceptions of school and of their communities. How do they see their world? What are their aspirations? How do they interpret the role of the school in meeting them and how are their perceptions of education coloured by their own family histories?

PSHE and citizenship classes and school council discussions provide openings for debate on social and personal issues – they are forums for authentic student voices.

You can expand the range of opportunities pupils have to express themselves by creating informal, safe spaces for young people to say what they think away from peer and family pressures.

Getting families involved

A headteacher complained that, although his school was well-used by parents, whenever he looked in on evening classes and social activities run for the local community it was always the same faces he saw. And these were generally the parents of children he knew to be successful. Where were the others?

An outreach worker responded with an account of how a local school had employed a single mother from a catchment estate to visit hard-to-reach parents in their own homes. She talked to them about their perceptions of the school and about what they wanted it to do for them and for their children. Because she was ‘one of us’ she was readily accepted. Parents were willing to talk to her about their ambitions and their concerns. She had taken the school to the parents rather than waiting for them to come to her.

Another school, located in a deprived area offered a free taster class in flower-arranging for mothers. Because it was promoted as a fun activity rather than adult education, mothers did not feel ‘put-off’ or intimidated. They were able to take home with them something they had made — an achievement. Several came back for a full course. When they completed it, the school presented certificates to them in assembly — something they could take pride in and celebrate with their children. Some felt it was the first time they had achieved anything in school. They became more willing to engage with the school on issues to do with their children’s education.

In integrating ECM into your school’s curriculum it is important to ensure that student opinion is a visible influence. Although supported by extensive structural changes at the level of local government ECM is primarily student/child driven. Changes in schools should be visible expressions of pupil aspirations. Whatever changes are given priority, it is important that they are not top-down impositions but reflect what those most affected really want.

For more ideas on how to engage the student voice, see Curriculum Briefing: Partners in learning – engaging students, vol 4, no 3 (for more details, or to order a copy, contact Optimus Publishing on 0845 4506404).

Key question: What informal mechanisms exist in your school that allow students to express their thoughts and opinions?

In the past schools have often been represented as places full of boundaries – the tutor group, the classroom, the school gates. Perhaps they have even been characterised as safe spaces that can only work effectively by keeping the external world – other agencies and even families – at bay. Sometimes the price for these demarcations has been alienation of families and a lack of dialogue and cooperation between school and home. Many parents have difficult and unhappy memories of their time in schools. Some find the mere experience of visiting their children’s schools unpleasant and threatening.

For more ideas on how to engage parents, see the forthcoming issue of Curriculum Briefing: participating in learning – involving parents, vol 5, no 1 (for more details, or to order a copy, contact Optimus Publishing on 0845 4506404)

Key question: How does your school work to engage the participation of parents

Citizenship
Using citizenship as a starting point for integrating ECM into school life can be highly effective. So much of its curriculum content is based on the type of political and social issues – active participation in democracy, understanding rights and responsibilities – that lie at the heart of ECM. Approaches to ECM within citizenship follow a variety of patterns:

  • citizenship is the prime location for ECM issues
  • citizenship is used to deliver Every Child Matters’ core principles in partnership with PSHE
  • citizenship teachers actively seek cross-curricular links that will take key issues into the broader curriculum and reinforce ECM’s messages.

Whichever route is selected, curriculum managers will need to ensure that the delivery of the citizenship curriculum itself is strong enough to underpin the newer demands of ECM. To be effective, Ofsted says that citizenship provision should:

  • be subject to constant review so that the school gains experience of what works well and how to assess it
  • have a strong and identifiable core programme, irrespective of how it is delivered
  • foster positive pupil attitudes by creating a dialogue that helps them to understand how they are progressing
  • be taught by teachers with good subject knowledge who are up to date with subject thinking
  • use resources critically, with an emphasis on providing a good level of challenge
  • involve homework
  • offer the possibility of accreditation, including the short course GCSE; this gives the subject and its content higher status and commands more engagement.

(Citizenship in secondary schools: evidence from Ofsted inspections 2003/04, 2005)

Ofsted also recommends that the core curriculum should be supplemented with practical examples of active participation and by responsible action on activity days and through the work of a democratic school council. This increases the time allocated to citizenship in the school week and gives the subject a higher profile.

All of these recommendations are broadly applicable to every curriculum area but they are emphasised here because Ofsted has identified specific problems in the delivery of citizenship within schools. The success of ECM implementation may be imperilled if it is integrated into a curriculum area that is not strong in your school. You may want to begin with a review or audit of current strengths and weaknesses in key curriculum areas.

Schools that choose to spread ECM issues across the curriculum are similarly advised to ‘go with strength’, identifying those subjects with the greatest capacity to provide good citizenship units as key curriculum partners.

One result of using citizenship as a vehicle for ECM delivery is that the subject moves to centre stage in the school’s planning and has a real impact on perceptions of school effectiveness. More than ever, it demands rigorous delivery combined with ambitious targets and supported by a robust approach to assessment and feedback processes. A further advantage of ECM’s critical contribution to judgements of school performance is the engagement, or buy-in, it creates for both citizenship and PSHE among senior managers.

A school’s PSHE department developed a ‘reflection’ sheet that offers a good opportunity for basic assessments to be made. It involves students in identifying:

  • what they have gained from their learning
  • what evidence they can show of achievement.

The reflection sheets indicate the nature of the topic studied, the student’s views on what they have learned and what they feel about the learning. Each student makes an assessment of the learning outcomes achieved. The teacher countersigns the pupil’s evaluation of their work after discussing and agreeing what standard has been achieved.

PSHE

Citizenship treats at a public dimension what PSHE treats at a personal level (Citizenship in secondary schools: evidence from Ofsted inspections 2003/04, Ofsted, 2005).

PSHE, also a subject that is comparatively new to schools, has suffered difficulties similar to those experienced in citizenship. In the best provision, PSHE offers a space in which students may stop to consider and reflect on their personal values and beliefs, their place in the world. This makes it an excellent vehicle for exploring personal environments, individual aspirations and the design of personalised learning opportunities that are the goal of ECM.

For ideas on how to identify personal learning needs through reflection, see the end of this article.

Key question: How does your school take students’ views into account when designing personalised learning?

Ideally, PSHE should help students to develop their (self) critical skills, their relationships with others and their ability to communicate effectively. It may also offer professionals the chance to explore schools’ resources for coping with individual needs. Much of the PSHE curriculum can be taught in partnership with external agencies such as health and social services, counsellors and experts in drug and alcohol abuse. Where schools have opted to offer extended services, they have the advantage of being able to offer onsite access to a full range of facilities that students and their families want to use – for example, healthcare and play-groups. In schools that do not yet have such facilities, bringing other agencies into school for specific sessions will make them more accessible to students outside lessons. Developing these relationships enables schools to adopt a more holistic approach to student need in the manner demanded by ECM. For ideas on how to build relationships with external agencies:

A school’s PSHE curriculum includes input from health services via the school nurse. The school believes that all pupils are entitled to access a full range of services and that the nurse is the perfect link to services and support.

The school nurse’s involvement with PSHE includes the following:

  • she is included in the school’s curriculum planning for PSHE
  • she helps to deliver the sex and relationship education programme in the school
  • pupils become familiar with the nurse and the role she plays from the start
  • there is increased understanding about local support agencies for young people and parents and carers.

The nurse:

  • offers help, advice, and support
  • enables the pupils to make informed and responsible choices
  • offers confidentiality
  • gains the pupils’ trust — getting to know those most at risk
  • is a unique bridge between teachers, parents and outside agencies.

Key question: Do students in your school have opportunities for private consultations with visiting agencies?

While ECM is frequently channelled through selected curriculum areas it cannot make any real difference to student lives unless core principles are diffused through the whole school. They must become a recognised part of the school ethos, modelled by staff at all levels. There is already a wealth of convincing evidence to show that both citizenship and PSHE are delivered more effectively in schools where the responsible teaching staff are subject specialists who enjoy the support of their senior management teams.

We know that this agenda is a priority for Government and that its content is of fundamental importance to students. It is essential that it becomes a visible priority for the adults who are to deliver it in schools, and that it is not seen as ‘just another initiative’.

Successful implementation is about much more than improved exam and test results. Schools have been charged with a responsibility to deliver improvement under each of the five ECM headings. Measurement of success is built into Ofsted inspections and it is linked to a broad range of questions that goes well beyond subject specifications, curriculum content and GCSE grades.

Key question: How much progress has your school made in meeting the targets described below?

How well is your school doing?

Every Child Matters — five outcomes

  • Be healthy — promoting healthy choices
  • Stay safe — providing safe and stable
    environments
  • Enjoy and achieve — supporting learning
  • Make a positive contribution — promoting
    positive behaviour
  • Achieve economic wellbeing – supporting economic activity

Be healthy — promoting healthy choices

Targets and indicators

  • Reduced suicide rate
  • Fewer teenage pregnancies
  • Lower incidence of sexually transmitted disease among the young
  • Reduced incidence of obesity
  • Reduction in drug use
  • Reduction in smoking
  • Healthier diet

Key questions for your school

  • Does the school encourage healthy eating and drinking?
  • Are pupils encouraged to take regular exercise?
  • Does the school actively discourage smoking and substance abuse?
  • Does the school have an effective sexual health education curriculum?

Stay safe — providing safe and stable environments

  • Fewer road traffic injuries and deaths
  • Children are not bullied
  • Children and young people do not fear crime
  • Children and young people do not engage in anti-social behaviour
  • Improved outcomes for looked-after children

Key questions for your school

  • Do procedures for safeguarding learners meet current Government requirements?
  • Are risk assessment procedures supported by appropriate staff training?
  • Is the school taking effective action to reduce anti-social behaviour such as bullying and racism?
  • Are students taught about risks and how to deal with them?

Enjoy and achieve — supporting learning

Targets and indicators

  • Improved GCSE and standard assessment tests (SATs) attainment
  • Improved take-up of sporting and cultural opportunities
  • Reduced absences from school

Key questions for your school

  • Are absences reduced?
  • Does the school have an effective behaviour policy that supports learning?
  • Does the school promote external links and cultural/sporting opportunities?

Make a positive contribution — promoting positive behaviour

  • Students participate in elections for School Council and mock general elections
  • Reduced offending
  • Reduced exclusions
  • Reduced bullying
  • Fewer incidents of racial or religious intolerance
  • Greater entrepreneurialism

Key questions for your school

  • Do learners develop stable, positive relationships?
  • Do students participate, collectively and individually in making decisions about things that affect them?
  • Are students encouraged to initiate, participate in and manage activities in school and in the wider community?

Achieve economic wellbeing — supporting economic activity

Targets and indicators

  • Lower youth unemployment
  • Greater engagement in vocational and higher education
  • Cleaner, safer environments and access to green spaces
  • Reduced levels of material deprivation
  • Reduced percentage of children living in low-income households

Key questions for your school

  • Do students have opportunities to take vocational qualifications as well as GCSEs and A-levels?
  • Does the school offer quality advice about careers and the further/higher education and training opportunities available?
  • Does the school have a programme of work experience placements that is tailored to meet individual need?

Dr Barbara Spender, Freelance Writer and Researcher

Barbara has extensive experience of management and governance at all levels within the education system and, most recently, worked as a writer/researcher on the Networked Learning Communities programme run by the National College for School Leadership (NCSL).

For further information and resources on how to develop the curriculum to support the Every Child Matters agenda, see the DfES website on this topic, at: www.everychildmatters.gov.uk

Here you will find advice on how to deliver services, covering such topics as setting up multi-agency services, the common assessment framework for children and young people, information sharing, role of the lead professional, and integrated working to improve outcomes. For advice on how to link ECM with the curriculum, and other school issues, head to the ‘Education, training, employment’ section where you will find ECM-related information on such topics as behaviour, extended schools, personalised learning, and special educational needs. Another section collates the key strategy information and governance organisations, including links to the Local Network Fund for Children and Young People, details on the voluntary and community sector, and on how to go about joint planning and commissioning, and guidance on the Children Act 2004. There are also separate sections providing targeted information for parents, and for the students themselves

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