The role of schools in helping to meet the aims and objectives set out in Every Child Matters is vital, says former head Roger Smith.
Many schools will have been involved in the consultation that led to the publication of the government document Every Child Matters: Change for Children in December 2004. Now all schools have the task of ensuring that the aims and objectives enshrined in it are henceforth met in every aspect of school management, leadership and planning.
It was the abuse and death of Victoria Climbie at the hands of relatives in 2000 which triggered the latest shake-up in children’s services. In January 2003, following Lord Laming’s inquiry into her death, a report was published which found that health, police and social services had missed 12 opportunities to save Victoria. It also highlighted a system that had failed due to poor coordination, a failure of agencies to share information, the absence of anyone with a strong sense of accountability, and front-line workers who were trying to cope with staff vacancies, poor management and a lack of effective training.
Many of Lord Laming’s recommendations were taken up in the government green paper, Every Child Matters, published in September and followed by Every Child Matters: Change for Children just over a year later.
The paper sets out a national framework and agenda for local change with the main aim of providing more accessible services focused around the needs of children, young people and families. This will be achieved, in part, by closer liaison between the NHS, police and social services.
Aims and objectives
The document identifies five excellent and worthwhile outcomes for schools to help achieve. It wants to help children and young people to:
- be healthy – enjoying good physical and mental health and living a healthy lifestyle is important and schools need to play a leading part in health education. This includes questioning the value of snacks and the nutritional content of school meals. There has been some progress in tackling some of the causes of poor health – for example, there has been a decrease in smoking among 11-15 year olds since 1996. However, levels of obesity are rising and, although sex education is having some impact, with teenage conception rates lower than they were in 1998, they are still the highest in western Europe
- stay safe – pupils need to feel that they are being protected from harm and neglect. A study of offending and victimisation among 11-16 year olds in mainstream schools found that almost half (46%) had been the victim of some kind of offence in the last year. We must continue to make behaviour management and anti-bullying an important issue.
- enjoy their lives and achieve their potential – pupils need to get the most out of life and develop the necessary skills for adulthood. There are various statistical reports claiming that expected academic levels at most, if not all ages, have risen. These improvements must be balanced against continuing problems over boys’ achievements, inconsistencies across different ethnic groups and an unauthorised absence rate that remains both consistent and unacceptable.
- contribute to their local community – children and young people need to be involved in their local community and not engaging in anti-social or offending behaviour. Once again, how we teach citizenship, how we provide links to pupils’ own communities and how we manage behaviour and attitudes will be increasingly important.
- achieve a good standard of living – pupils must not be prevented by economic disadvantage from achieving their full potential in life. We will have to develop strategies to enable all pupils to reach their full potential and to break the cycle of poverty. Children and young people with unemployed parents or parents on low incomes must be encouraged to aspire to better careers and lifestyles.
I am sure that none of us would disagree with these aims. Undoubtedly they reflect much of what already happens in schools and what we recognise needs to happen in the future.
Addressing the key issues
It is obvious that we must do more to protect children and young people and that we must be ambitious for each pupil whoever they are and wherever they live. We can be part of any changes that are necessary by involving ourselves in these four key areas:
- increasing our focus on supporting families and carers
- guaranteeing intervention before a crisis point is reached and children /young people fall through the net
- preventing poor accountability and poor integration of services
- recognising that people who work with children and young people need to be valued, rewarded and trained.
Schools are at the centre of Every Child Matters and are in a prime position to:
- influence the behaviour and attitudes of children and young people
- continue to raise standards
- provide a central community focus
- begin to influence parental attitudes.
Of course, teachers, support staff and headteachers cannot do this alone. All agencies and organisations need to adopt a policy of working together, sharing expertise and working towards the same goals.
A start has been made in the following four areas.
Sure Start children’s centres – these may be centred on the 20% most deprived neighbourhoods but every school and every LEA could try to combine nursery education, family support, employment advice, and childcare and health services on one site.
Extended schools – this means that schools will be open beyond their normal hours and is one aspect of Every Child Matters where we are already making good progress with the introduction of breakfast clubs, after school clubs and other activities. (See box below for further information about the role of extended schools.)
Workforce reform – the people who work with children and young people are central to keeping them safe and helping them get the most out of life. Teachers and schools will have to liaise with people from different professional backgrounds and in making working with children and young people an attractive, high status career, the workforce will have to be more flexible.
Supporting parents and carers – schools will play a leading role in providing information and advice and will continue to try to engage parents to support their child’s development. The Special Needs and the Child Protection Register together with such staff as the SEN coordinator will be increasingly important. This needs to be reflected in any staffing restructuring because the key to ensuring children receive the best support possible will be identifying problems earlier so that neither children nor parents slip through the net.
Five quick fixes for schools
Schools have a vital role to play in the Every Child Matters agenda. They deal with children and young people every day and being willing to play a leading role in supporting every child is crucial because they are in a key position to detect illness, abuse, the effects of poor housing and many other problems before anyone else.Practical steps that schools can take include:
- identifying a key person within school who will talk to outside agencies
- finding out as much as possible about all the external agencies and what they can do to help and support the school
- being open to external agencies visiting schools and encouraging them all to talk to staff and to children
- trying to expand or make changes to personal, social and health education and citizenship so that ‘helping and supporting each other’ becomes part of the school’s ethos
- making the importance of all aspects of Every Child Matters obvious by using staff training positively. Invite in police officers, social workers and health professionals to tell everyone what they do and how they can be both helpful and useful.
Every Child Matters reminds us that all young people need to achieve their full potential. To help make this a reality, schools have to liaise with parents and carers and give space in their buildings for flourishing childcare projects and parent support groups.
Educational support for vulnerable children must be built into the school’s improvement plan and its effectiveness monitored closely so that all children who need support get it. This may well mean that each school has to make radical changes to how they spend their budget because the best and most lasting support will come from people – both teachers and highly trained teaching assistants.
All of us need to recognise the idea of ‘one opportunity’ – all our children and young people have one chance. Once we recognise that a pupil or their family needs extra help, it is important that it reaches them quickly and matches their needs. Systems need to be in place that link up all the appropriate agencies since not every problem fits into separate boxes marked ‘education’ or ‘social services’ or ‘National Health Service’.
And what is the important cog in this ever turning wheel? Well, of course it is the right people – have we all got the right staff? Are our recruitment systems thinking about future needs? Have we got the right training programmes in place? And will all that we try to do fit neatly underneath the Every Child Matters umbrella?
The Children Act 2004 provides the legislative foundation for whole-system reform to support the programme of change enshrined in Every Child Matters. The Act places a duty on local authorities to set up Local Safeguarding Children Boards and on key partners to take part. It also demands provision for indexes or databases containing basic information about children and young people to enable better sharing of information, along with a requirement for local authorities to draw up a single Children and Young People’s Plan and to appoint a director of Children’s Services and designate a lead member.
The role of extended schools
The government believes that extended schools are one of the most likely bases for the delivery of services within local Every Child Matters: Change for Children programmes. It says that reconfiguring, co-locating and facilitating easier access to services around the places where children and young people spend much of their time makes sense in terms of improving outcomes. For children and young people, this includes improved attainment, attendance and behaviour.