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Be aware, their life is in your hands

Every Child Matters is a new government policy aimed at everyone who is involved with children, writes Andy Stanley

Occasionally you may think that horrible children and horrible parents deserve each other. Equally, you might wonder if someone somewhere could help them. This is where Every Child Matters comes in.

ECM is a new acronym on the education scene, but it is rooted in tragic circumstances. It arose from the horrific death, in 2000, of Victoria Climbie. The report into her death concluded that she had been let down by failings in several agencies. Since then, the Soham case (pupils Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman who were killed by their school caretaker Ian Huntley, in August 2002) has raised more concerns.

Through Every Child Matters, the Government wants every child, whatever their background and circumstances, to be supported to stay healthy and safe, have a purposeful and productive life, feel that they play a positive role in society and do not live in poverty.

The policy is directed at all those agencies dealing with children that are required to work together and share information, such as hospitals, schools, police, social services and voluntary groups. Across the sector, it is Ofsted's responsibility to assess how individual agencies perform in reaching targets for initiatives that include reducing obesity, teenage pregnancies and offending.


For the new teacher, an obvious first step is to take PSHE, citizenship and the pastoral role seriously. It can be difficult to know when to share information about children. The Government wants schools, the health services, police and social services to set up child indexes and ultimately a computer data system containing information on all children, but government advice - about data protection and sharing of information, situations when you should get consent from the child or parent and what to do if consent isn't given - is still unclear.


The bottom line is to know your school's child protection policy. If you have serious concerns about a child, don't attempt to deal with the issue.

Pass it on to the member of staff designated for child protection who will inform the appropriate agencies.

However, where concerns, say about health and welfare, are less severe and a child has confided in you, you might feel sharing the information will damage your relationship with the child. For example, a young colleague teaches a child whose disabled mother can't physically manage to get rid of her nits. The child is afraid of telling anyone in case they think her mum can't cope. What would you do? In this case it is best to encourage the child to tell someone with pastoral responsibility who could make a supportive contact with the mother to discuss the problem.


Another crucial strand in ECM is giving children and young people a say in issues that affect them. Local authorities must find out what works best for children and act on it. A particular effort is being made to put forward the views of the most vulnerable young people in society. You may feel your pupils have plenty to say and don't need encouraging, but channelled in the right direction, a real difference can be made.

One borough council's youth forum has persuaded a high street coffee bar to open up in the evenings for under-16s. As a result, anti-social behaviour on the streets has fallen and some difficult children have realised that dialogue can work. Take an interest in your class representative on the school council. If your form pupils are enthusiastic about their school council and are genuinely consulted, Ofsted will give you a mark for helping the child make a positive contribution.


As for the other targets, that of children staying healthy, is easily promoted by advocating healthy food options, no smoking policies and sexual health programmes. But how is it judged? Subjectively at the moment. One inspector, expressing mild exasperation at the difficulty of the task, said: "Well, we haven't seen many fat children and I haven't seen many lighting up outside the gates."

Helping children to stay safe is easier - it's not hard to be aware of health and safety in your classroom, the building's security, and your bullying, harassment and discrimination policies. Make sure you are aware of issues with looked-after and homeless children and young people.

For children to find enjoyment and learn to achieve is of most concern in the classroom. Are they enjoying lessons and are they attending? Encourage participation in extra activities and clubs and check that those with learning difficulties or disabilities aren't put off because of lack of after-school help.

Finally, staying out of poverty does not mean the entire sixth form working 30 hours a week at Tesco and having more money than you. It does mean that your exam results should be good because this enables students to progress.

Find out about work experience, 14-19 vocational programmes and, most importantly, what help is available for those of your children who are in need.

With Every Child Matters, you don't have to be an expert, just be aware, find out who the experts are and help young people access the opportunities and help they need.


* Child care on-site or through other local facilities from 8am-6pm all year round.

* Homework clubs and study support to help those who can't work at home.

* Sport, music tuition, dance and drama, arts and crafts, special interest clubs such as chess and volunteering, business and enterprise activities.

* Support for children with special needs who want to take part in activities after school.

* Parenting programmes run with the support of other children's services and family learning sessions to allow children to learn with parents.

* Swift and easy referral to a range of specialist support services such as speech therapy, child and adolescent mental health services, family support services, intensive behaviour support.

* For young people, access to sexual health services, drugs programmes, housing advice, financial support.

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