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Breakdown 'threatens education'

Clare Dean previews today's speech to the Society of Education Officers by its new president, David Cracknell

Education officials will today be urged to consider how to support parents and children as schools struggle to deal with the consequences of the breakdown of families and communities.

David Cracknell, new president of the Society of Education Officers, will tell them: "Years of neglecting what holds us together now poses a real threat to the quality of education in this country."

He will use his presidential speech to the society's winter meeting in Harrogate to promote the notion of a "learning family" and say: "Sustaining the integrity of the family is a basic requirement of effective communities. "

Mr Cracknell believes that parents deserve much more attention and support as partners in education alongside pupils and teachers.

"I am not proposing at all that we should step up state intervention in family life. Creating more dependence will not take us forward. It is interest and support that families seem to welcome."

He believes the education service has a role in community regeneration, not just through economic and social development, but also in supporting families.

"I am convinced that education officers have a vital role in rebuilding local communities. If we could agree a programme of imaginative and non-intrusive ways of supporting learning families, we would have increased the productivity of our investment in education."

Mr Cracknell, an active member of the SEO for around 20 years, wants to promote a new era of interdependence and will tell its education officers that they are potential catalysts for community change.

"I think there are signs of a shift in emphasis away from individualism and towards a greater investment in social cohesion."

But Mr Cracknell believes 1997 will not be an easy year - not least because of the general election.

"We have reached a point now where there is growing dissatisfaction with the balance we have struck between individual freedom and the shared constraints and commitments needed for the survival of civic society - it doesn't look like a good deal."

He feels the upheaval of the national curriculum and the concentration of effort on improving pupil performance for exams have weakened the resolve of schools to experiment and innovate.

Teachers, meanwhile, feel powerless and marginalised as their sense of professional influence has been reduced to delivering the national curriculum.

"Power and influence over what goes on in learning and teaching has moved very significantly to central government and its agencies,but also to headteachers and senior management in schools.

"Delivery agent is simply inadequate as a description of what teachers can and should be doing in the future.

"It would be a criminal waste if we were to lose the competences gained over 20 years. We will only preserve the capacity to teach well collaboratively if teachers are given the encouragement and opportunities to push out the boundaries."

Alongside the notion of a learning family, Mr Cracknell wants education officers to set up a Youth Council in every local authority by the turn of the century.

He wants all political parties to face up to the challenge of making information and communications technology (ICT) a natural feature of all teaching and learning.

Mr Cracknell was due to say that the SEO would produce proposals for a national strategy of ICT for the new Government, and that its development in schools at present was languishing.

"Obsolescence is a feature of much of the hardware and a failure to invest in advisory support and publishing opportunities means that the courseware and support systems available for teachers in many areas are getting worse.

"Too often now teachers are becoming disillusioned with ICT and are regressing. We cannot allow this situation to continue."

Education officials, normally non-political, may have to speak out against democratic decisions which they consider educationally, legally or financially unsound.

"All of us will run the risk of our comments being interpreted as too political (with a general election pending). However, in the interests of the education service we may have to speak out in the national debate."

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