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Call for united front to end social exclusion

RADICAL NEW ways of working with education departments in support of the most excluded children were urged at a major social work conference last week.

Ronnie O'Connor, Glasgow's senior depute director of education, told the Association of Directors of Social Work at Dunblane that the two services should concentrate on combating "poverty of expectation, poverty of opportunity, and poverty of attainment".

Mr O'Connor said: "If we can create a national system of registration, surely we can develop a national accredited framework of training for all staff who are working with children - one that will break down professional prejudices and reinforce common goals. It would be a major contribution to developing services for children and young people."

He admitted: "To dismantle the barriers, we must genuinely begin to break down hierarchies within our own organisations and structures, which impede developing a more inclusive agenda."

With more than 40 per cent of families in Glasgow on income support and 38,000 children eligible for free school meals, Mr O'Connor called for preventative work within local communities and a willingness to innovate and test new models of services.

He was particularly critical of the lack of an educational priority for children in care. "All the current initiatives, like mentoring, after-school clubs, homework clubs, extracurricular activities, are needed by growing youngsters in residential and foster care, so they are part of the process rather than alienated from it."

Ed Weeple, head of the lifelong learning group at the Scottish Office, warned that huge social inequalities remained.

"The number of young Scots under 21 entering HE courses is at 47 per cent - the highest level in Europe. Access is now broadly equal by gender, but no means equal by social and economic background," Mr Weeple said.

But for Easterhouse in Glasgow, the participation rate is only 5 per cent.

"No one believes the children of Easterhouse are inherently less able, but everyone knows the pressures on them and the levels of support they require are very different."

Referring to the Government's social inclusion policy, Mr Weeple said: "This is not a matter just for the education service or schools. It requires all support agencies working in partnership."

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