Every Child Matters (ECM) is focused on five outcomes and has hundreds of ramifications that will affect everyone who works with children. Yet, in all the government paperwork devoted to it, little has been revealed about the role of ICT.
The initiative aims to protect young people and give them all a chance to fulfil their potential. A sweeping programme of reform is already under way. Local authorities are being re-shaped so agencies can work together more effectively for the well being of every child. Social and education services have been brought together under the banner of children's services. Teachers, and all other front-line professionals, are expected to collaborate to help children achieve five key outcomes: to be healthy; stay safe; enjoy and achieve; make a positive contribution; and achieve economic well-being.
"ECM is at a reasonably early stage," says Nick Stacey of RM. "The challenge local authorities are concentrating on is how to integrate data across departments. They are looking at what has to be in place to link to a national index (a countrywide network of systems designed to help authorities co-ordinate their efforts). They are also investigating how to create a child-focused database, with an integrated set of data for each child.
"ICT has a central role to play in achieving the five outcomes, and authorities all have different starting points and are at different stages in their thinking. We are doing a lot of work on the support that ICT can provide for personalised learning, both in primary and secondary schools.
ECM and personalised learning are closely related."
Ray Fleming of Capita Education Services believes that some schools will have to refine the way they manage data, unless teachers want to spend all their time responding to requests for information. He says: "Two years ago, it was acceptable for authorities to get pupil information from schools once a year. Now, when headteachers are involved with practitioners from social care, the need for details about a child is far more immediate."
He says schools do have the information, but in many cases it is widely dispersed; a pupil's address may be stored in the management information system by administrators, while performance data lives in a teacher's spreadsheet or even on a sheet of paper.
"There is a growing realisation that everything needs to be in one place,"
says Ray. "I believe every school already has a system it can use to achieve that. It may seem a daunting task, but my advice is to learn from schools that already share data effectively."
Dave Thomson, ICT inspector in children's services at Worcestershire local authority, says: "ECM is like a big jigsaw puzzle, with different pieces in place in different parts of the country. In Worcestershire, we believe ECM is about personalised learning, and have focused on how ICT can give individual learners a more personal experience."
Some students are already using the web work space (www.virtual-workspace.com) developed by Wolverhampton and Worcestershire local authorities, which gives pupils a personal area where they can work online with the support of mentors.
Most of the Worcestershire projects existed before ECM was announced, and Dave says that national schemes now under way should help pull all the pieces together. One such initiative is the Department for Education and Skills Personalised Content project, which aims to find ways of making it easier to tailor e-learning materials to suit individual needs. The project is due to produce "a final strategic direction" in the autumn.
ECM has prompted the Worcestershire authority to create resources for students on how to stay safe online. Dave says: "Most internet safety material is aimed at teachers. Personally, I think the emphasis should be on information literacy - schools should be educating young people to be proficient, responsible users of online services, rather than blocking access to things."
He says: "We are in the early days of this process. There is no definitive route towards ECM, and my advice is to build on what you already have.
Don't throw away the good work you are already doing. And do keep your focus on what you are trying to do for the child."
SOMETHING FOR EVERY CHILD
* Authorities face a huge task as they bring together data from different systems. For example, in one area, both social care and education believed their databases included details of all children. It turned out that one held 14,000 names, the other 40,000 - and neither was complete.
* Schools will need to pull together all their data - including admin details, behaviour and performance records, and any special needs - on each pupil, in order to respond to requests for information.
* ICT can contribute to every one of the initiative's five outcomes, in ways that range from encouraging shy youngsters to contribute more in lessons, to helping teenagers learn how to collaborate.
* Schools are interpreting "personalised learning" in many ways. As far as ICT is concerned, most agree that students should have a personal place online where they can work and collaborate; resources that suit their tastes and needs; and ways of getting online out of hours.
* There is no single route to success - aim to build on the work you are already doing.
* Personalised learning: www.standards.dfes.gov.ukpersonalisedlearning
* The personalised content initiative is part of the DfES e-strategy: www.dfes.gov.ukpublicationse-strategy
* NAACE Think Tank report on the potential role of ICT in ECM: www.naace.org resource.asp?menuItemId=6resourceId=1451
MORE ON EVERY CHILD MATTERS
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Jack Kenny - support for teachers
Pete Roythorne - the Kingswood Partnership