All together now

1st September 2003 at 01:00

Will the roles of heads and governors change dramatically if children's services are joined up? Phil Revell investigates

The consultation paper on children's services was barely off the presses beforethe debate began about what it really means.

The end of 15 years of school autonomy and of heads and governing bodies as we know them, said one local authority figure. Proposals which do not have big implications for heads, said headteachers' leaders.

Local authorities hope that the 100 recommendations in the Green Paper, Every child matters, will increase their influence in schools. After 15 years when schools have become increasingly detached from other local services, concerns about child abuse have forced the Government to try to reverse the trend. The paper could result in major changes to the roles of heads, teachers and governors.

A chief education officer warned that the Government's proposals could have implications for admissions policies, school discipline and even control over how school buildings were used.

"This means reinventing heads and governing bodies," said the chief executive of one of Britain's voluntary agencies. "The intention is to put the school at the heart of community, but you have to think about a structure that would allow schools to open 52 weeks a year."

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "I do not see huge implications for schools in this. The paper is about the ability of schools to work more closely with social services under the direction of the head as has been happening in the past few years."

Children's services will be focused on the school with health and social services expected to redesign systems to concentrate on the school catchment area. Health professionals, social workers and specialists will work with clusters of schools.

Dr Dunford said: "Where multi-disciplinary teams have already been put in place that has increased the head's influence."

The paper proposes that each local authority will have a children's director responsible for ensuring that the different services work together. Later this year the Government will introduce legislation, and it is likely that children's services, including schools, will face a statutory duty to collaborate in the child's best interests.

Local authorities believe that will curtail school's autonomy but heads disagree. Dr Dunford said heads welcomed the duty to collaborate which will be placed on all partners. "Heads will have more influence over what is happening to children in difficulties."

There are concerns about culture clashes between the different childcare professions, and about sharing information.

One health professional said: "This is a real issue. Teachers do not have the same ethical focus on confidentiality." Heads and governors might have to consult other agencies before excluding a pupil in future.

Portsmouth is well-placed to move quickly on the Green Paper's agenda. The city was chosen as one of the 35 areas where the new Children's Trusts - which will pioneer "joined-up" working - will be piloted. Since the authority became unitary in 1998 multi-disciplinary teams have been working in the community.

"The Green Paper's proposals mean that schools will not need to go to different agencies. There will be a single point of contact," says Lynda Fisher, the city's director of education and lifelong learning.

The aim is not only to improve child protection but to ensure all children fulfil their potential.

Portsmouth has found that collaboration works. It has seen a reduction in child protection registrations in the city's two Sure Start projects and results have improved.

One school which has reversed its fortunes is St Luke's, which was near the bottom of national league tables four years ago. "This is a school with a lot of challenges," said headteacher Krysia Butwilowski. "But we came out of special measures and our results this year are up. Part of the St Luke's success story is down to the agencies that support children beyond the school gates. I was fortunate in Portsmouth because there's a lot of dialogue between the agencies," she says.

That dialogue is likely to grow. The Green Paper - out for consultation until December 1 - talks about joint training and joint assessment to streamline the process for children and families. It recommends that services be delivered as close to the community as possible, preferably inside schools.

Portsmouth is studying the feasibility of attaching social workers to clusters of schools.

As vice-chair of governors at St Luke's and a Portsmouth archdeacon, Christopher Lowson has two perspectives. "Schools are the obvious place for these services. It's where children spend most of their day," he says.

For the youngest children there is the Sure Start programme which many see as a model for how collaborative services ought to work. Nursery nurses, health visitors, social workers and teachers combine to support families with childcare, employment and education.

"What makes Sure Start work is an explicit sharing of culture, an explicit sharing of language about what we are trying to achieve for children," says Sure Start national director Naomi Eisenstadt.

But it will take time to develop a shared language and culture.

"Training is going to be absolutely essential," says Jane Love, head of Portsmouth's St George's Beneficial CofE primary school. We've had joint funding for posts in children's mental health and behaviour support," she said. "It's has been very successful. I think it's essential that children's services work together."

Last year Jane was part of an education visit to the States. In Denver her group was struck by the very close relationship between children's services. "Every school had at least one social worker," she recalled. "And they were quite happy to pop down to the health centre to swap information."

In America Full Service schools operate in several states, including Florida, Michigan and California. In these states the local high school is the hub for a range of services for children and young people; including health advisers, school counsellors and social workers.

It is the model for Manchester's Newall Green high school, in Wythenshaw, one of the most disadvantaged areas in Britain.

"Having immediate access to professionals on site is crucial," says deputy head Maria Greaney.

Newall Green has an on-site social worker, a dedicated educational welfare officer and a school nurse. It is aiming to become a Full Service School.

Newall Green has said goodbye to what Maria Greaney described as the "musak timeloop" where teachers spend hours on the phone trying the find the right agency to deal with children's problems. She said: "It's terribly important that the professionals are based locally, and that we establish a continuity, so that people get used to the face and the name."

Green Paper at Full Service schools information:http:www.infed.orgschoolingf-serv.htm


* Every council to establish children's trusts by 2006. These trusts, launched in 35 local authorities this year, will bring together health, education and social services under one system.

* New information systems to identify children at risk. Changes to the data protection act will allow greater sharing of information. There will be a unique ID number for every child.

* New outcomes will be expected from children's services - staying safe, being healthy, experiencing enjoyment and achievement at school.

Organisations, including schools, will have to consider the needs of the whole child when they make decisions.

* Common training for childcare professionals to prevent confusion about their responsibilities.

* Consultation runs until December 1. Legislation to implement the changes is expected to follow very shortly after the consultation period ends.

What does it mean for you?

* Schools can expect to see far more contact will the other childcare agencies - health, social services, Connexions and the youth justice system.

* Agencies should not be able to take decisions in isolation. Social workers changing a foster placement will need to take account of any disruption to the child's education. Heads looking to exclude a pupil would need to consult with other agencies about what was best for the family.

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