Asking the right questions

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Kevin Crompton has no doubt that joining up education and social services can bring real benefits to children at risk.

As director of education and children's services in Solihull, West Midlands, he is in the process of setting up a children's trust along the lines envisaged in this week's Green Paper.

He said: "We have started looking at things from the customer's point of view. When you are involved in both education and social services you start to see why, for instance, some youngsters are not able to access education because of their background."

A one-stop centre for children with physical disabilities has been opened in partnership with the local health authority and reviews have been set up to improve child protection and the education of looked-after children.

Jeannette Essex, inclusion and access manager, says that the new structure has already improved co-operation. "It has reduced the competition between different departments. Our conversations are now about how we can solve problems rather than which budget will pay for it," she said.

She gives the example of children with learning difficulties who need to be educated in other boroughs. Previously, each department would try to avoid paying the bill, now the focus is on finding the best deal for both the child and the council.

Reform is not all plain sailing. It will take time to eradicate the working differences between education officers and those in social services, Mr Crompton admitted.

He also counsels ministers against adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, arguing that councils should be left to find solutions that best fit their circumstances.

In November, Solihull will be the subject of the first joint inspection by Ofsted and the social services inspectorate.

Perhaps Mr Crompton had that in mind when he said: "I would not pretend we have all the solutions but I do think that we have at least started to ask the right questions."

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