'Best value' fails the quality of life factors

6th June 2008 at 01:00
The Accounts Commission's report last week on the governance of Aberdeen City Council makes grim reading
The Accounts Commission's report last week on the governance of Aberdeen City Council makes grim reading. I wonder if, in one respect, the commission is not making the same mistake as the council by focusing on a very limited notion of "best value".

The report notes that the council spent more than most other Scottish authorities on placements in residential special schools and sees this as a problem which needs to be urgently addressed. But reducing such placements does not lead to "best value" - even in that term's narrowest economic sense.

An argument can be advanced that Aberdeen has in the past taken into account not only economic but also "quality of life" considerations when determining placements. The council recognised that the residential special school serves two important purposes - it seeks to meet the individual needs of the child and the collective needs of the family.

If the child with complex needs has to remain at home, many families will be forced into self-imposed isolation through fear that their child will either be bullied by other children or verbally abused by neighbours. Living with a child with complex needs can seem like an indefinite sentence with no possibility of remission.

A family has to be extraordinarily resilient and resourceful to withstand the pressures generated by this exclusion, which can lead to marital disharmony and conflict, psychological breakdown and acute difficulties in the management of the other children. Such families are asked to cope with degrees of stress, about which most people can have little understanding.

The weakness in the "best value" approach is that it fails to take into account these quality of life considerations. The higher referral rate to residential special schools by the council in recent years can be interpreted as a progressive and enlightened policy that meets the needs of the whole family.

In short, it should be grounds for commendation, not censure by the Accounts Commission.

Robin Jackson education consultant, Murtle House, Bieldside, Aberdeenshire.

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