Bill threat to standards

16th April 2004 at 01:00
Heads fear plans for children's services will harm school improvement. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Plans to integrate services under the Children Bill could affect academic standards, according to a new report.

It found an "inherent contradiction" between the school standards agenda being promoted by the Government and the emphasis on inclusion and children's services.

Under the proposals, teachers will work with the police, health and social workers and other professionals to identify and helpchildren deemed to be at risk, and they will be required to share information.

The study, jointly released by The Education Network, the Local Government Information Unit and the Democratic Health Network, said: "Successfully engaging schools with the children's services agenda is central to achieving its objectives, particularly given the autonomy they now enjoy.

"Many headteachers argue that the pressure to deliver on targets, and to look out for their school's position in performance tables, makes it difficult to give the same priority to inclusion issues, let alone to embrace closer relationships with a broader range of services - where, in some cases, such relationships may not anyway be wholly positive."

The report said that local authorities would have to be sensitive to the needs of schools and "be alert to the fact that some will perceive departmental structural change as a threat to the primacy of the standards agenda".

The study expressed concerns about the co-operation between different sets of workers, as outlined by the Bill published early last month.

At the time of publication Margaret Hodge, the children's minister, urged professionals to "push down your boundaries and think in a new way". But the report, called Children's services - some key organisational issues, suggests that in reality change will be much more difficult to achieve.

It said: "It cannot be assumed that by bringing together social care and education services, front-line working between a range of traditionally separate professionals will simply fall into place.

"This requires significant cultural change. Professionals are being asked to work in a different way, to work collaboratively, to use different systems and to work in different locations.

"And there is sometimes considerable misunderstanding and even distrust between groups."

One local authority, which has not been named but which has already begun implementing integrated services, told researchers: "You must not underestimate the time it takes to ensure that everyone from different professional backgrounds is singing from the same hymn sheet.

"Changing hearts and minds is a big issue of integration."

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