The Children Bill

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Did you know?

* The bill puts children and families at the heart of policy with services built around those who use them (children, families), rather than those who deliver them (teachers, social workers, health staff, youth justice teams)

* Schools will increasingly become one-stop shops for all children's services

* The Government will fund at least one full-service school in every local education authority by 2006

* Each will offer childcare, study support, lifelong learning, health and social care, parenting support, sports and arts facilities and access to IT

* The Government insists that the changes should not increase teachers'

workloads, but should free them to teach

The Children Bill, published in March and expected to receive royal assent by November, will alter the landscape of education. Most heads and teachers have no idea what is going to hit them as schools increasingly become one-stop shops for all children's services, from speech therapy to classes for parents. Local authorities will bring education, social services and other sectors, such as health and youth justice, together under children's trusts. Heralded by the green paper Every Child Matters, the bill is the Government's response to Lord Laming's inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie, the eight-year-old who was repeatedly tortured and beaten by her great-aunt and her great-aunt's lover. But it's about far more than child protection. It's about joined-up provision and putting children and families at the heart of policy, with services built around those who use them (children, families), rather than those who deliver them (teachers, social workers, health staff, youth justice teams). Its aims are unassailable, but they will not be easy to achieve. The process of bringing alien professions together will be fraught with tension, misunderstanding and, occasionally, conflict.

What is the philosophy behind the bill?

In Every Child Matters, children's minister Margaret Hodge writes: "The vision we have is a shared one: every child having the opportunity to fulfil their potential, and no child slipping through the net. A step change in early years provision, with health, education and social care closely integrated through Sure Start children's centres. Parenting support embedded at each life stage. Schools that provide high standards, and a range of extended services. Multi-disciplinary teams based in universal services such as clusters of schools or early years settings. More support and a wider range of positive activities in and beyond school for young people. A shift to prevention while strengthening protection."

Although some heads and other educationists are worried about potential tensions between the care agenda and the standards agenda, Mrs Hodge is among those who insist that improving the circumstances - physically, emotionally and culturally - of deprived children from the earliest years will result in higher achievement in school and later life.

Who are these children?

Those with a number of needs. For instance, one child might come from a troubled family, and have speech problems and emotional difficulties. Their parents should be able to go to the school, where a staff member will help with minor problems, and arrange for them to see specialists if necessary.

David Hawker, director of Brighton and Hove's children, families and schools department, which was set up two years ago, says the switch will affect every child. "You never know when they might need a service," he says. "Most children may need a helping hand at some point. Where a school gets inclusion right, that school is likely to have the right kind of approach to all children."

The ideals underpinning the the bill include:

* Child protection cannot be separated from policies to improve children's lives as a whole.

* Provision must be defined by the client group (children) rather than professional functions.

* The needs of children at risk must be catered for within the context of services provided for all children.

* The number of children living in poverty should be halved by 2010 and eradicated by 2020. "Children born into poverty are more likely to be born with low birth weight or prematurely, suffer injury and illnesses in childhood, become teenage parents and die early as adults," says the green paper.

* New workplace cultures should be created so people work across professional boundaries and draw on the skills of others who work with children. Teachers and GPs may be the first to spot emerging problems.

The bill gives local authorities a specific duty to promote the educational achievement of looked-after children. It allows for the collection of data on their attainments, and those of other children in need.

What are the structural changes?

* More Sure Start children's centres in the 20 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods. These combine education, family support, employment advice, childcare and health services, reaching 650,000 children by March 2006.

* The Government is funding the development of 240 full-service schools by 2006 to the tune of pound;52.2 million over three years, each to offer a specific set of services: childcare, study support, lifelong learning, health and social care, parenting support, sports and arts facilities and access to IT. Sixty pilot schools are now being funded. Ministers want clusters of schools to work around such schools, and, eventually, that all schools become extended, providing at least some of these services.

* Better information sharing between agencies, including education, with a legal obligation to co-operate.

* A lead "case worker" for children seeing multiple agencies. For many children, this will be someone in school.

* On-the-spot service delivery. Professionals will be encouraged to work in multi-disciplinary teams based in and around schools and children's centres. These teams will respond quickly to the concerns of teachers, childcare workers and others.

* The creation of directors of children's services and a lead council member for children in all local authorities, responsible for education and social services. There will be no requirement to merge education and social services departments, although some authorities already have, and many will. In Wales, the Assembly will require the nomination of a lead director for children and young people's services. He or she will oversee partnership planning, but accountability will not be changed.

* Children's trusts will be responsible for children's centres and schools; multidisciplinary teams; setting up a common assessment framework; information sharing; joint training; and safeguarding children. They are expected to co-operate with other services, such as adult mental health specialists. As part of this arrangement, education and social services will be able to pool funds for joint projects or overlapping work.

Ministers want children's trusts with independent chairs, usually based within local authorities (see case study), to integrate and co-ordinate these services, but there is no legislation on this.

* A permanent minister for children, young people and families; Margaret Hodge is already in place.

* An integrated inspection framework for children's services led by Ofsted and reporting on local authority areas. Services will be judged separately, and by how well they work together. Inspections will "track children's journeys through the system".

* A children's commissioner will draw on children's views and make sure they are fed into policy-making. He or she will investigate individual cases where the issues have wider relevance, if asked to by the secretary of state, but will have no independent powers to instigate investigations as do the children's commissioners already in place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

* Local authorities will be required to establish a safeguarding children board, normally chaired by the director of children's services or an independent chair. It will include local authorities; NHS bodies; the police, probation and prison services; Connexions; and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.

What will all this mean for schools and teachers?

It's still hard to tell, and will certainly vary from place to place. The National College for School Leadership is setting up a scheme to promote collaboration between schools and their communities. It says a pilot programme will be ready by autumn this year.

The Government insists that the changes will not increase teachers'

workloads, but should free them to teach. Staff in existing extended schools, such as Hayward secondary in Bolton (Friday magazine, March 12), support this claim, saying they can call on a range of specialists as and when they need to, including an on-site police officer, bilingual community liaison workers, and a mental health nurse.

The changes could reduce the power of league tables by emphasising the wider educational role of schools. There will be a sharper focus on the achievements of pupils experiencing difficulties. One primary head puts it this way: rather than asking herself if she is delivering what is required, she will have to ask instead if she is meeting the needs of the children.

Heads will have to learn to work in partnership with people from other services, rather than to exercise "command and control". Some trailblazers are finding that having a staff member responsible for co-ordinating services works well.

The Department for Education and Skills is also looking at how assessment for learning should relate to the identification and assessment of special needs, and how it could help with decisions about what other specialist support children need. The new policies could also mean new career paths for those working with children, including alternative school-based jobs for teachers, such as family liaison. The expansion of Sure Start nursery provision and daycare will mean large numbers of qualified early years teachers and managers will be needed.

Where will everyone fit?

In her address to the recent annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers, president Rona Tutt said extended schools would vary "from those with spare accommodation to house creches, parents' groups and the University of the Third Age, to the ones where the leadership team share an office with the school secretary, and the staff take it in turns to sit down in the staffroom."

How will joint working work?

The Government is providing pound;100,000 for each authority to develop information sharing systems. One of the biggest barriers to the bill's implementation is the clash between children's right to confidentiality and the need to share information about children. For health professionals, confidentiality is a central tenet of their professional code.Some social workers, for instance, have been shocked by the way children with special needs are openly discussed in staffrooms. Schools and agencies will also be expected to work more closely with the voluntary and community sector, in such areas as childcare and parental support.

Fifteen "pioneer" authorities have been given pound;10 million to try out different information sharing models. Hertfordshire already has a system in place, with joint teams of social workers, educational psychologists and education welfare officers, using a shared database.

Those already working in joint teams say it's best to begin slowly and on a small scale to build up trust and personal relationships, rather than bring in sweeping change suddenly. Basic criteria for meeting the needs of children receiving a range of services are being developed, to be followed by an assessment of training needs.

There is to be common training for all professionals working with children.

Modules are likely to include: child development, parents and family life, managing transitions, child protection, and listening to and involving children and young people.

Who will be the lead professional?

This will vary. It could be a teacher, a special needs co-ordinator, the educational welfare officer or a mentor. The DfES says it will depend on the needs of the child and family. "The lead professional for one child might be a social worker, for another it might be a youth worker, for a third it might be the head of year at their school," says a spokeswoman.

Delegates at the NAHT conference want the Government to ensure that headteachers are in charge of extended schools.

What training will take place?

More than 4 million people in England work with children or support those who do. This includes almost 2.5 million paid staff. In addition to the joint modules, all teachers will have training on substance misuse and should also learn to identify children needing mental health help and how to support those with mild problems.

The Teacher Training Agency will become the main body for developing the skills of school support staff, as well as of teachers. A children's workforce unit, based at the DfES, will work alongside the TTA, and will develop a pay and training strategy for non-education staff. It will work with employers, staff and government departments to establish a Sector Skills Council (SSC) for children and young people's services which will look at ways of developing collaborative approaches. The SSC will set standards for qualification - effectively shaping further education courses - and advise government on training needs. Workforce reforms should also enable people to move across different professions.

Training will also be needed for: more speech and language therapists, including paraprofessionals; 180,000 childcare workers to enable 1.15 million new childcare places by 2006; nursery teachers for increased provision for three and four-year-olds and for children's centres.

How will the integrated inspection system work?

A discussion paper just published by a steering group of 10 inspectorates and commissions, led by Ofsted, sets out early proposals for a children's services inspection framework. An agreed set of principles is to underpin inspection of all children's services, including education. They are to focus on five outcomes for children set out in Every Child Matters: being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and social and economic well-being - plus a sixth: support for parents. The inspectorates, including social services, health, police and probation service, are together developing criteria for judging performance on these themes. The framework will inform all inspections of children's services, but not govern them.

Joint area reviews, undertaken by any two or more inspectorates, will evaluate how well services together improve the wellbeing of children and young people in the locality. They will have to square the circle of having less burdensome inspections while gathering additional information.

Inspections and reviews are to use, as far as possible, existing documentation, but there will also be some fieldwork. There is no intention to introduce another layer of inspection.

How is all this being funded?

In 2004-5 there will be a pound;20 million "change fund" to help local authorities and primary care trusts adapt to the new system. Further guidance will be published in the autumn, outlining funding for 2005-8 in the light of the July 2004 spending review, and giving more details of how the programmes will work.

The bill and green paper: everychildmatters. Pupil participation guidance: Working Together: giving children and young people a say, DfES ref number: DfES 0134 2004 (http:publications. Discussion papers: Children's services: some key organisational issues (the Education Network:;Every Child Matters: inspecting services for children and young people ( Main text: Diane Hofkins

Illustration: Tracey Tucker

Additional research: Sarah Jenkins

Next week: Water

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