Exclusive - What more can we do to help?

7th March 2008 at 00:00
As three-quarters of teachers reveal they have taught abused children, Ed Balls asks in today's TES what support he can give in the fight to protect the innocent

Teachers are too often not getting the support they need to protect vulnerable children, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary acknowledges in today's TES.

Ed Balls is urging teachers to tell him what specialised help they need as we reveal that:

- three-quarters of teachers have taught children they believe have been physically or sexually abused, but most do not feel properly trained to spot the signs;

- the number of children classed as in danger from adults has risen despite a national drive to improve their protection.

The disclosures come in The TES's Big5 series, an investigation into the impact of the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda, which places a duty on schools to prevent harm to children by working with local authorities, police and health and social workers.

Mr Balls writes in today's issue that he wants to hear from teachers what extra support they require from social workers and other agencies to help vulnerable children. "I don't want to turn teachers into social workers or housing officers," he writes. "I want them to be able to focus on teaching. But all too often I'm told by schools that they find it hard to get the kind of specialised help their pupils need."

"Schools play an absolutely central role for children, but we can't expect them to do everything on their own. What happens outside school is as important as what happens inside, when it comes to driving up standards."

The ECM programme was announced five years ago in response to the death of Victoria Climbie in 2000 at the hands of relatives. Abuse had been suspected by teachers in France, but she was brought to the UK when social workers were alerted. Here she was never sent to school and slipped through the social services net.

The report launching ECM in 2003 noted that there had been a significant fall in the number on child protection plans, which register those judged to be at ongoing risk of maltreatment, neglect, violence or sexual exploitation.

But since then, the numbers have risen by 8.6 per cent, to 27,900. And 12.8 per cent more have become the subject of a child protection plan on multiple occasions, suggesting a failure to help them adequately in the first instance.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, said that local authorities were moving services to corporate centres, so schools were not getting the help they needed.

"Generally, our members subscribe to the principles of ECM," she said. "But the wider workforce hasn't kept pace. Teachers now feel under pressure to be social workers and health workers because those services aren't there."

A TES survey of nearly 2,000 teachers found that 72 per cent believed they had taught abused children, but only 43 per cent felt adequately trained to spot the signs.

Those who can are in short supply, with nearly one in 10 social worker jobs lying vacant last year.

Some child protection indicators have improved: fewer children are in care; and fewer are killed or seriously injured on the roads. But 10,000 more children aged 10 to 17 were cautioned or convicted of crimes in 2006 than in 2002.

A spokeswoman for the schools department said children were safer than 10 years ago. Numbers on protection registers were likely to rise if schools and social services became better at spotting those at risk. "We need to monitor progress, but what we can't do is use a few indicators to measure the progress of ECM as a whole," she said.

Leading article, page 28

Ed Balls, page 29.

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