Going back to our roots
What a wonderful piece of work is Every Child Matters. To condense society's entire aspirations for our children into five simple phrases is nothing short of genius. To do so in words of such simplicity and beauty is like creating legislation out of William Blake's poetry, a little chunk of the "Songs of Innocence".
The chubby-faced nurse and white-haired schoolmaster sit side by side in the shade of the tree, making sure the little children stay safe as they busily enjoy and achieve around them.
Teachers think it's marvellous. It's why we came into teaching in the first place. It re-connects teachers with educating the whole child rather than just the bits that pass exams. I've sat nodding off in the post-lunch death-by-plenary slot at conferences, sneaking glances at the train timetable to see if I can slink off early, when a teacher seizes the microphone and, with rising passion, lambastes the keynote speakers for concentrating on results, Ofsted, league tables, while ignoring what is important: Every Child Matters! The conference hall breaks into spontaneous applause. This is dangerous stuff. For the first time in a long while we have legislation that speaks to the idealism of the profession.
The tricky job is ensuring that the idealism survives the language of the everyday world to retain its freshness and impact. The signs are not good.
Remember the pretty coloured Department for Education and Skills poster lovingly entitled the Outcomes Framework? Those five simple statements generated a massive 39 targets and indicators, 36 Ofsted judgments and 21 sources of evidence to support them. And that's before we even start on self-evaluation.
What government post has a kindlier name than SIP (school improvement partner)? What document has a gentler title than SEF (self-evaluation form)? Even the flowerpot men sound more threatening than our new friends Sip and Sef. But we need more than "flobberdob" to feed their Gradgrindian appetite for hard evidence.
How do you know your pupils are healthy? Because they've got rosy cheeks, Sir. Not good enough - try again. Because we carried out a survey of what they eat for school dinners, Sir. Better... and? Er, we frisk their bags as they arrive at school and analyse the contents of their lunchboxes... We cut all their muffins in half and confiscate any with chocolate chips inside.
Our new classroom mobility policy was breached by the history department who were making children sit still for too long in lessons, so we sacked the teachers and spent the money on chocolate-sniffer dogs... At least Sip and Sef speak English. I've spent hours in meetings with multi-disciplinary multi-agents, my head awash with talk of liaison and partnering, co-ordination and pathfinding, collaboration and inter-communicating and wondering when anyone was actually going to do something.
Here's one local authority's explanation of its new strategy: "The term lead professional is somewhat misleading. It is not intended to refer to a single person, nor a new role, but rather to a minimum set of functions which need to be carried out in delivering an effective coherent service to a child or young person with additional needs which require an integrated response."
Hurrah for Devon, which responded to the JAR (joint area review) of its ISA-CAF (information sharing and assessmentcommon assessment framework) by appointing six extra social workers.
We will not avoid another Victoria Climbie with more co-ordinators and bean-counters. We need people who talk directly to each other and get stuck in with children. NHS chiefs have been looking at reducing bureaucracy by using "lean management" techniques that were first developed by Toyota 60 years ago. The Toyota way means looking at the value of a product from the standpoint of the customer, asking what he really wants and removing any steps that do not contribute to that value.
We need that kind of thinking. It is not just that every child matters, but what matters to children in their dealings with education and services. If we become obsessed with targets, measuring, outcomes and evidence, we shall have strayed from "Songs of Innocence" to "Songs of Experience", our idealism strangled by the climbing ivy of bureaucracy, the nurse and teacher weeping silently over those children still lost.
Roger Pope is principal of Kingsbridge community college, Devon