Now can you back off a bit, Nanny

14th December 2007 at 00:00
Is school about to become the new mum and dad? Ed Balls's grand plan to make Britain the best place in the world for children to grow up in by 2020 is high on ambition and almost breathtaking in its scope. Yet initial reaction has been sceptical.

So far the "story" - as depicted in the national press - is one of big government with ambition to interfere more and more in family life. Is Labour's "nanny knows best" approach about to intensify?

This is a question of huge concern to all professionals who work in or with schools. In recent months the political weather has turned against the Government's record on education, with numerous studies weighing up the evidence and finding the targets, testing and tables approach wanting.

The latest reports from Robin Alexander's primary review (page 12) suggest the target culture is leading schools to employ intervention strategies that reinforce prejudice. The researchers are particularly critical of the Government's "categorise and intervene" approach which has pushed many schools with challenging catchment areas into teaching children, especially those from ethnic minorities, in ineffective ways that reinforce prejudice.

In today's TES, we publish headteacher Rebecca Elliot's remarkable account of what happens when a school praised by inspectors fails to meet government targets (page 22). Ministers should study this story carefully. It tells of a good school that has implemented a successful improvement strategy, based on the same principles that underpin the Children's Plan: providing disadvantaged children with outstanding pastoral support and guidance. According to Ofsted, the school's strategy is working, yet the Department for Children, Schools and Families seems to think otherwise.

If the Children's Plan is to succeed, ministers must draw back from intervening every time a school fails to hit a particular target. Nevertheless, the plan's broad vision is both ambitious and admirable. There are also welcome signs of a more flexible approach to primary testing.

Much detail of how the plan will affect teachers is yet to emerge. Andy Buck suggests (page 27) the need for a new type of school professional, working alongside teachers, to provide support ranging from social worker to personal adviser. Such a development would be welcome.

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