Pulling together for the child's sake;Opinion

20th February 1998 at 00:00
Never the twain shall meet. That is what they say about education and social work. Suspicion is mutual and deep-seated. Yet for many reasons it should not be so. One is institutional. Education staff and social workers are employees of the same local authority. There is supposed to be a corporate philosophy and loyalty governing the actions of senior managers in both services. Yet at operational level there is too little co-operation and too much obstruction. Nothing will unite a warring bunch of teachers more than a session of denigrating social workers.

Of course that does not serve the interests of children, as teachers and social workers would both agree. When each is wrestling with horrendous family problems, the need to pull together is obvious, not because it helps people do their job but because the needs of individual children transcend professional boundaries.

In North America, the "full-service" school brings education and welfare under the same roof. There are 600 such schools in the United States (page six), and the claim is that educational achievement is enhanced as families are given the opportunity to tackle (or forestall) a wide range of problems. Even in the US formidable organisational obstacles stand in the way of cross-sectoral collaboration within a school. "Turf", as the Americans call it, would be even more fiercely protected in Scotland. The General Teaching Council and teachers' conditions of service do not allow corners to be cut, however altruistic the aim.

The point is reinforced by the report (page three) from the Centre for Residential Child Care at Strathclyde University, which found evidence that although boarding and residential schools are not inspected frequently enough, a lack of co-ordination can result in visits by local authority social work inspectors at virtually the same time as those by HMI. The surveillance demands on councils of the Children Act mean that liaison with national inspectors is more important than ever.

Muddle, duplication and "turf wars" are meat and drink to staffroom cynics who expect nothing better. They may be a source of good stories, but they are wasteful and detrimental to children's interests. Against social work, the charge is of neglecting abuse. Against education, it is of countenancing underachievement. The number of professionals in either discipline conspiring to short-change those in their care is few. The number happy to operate behind professional stockades is much greater.

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