Today's teacher has to work with a growing army of outside professionals to help pupils overcome problems they bring into school. Jill Parkin reports
It's all yours: your own classroom, your own cupboards, your own pupils. Or is it? On your first day in the job you arrive in the little kingdom every trainee teacher dreams of, but the reality is that you will be sharing it with other adults. Organising all the assistants today's classroom requires is daunting enough, but even more is expected outside the classroom.
Today's teachers have to co-operate with professionals from the world beyond: the era of inter-agency working has arrived.
No teacher needs telling of the problems and pressures that come between a child and any stable education. Many of these are the responsibility of other professionals, so teachers shouldn't panic, says Pat Wills, head of Claremont community primary school in Blackpool. "Families in our community can be escaping a range of problems, including debt, alcohol or drug abuse, domestic violence, family feuds and the like. Often they re-locate, with support from police in nearby cities.
"All of these result in high levels of need. Teachers are then presented with children who are not always ready to learn every day of the week.
Attendance and punctuality are not high on the agenda for some families," she says.
Claremont is in one of the 10 per cent most deprived wards in the country and pupil mobility is high. Around 100 new admissions a year is standard, with the school losing at least 80 pupils a year. The school works closely with Blackpool's education welfare officers (EWOs) to identify the most vulnerable families. Joint home visits by the EWO and the school's own family liaison worker are often made.
A high proportion of families are on the child protection register. The school's home-start worker and the council's social work teams co-operate to support problem families and make them feel anchored to the area.
"The Blackpool school nursing service ensures a linked team who carry out medical interviews with families new to area," says Mrs Wills. "They meet regularly on our school induction days and ensure health problems are identified. GP practices are identified so those new to Blackpool register with a doctor as soon as possible."
The town health visitor service also visits the school parent and toddler group, which hosts more than 50 children each week. The school speech and language worker regularly meets parents, teachers and therapists.
Claremont runs a centre of excellence, which opened in April and is pivotal to the programme, because it's a place where teachers and other professionals can meet, talk and get things moving on behalf of the Claremont pupils. The aim of the centre is to provide a one-stop shop for families and somewhere teachers can meet the other professionals in their pupils' lives. The centre also runs courses, from outdoor play to healthy eating on a budget.
"The result of all this inter-agency working is that the support mechanisms enable teachers to teach," says Mrs Wills. "Children enter classrooms ready to learn and with opportunities to access a range of coping strategies.
"Teaching staff who are interested in the whole child are able to access appropriate courses and training to learn more about inter-agency working and additional strategies to support vulnerable children. Those teachers who are less interested in this work and who prefer to focus on children's learning are able to do so because they know there are others doing the work.
"The only down side of all this is that it comes at a cost to school budgets. Other agencies need to learn that this preventative work is cost-effective and really does work. However, there needs to be some mechanism of diverting funds from crises into prevention from health and social services. Children's centres such as ours will work but they come at a cost."
How much training in inter-agency working trainee teachers receive varies from college to college, depending on how the provider interprets and meets the qualified teacher status standards set out in Qualifying to Teach, which can be downloaded from the Teacher Training Agency website (www.tta.gov.uk). They cover communication with parents and carers; working with others; working within the law; working in teams; reporting to parents and others; and special educational needs.
In fact, each school has its own needs and its own cocktail of external support, and the best training often comes from being thrown in with other professionals and being willing to work openly with them.
AGENCIES YOU COULD BE WORKING WITH
MAST A multi-agency support team. It brings together health, social care and education professionals.
EWS The education welfare service works with schools on appropriate ways of improving attendance.
Educational psychologists They assess pupils with learning and behaviour problems and offer schools support.
SSP The Safer Schools Partnership has police based in schools in areas of high street crime.
Social services They support children at risk of abuse or of offending.
YOTs The youth offending teams are made up of people from the police, probation service, health agencies and drug and alcohol agencies who work on prevention as well as with existing young offenders.
CAMHS The child and adolescent mental health services are a partnership between local authorities, primary care and NHS trusts covering young people's emotional, mental and behavioural problems.
VOs Voluntary organisations such as Childline, Kidscape NSPCC, and anti-bullying charities.
FPs Foundation partnerships are groups of schools working together to improve pupil support in the area.
WORKING WITH OTHER PROFESSIONALS
1 Don't bristle. They are here to help, not to tell you what you're doing wrong.
2 You're not responsible for everything. It's not to do with being in charge; it's a matter of teamwork.
3 Communication is vital. Tell the other professionals about a problem.
Keep them up to date. Ask them what the progress is.
4 Keep the parents on board by offering a viable alternative to parents'
5 Find out if parents have skills they can offer the school - it will help in the anchoring process.
6 If you feel yourself turning into a social worker, find a way of involving a real one.
7 Celebrate and praise when children achieve - even if it's just turning up on time for a week.
8 Read Toolkit unit 10 from the behaviour and attendance strand of the KS3 national strategy - downloadable from the standards site (www.standards.dfes.gov.uk) - for useful background on multi-agency working.