So now we're social workers

29th July 2005 at 01:00
Teachers shouldn't be held responsible for what goes on outside the school walls, says Jane Ireland

It was only when I saw the new training materials for Ofsted inspectors that I realised how far the Government expects secondary schools to have moved towards the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda.

The materials describe ECM as being "central to the inspection process" and say that "inspecting ECM should not be regarded as just a feature within the inspection but as the main focus of the inspection itself". Funny, I thought, isn't education - that is, teaching and learning - central to what schools do?

Did you know that, under the ECM outcome "physical and mental health", inspectors will be looking to see if young people "choose not to take illegal drugs". In order to find this out, they are advised to ask the young people themselves. I think this process might be flawed. How many 15-year-olds do you know who will happily disclose to a stranger that they take drugs?

Under the section "enjoying and achieving", inspectors will be looking to see that young people "choose not to offend, re-offend and engage in anti-social behaviour". How will they know? Will they ask the young people again? Will they examine police records? Regardless of how the inspectors arrive at a judgment, be under no illusion: Ofsted expects the school to make sure that young people do not offend at 11pm on a Friday on the local estate. I have enough trouble ensuring students don't bring drugsalcoholoffensive weapons into school, and don't steal from or bully their peers without trying to influence their behaviour outside school hours.

When did secondary education cease to be about learning subjects such as maths, science, history, and the rest? When did it become an instrument of the state to socialise and civilise children because too many parents have abdicated their responsibility? I suspect it was the day the ECM green paper was published.

A-level sociology students will tell you that schools have always been responsible for the secondary socialisation of children, the family being the primary socialising force. But it seems that schools are now being asked to take on more and more of the role previously performed by the family.

The ECM agenda is another example of the Government's attempts to please everyone. On one hand you've got Education Secretary Ruth Kelly banging on about parents' rights; on the other, the Government insists it will deal with the "yob culture". It is parents who are responsible for their children terrorising the local estates late at night but, as they have so many rights, it's impossible for the police to hold them accountable for their children's behaviour.

I don't object to the whole of the ECM agenda. Indeed, I strongly support most of it. What I don't like is the suggestion that I am expected to exert control or influence over pupils in their lives outside school. Recently, two of our younger students broke into the local supermarket at 3am. Where did the parents of these children think they were? If they are still in school (and not locked up) when our next inspection takes place, I'd love to hear what they say to the inspector who asks them, "What does the school do to encourage you not to engage in anti-social behaviour?" I don't think we'll be getting a tick in the right box on that one.

I am genuinely worried that despite having a GCSE five-plus A*-Cs score in excess of 80 per cent and a value added score of more than 1011, our school could be placed in special measures because we don't dispense condoms in the toilets (sexual health), don't provide girls with the morning-after pill (sexual health) and, horror of horrors, let students eat chips twice a week (healthy lifestyles).

In spite of the Government's insistence otherwise, I still see myself as an educator first and foremost. Not a social worker, not a psychiatrist, not a substitute parent and certainly not a police officer. I believe that schools should be about education and not responsible for curing all of society's ills. It's a shame the Government doesn't appear to share my view.

Jane Ireland is a headteacher in the Midlands. She writes under a pseudonym

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