Taking the services to the pupils

5th March 2004 at 00:00
Motherhood; apple pie; more coherent education, health and welfare services: those in favour say "aye" readily enough. As many teachers and heads know too well, schools are already the real frontline family service in many areas: the main source of order, routine and sometimes even affection in many children's chaotic lives; the first port of call for parents at their wits' end.

Attainment will remain limited unless the underlying social disadvantage that lies behind much of the remaining underachievement is tackled.

School meals inaugurated a century ago recognised that hungry, malnourished children could not grow, let alone learn. Even then it was recognised that the food should be brought to the child rather than sending children to feeding centres.

The Children Bill published this week adopts that same principle. Joined-up services should attend the child. It challenges all who work with children's interests at heart to do so more collaboratively in order to meet their full needs.

The principle is right enough. The practice, however, will require radical change in the way different professionals work, talk and are trained. Each will now need to be clear about how their work combines with the other. But equally important will be how each distinctive and important function is sustained.

Schools will be the place where much of this happens and educators will need to do more than make houseroom for other providers. They will need to recognise common aims without losing their own focus on achieving the potential in every child. The best pastoral policies are often good academic ones. School success is vital to self-esteem as well as future opportunities.

The Bill merely sets out the statutory basis for such changes. The shifts in practice and perception to follow may take decades. The 1981 Education Act enshrined the Warnock report's notion of special educational needs. Few would argue that its aims have yet been fully realised.

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