Teachers with 2020 vision

4th April 2008 at 01:00

Schools have responded well to the Every Child Matters initiative, but there is still a long way to go, reports Helen Ward

From banning fizzy drinks to introducing medical drop-in services, schools have been busy responding to the challenges of the Every Child Matters initiative for the past five years.

And over the next decade, they will be expected to do even more to meet the programme's five outcomes: ensuring that pupils are healthier; safer; able to enjoy and achieve more; make a positive contribution to society; and well-prepared to earn a good living.

The next wave of changes are outlined in the Children's Plan, published in December 2007, which sets out how the Government would like schools to look in 10 years' time, coupled with longer-term plans stretching to 2020

The "21st-century school" is a place where every child has a personal tutor who knows them well, acts quickly if problems emerge, and helps them plan to meet their ambitions. It is a place that contributes to all aspects of children's lives, but retains its specialist role as a place for learning.

It looks beyond its pupils to offer a variety of services to the community. And it plays an active part in helping to plan and deliver other services for local children, such as healthcare.

These may look like daunting aims for England's overstretched schools, but few are entirely new, and many schools are close to meeting them - or already do so.

Take, for example, the suggestion that 21st-century schools help children to "develop confidence, self-respect and respect for others". Helping children to strengthen their character has been one of the goals for schools since the Board of Education issued its 1904 Code.

Schools have also offered services to their communities for decades. They may have been pushed into stepping up their work because of targets set last year that all schools by 2010 must provide a "core offer" of extended services - from after-school clubs to childcare and community access to facilities. But one in three already does.

Similarly, many schools already provide pupils with a staff member who effectively acts as a personal tutor - whether a form teacher, or in some schools a member of the pastoral staff. The additional funding for personalised learning should help to support this.

One of the cloudier areas remains how schools will work with other agencies to provide more joined-up services. Here, the focus will be on many of the systems that were proposed for Every Child Matters five years ago, but are still in the process of bedding in.

ContactPoint, the online directory being introduced next year, should allow teachers who have concerns about a child's welfare to check quickly on basic information that is held about them, including who else is working with that child.

The database, which will cost pound;224 million to set up and pound;41m a year to run, was due to be in place this year, but has been pushed back five months to address security concerns.

Children's trusts will also be crucial in co-ordinating support for young people. These partnerships, involving representatives from health, education and other children's services, are scheduled to be running in all authorities by this month.

Pilot versions, run by 35 local authorities, have already impressed University of East Anglia researchers, who said the trusts "acted as a catalyst for more integrated approaches to the diagnosis and provision of services for children".

Between half and two-thirds of the trusts already had schools represented on them. But many headteachers have yet to be convinced.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Most of my members have yet to discover what a children's trust is, let alone what services it offers. Schools do not yet feel local authorities are getting them the services they require."

Similar scepticism has been expressed about other structural changes: the amalgamation of education and social services for young people into children's services; and the replacement of education directors with children's services directors (see story opposite).

Both these changes should have been made in all authorities by January, but the only difference some teachers will have noticed is a change to letterhead in communications from the local authority.

However, Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, told The TES it was important to look beyond the new structures. "If anybody thought this change was simply about organisational change, about appointing directors of children's services and establishing children's trusts, they were very misguided," she said.

"It is fundamentally a deep cultural change. It is about changing the boundaries of professional behaviour and thinking in a completely different way. With the amount of change we are talking about here, we will not see everyone have full implementation for another two or three years."

Her view that the schemes need more time to show they can work is shared by some heads.

Mike Kent, head of Comber Grove Primary in Southwark, London, said: "We have cocked up education over the past 15 years by forcing kids to jump through test hoops. Now, I think, we are moving back towards what it was like when I came into teaching in 1966.

"Every Child Matters is a worthwhile philosophy, but it will take a long time to happen in practice."

It may be the 21st century, but more work is clearly needed before we have truly 21st-century schools.

- www.everychildmatters.gov.uk


Over the past six weeks, The TES has examined the five `outcomes' of the Every Child Matters initiative, designed to give all children the best possible start to a happy and fruitful life.

The aims, introduced nearly five years ago, are important: schools are now judged against them, and they underpin the Children's Plan, which covers the next 10 years.

In the last of our six-part series, we look at what ECM has achieved, what can still be improved, and what new initiatives we can expect in the future.


Archway Children's Centre is much more than just a nursery. Parents bring their toddlers to music groups, while midwives and health visitors from neighbouring Whittington Hospital provide antenatal and postnatal services, such as baby massage for young mums.

The centre is emblematic of changes in Islington, a London borough that has transformed its services for children over the past nine years.

"The children's centres are extremely important to us. All the evidence is that you need to start young," said Paul Curran, the borough's director of children's services.

"They also help parents get back into work, which helps the odds for children to improve dramatically - educationally and otherwise."

Islington has always been a borough of contrasts. Known as the birthplace of new Labour, average salaries are among the highest in England. But, overall, it is the sixth most deprived authority in England: half of its children live in households that claim benefits.

Nine years ago, the authority received a damning report from Ofsted. The council's own chief executive described it as "self-serving, disempowered and bureaucratic".

Now, Ofsted has praised its children's services, and Islington's joint area review - a report by 10 inspectorates - highlights partnerships as a strong feature of the area. Islington's 16 children's centres in particular were praised, with the review saying integrated working was highly successful for children under 5 and their families.

Mr Curran said the council had deliberately avoided making major organisational changes when it merged its education and social care work for children into a children's services division.

"In Islington, we had made a lot of organisational changes before and, frankly, people were a bit fed up," he said. "We allowed people to come along at their own pace and then looked to see where we needed to change things organisationally."

Mr Curran said one key move was to improve consultation with young people. Recent examples include giving teenagers the chance to quiz three of London's mayoral candidates on youth crime.

Young people have also been invited to join the board of the area's children's trust, although they have not taken up full-time roles.

Mr Curran said: "We've had young people come to the meetings to give presentations when it was something interesting to them. But they didn't really want to sit through boring meetings very much."

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