United by the needs of children

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Despite what many critics say, the Scottish Executive cannot be accused of shirking the big issues - sectarianism, population decline, aid to Malawi and changing the unhealthy habits of a lifetime, to name but a few. We can add to the list the attempt to bring coherence to children's services, education included (page four). This is a major undertaking on its own, and it is not surprising if it does not appear co-ordinated since there are so many different strands to it.

High-profile cases of youngsters being "betrayed by adults", in the striking phrase used by Stirling Council's Margaret Doran at the time of the Dunblane murders, inevitably give the impression of complete breakdown in liaison between the many agencies, statutory and voluntary, looking after children. Many professionals, however, do work closely together and may be forgiven for despairing that their successes are never reported.

The integrated community schools initiative - whatever its shortcomings - provides a focus for different professions to work together. The question posed by the conference held at the Scottish Parliament last week is whether that is sufficient, and whether we need a "children's workforce".

Do we really want to smother expertise by ushering into existence a hybrid professional whose toes will have been dipped in different aspects of children's work? Of course, this is exaggeration to make a point and there is undoubtedly scope for some core elements in training common to all the professions, as there is sense in looking at the radical Nordic approaches.

But we are certainly sailing into complex and contentious, not to mention well-guarded, territory. The battle lines are perfectly illustrated by the vision of Children in Scotland on the one hand and that of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (page six). If indeed we erode the distinctions between learning and care or between teachers and classroom assistants, for example, the very nature and purpose of traditional professional qualifications will have to be scrutinised.

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