Way over the rainbow

24th February 2012 at 00:00

A mother recently withdrew her daughter, call her Caitlin, from our school to educate her at home. Nothing wrong with that, you might say. Except that she is on the child protection register. For neglect.

Wendy, the indispensable person in every school whose job is to love each child to bits, was incensed. The educational welfare officer said the mother was within her rights. Yet we are the only universal service who had regular contact with this child: who will notice now when she is unhappy, unwashed or worse?

Given the press demonisation of Ed Balls as some kind of knuckle-dusting gangland enforcer, it is easy to forget that as education secretary in 2007 he brought together all services for children in the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

This was quickly replicated in local authorities, which gathered children's social services and schools under new directors of children's services.

Heads hated the idea that their boss was now often an ex-social worker, but it was difficult to argue against the concept.

The austere education ministry in the aptly named Sanctuary Buildings was rebranded under its new name. It was festooned with posters of happy cartoon children playing on see-saws beneath rainbows.

This was the age of the five outcomes. Children did not just have to achieve exam success. They had to enjoy themselves, be healthy, economically aware and all sorts of other things that I've now forgotten.

Teachers loved this stuff. We're all great softies at heart, and there's no better way of bringing any staffroom discussion to a crescendo of hallelujahs than by clinching the argument with the mantra of being here to educate the whole child.

The problem was all the jargon and bureaucratic claptrap endemic in this agenda. Our local authority explained its new policy at the time with this gem: "The term lead professional is somewhat misleading. It is not intended to refer to a single person, nor a new role, but rather to a minimum set of functions that need to be carried out in delivering an effective coherent service to a child with additional needs that requires an integrated response."

Given that anything with the words "multi-agency" in it always had the appeal and clarity of liquefied sprouts, I cheered when Michael Gove's first act was to strip out the see-saws in his renamed Department for Education. Taken alongside the academic emphasis of the EBac, schools were back to core business. And what a business. Floor targets for five A*-Cs, including English and maths, are now 40 per cent.

Those who are above the floor but below the ceiling had better watch out. Not floating but coasting, these schools will no longer be able to languish on the chaise longue of satisfactory. This is to be renamed "requires improvement". Make sure you improve quickly, or you will be taken over by an academy chain.

There is no doubt that the urgency to raise standards is right. For moral and economic reasons, we cannot afford to continue to allow swathes of children to underachieve. Yet just because we no longer have rainbows to remind us, let's make sure we never forget the needs of the Caitlins of the world while we are doing it.

Roger Pope is principal of Kingsbridge Community College, Devon.

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