Headlines: August 26th, 2004

Organisations working with children in a range of fields have claimed that planned legislation designed to improve children’s life chances risks failure as it does not give schools a duty to participate in the arrangements it sets out. The 15 organisations are calling for the loophole to be closed so the new ways of working set out in the Children Bill can succeed.The coalition includes bodies representing directors of education and children’s services, school governors, directors of social services and chief police officers as well as the Local Government Association, charities, the NHS Confederation and the National Children’s Bureau.

In a joint statement they say they are extremely concerned that the Bill does not give schools a duty to participate in the integration of services to improve the life chances and outcomes of children and young people. They go on, “The government’s vision of breaking down organisational boundaries and arranging services around the needs of children to ensure they are safe, happy, healthy and achieving has the resounding support of the group. However, it believes that the government risks undermining this vision by failing to require schools to identify priorities and resources to ensure that they provide for children facing additional challenges, working with other agencies where necessary.”

The organisations add that although some schools will recognise the importance of working in a more co-operative way, the government cannot rely entirely on the excellence and integrity of head teachers and schools need clarity over expectations if they are to fulfil this vital role.

The statement says the legislation presents a rare opportunity for radical reform of children’s services to ensure that agencies act on the warning signs when children have problems. “It is vital that the Children Bill is amended so that schools – the agency where most children spend significant amounts of their time – have a statutory obligation to engage in this agenda and work in an integrated way around the needs of children,” the coalition says.