Every Child Matters and the Coalition Government
Children’s services are characterised by change, so this piece is intended to be read in conjunction with ‘Making Sense of Every Child Matters’ (Barker, R. 2009) to highlight some of the recent changes. The book content provides in depth details of the foundation and framework of current services, and should ideally be read alongside this piece.
Since the creation of the Conservative/Liberal Democratic Coalition Government in the UK in May 2010 there has been a lack of information in relation to the place of the Every Child Matters programme and children’s services.
Amongst the first actions of the new Conservative secretary of State, Michael Gove, was to rename the DCSF, the Department for Children, Schools and Families to the DfE – the Department for Education. The Every Child Matters webpages are still linked to this site, but with the warning (government health warning?) that “A new UK Government took office on 11 May. As a result, the content on this site may not reflect current Government policy. All statutory guidance and legislation published on this site continues to reflect the current legal position unless otherwise indicated.”
Coalition Government bans Every Child Matters?
What then, is the current position re ECM and the Coalition Government? Rumours have been circulating that Every Child Matters has been scrapped. However, readers of the influential web based Children and Young People Daily Bulletin were told, on 10th August 2010 that an internal DfE memo was advising that DfE preferred terminology is to replace the phrase ‘Every Child Matters’ and ‘the five outcomes’ with ‘help children achieve more’. An anonymous DfE spokesperson is however quoted as saying “there is no lack of focus on ‘Every Child Matters’, the coalition created by the new DfE aims to carry through radical reforms in schools, early years, and child protection” So, not quite a ban but signs of a moving away via ‘reforms’.
Whilst news of many of these radical reforms is still awaited, some have been announced or floated. They include:
- Scrapping the ContactPoint Database on children
- Reducing the money planned to be spent on the previous governments school building programme
- Indicating a desire to refocus SureStart Children’s Centres back to their original targets
- Removing the statutory requirement for schools to cooperate with Children’s Trusts
- Creating ‘Free Schools’ and more academies out with local authority control
- Renaming ‘safeguarding as ‘child protection’.
- Supporting the creation of a College of Social Work
- Appointing Professor Eileen Munro to review frontline social work and child protection practice
What then is the current position in relation to the 5 outcomes? Michael Gove told a House of Commons Committee in July 2010”
“I think the important thing about the five outcomes-I was discussing this with some colleagues earlier today. I was going to say that I wonder, if you asked Members of Parliament, “Can you name the five outcomes for Every Child Matters?” how many Members of Parliament would be able to recite them in the same way that we recite the Lord’s prayer at the beginning of the parliamentary session. I don’t think many would. For the benefit of everyone here, they are: being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and securing economic well-being. As a statement of five things that we’d like for children-
Ian Mearns: Amen.
Michael Gove: Exactly. They are unimpeachable-gospel, even. But the point I would make is that in a way, they are what every teacher will want to do.
The Committee, at this point, did not ask the Minister why he only mentioned teachers in relation to the ECM outcomes. What is clear is that if the 5 outcomes are retained, then to achieve them for children this cannot be done by teachers alone - there will need to be integrated working, or, as the DfE prefers to now call this ‘people working together providing better services’ by the whole range of children’s services professionals including teachers. Indeed, if the 5 outcomes are not retained, it will still need ‘people working together to provide better services’, if Britain is to become, as the Coalition appears to wish, a place in which children are ‘helped to achieve more’ in relation to their education - and their personal and emotional development, social relationships and general well – being.
There also appear to be contradictions appearing within the Coalition’s policies. In late August, Nick Clegg, Deputy PM, highlighted a commitment to social mobility being one of the Lib Dems key aims for the coalition. However, in relation to the plan to make Sure Start Children’s Centres more of a selective than a universal service, (see above) Naomi Eisenstadt, ex government director of Sure Start, has pointed out that approximately half of poor children live in areas which are not themselves poor. Thus, making Sure Start more of a selective service runs the risk of excluding these children from the possibility of receiving this key service, which is widely acknowledged to be a key contributor to the development of more social mobility.
The Big Society and Children’s Services?
The Coalition is increasingly seeking to take as much of the education of children as possible away from local authority control via ‘the conversion of schools to academies and free schools.’ (P.1, Society Section, The Guardian, 29.09.10)
This is in part related to the Coalition Government’s motivation to ‘slimming down the state’ and reducing its powers (although the Lib Dem partner in the Coalition has voted against the latter at their recent party conference). The implications in practice are uncertain and the results hard to assess. The NHS (crucial for children and families) is to be reformed to hand power from the Primary Care Trust ‘managers’ to GPs, who will have greater professional control over services. However, GPs are apparently increasingly concerned that they will not be allocated sufficient resources after this handover to employ…..managers (of course they will be needed) to assist them in operationalising the changes and running the new service.
Similarly, Suffolk County Council have decided to ‘lead the way’ in becoming an ‘enabling council’ – in other words, seeking to ‘outsource’ its services to private companies, the voluntary sector, and social enterprises. As with the NHS example above, this inevitably will mean that they will have to employ some additional people to commission and manage the contracts for these services. In addition, whilst it may be relatively easy to contract out services such as waste collection, much of children’s services may prove much harder to do so – and not necessarily cheaper. For example, many social workers are now employed via agencies; the cost is higher to the local authority than social workers who are directly employed. In addition, the issues of accountability are enormous, Tony Travers, local government expert at the LSE has said that ‘outsourcing will work best where the downsides of failure are not cataclysmic for the council or the staff….the nearer you get to children’s services, and to a lesser extent adult care, the more councils are going to want to ensure that the agencies and charities to which they hand over services are those they completely trust’ (The Guardian, as above.) So, outsourcing is neither a quick nor a cheap fix, and the implications for children and the quality of services deeply uncertain.
Outsourcing and a smaller State appear to be part of the Big Society concept. The idea of the Big Society was promoted by David Cameron during the general election but appeared to have been quietly shelved subsequently, in part because voters did not understand what it meant. However, the concept appears to have been revived by Cameron, as he mentioned in frequently during his speech at the annual Conservative Part Conference in Birmingham in October 2010.
But, what does it mean for children’s services, what for example should a Director of Children’s Services – having to cut services and jobs – to be in line with the principles of the Big Society? This uncertainty was underlined at the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services annual conference, where Marion Davis, ADCS president, said
“A lot of people are struggling with what we really mean by a big society,” she said. “We understand some of the intentions behind it, but how is it going to work? It certainly won’t come about spontaneously. I for one don’t yet have a clear picture about how communities will take the place of some of the arrangements we have at the moment.”
Davis also went on to point out that the Coalition Government’s plans to develop National Citizen’s Service for all 16 year old sounded more like the kind of Central government initiative that the Big Society was proposing to do abolish.
In relation to the Coalition Government’s so called Bonfire of the Quangos, (Quasi-autonomous non-government organisations) children’s services may be substantially affected. The future of the Children’s Commissioner in England is under review, (now the post has been confirmed following the review) the future of the Children’s Workforce Development Council is under review, and the Youth Justice Board has been abolished. There is a sense that some Quangos are being target on the grounds of ideology not efficiency. Whilst it is not automatically the case that Quangos are good things, it is hard to see how services for children and the rights of children would not be eroded if, in particular, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner was to be abolished.
Big Society Shrinking?
The ill – thought out notion of the Big Society appears to be falling apart. So, Lord Wei, the Tory appointed Big Society Tsar has suggested that one solution the Coalition could adopt to reduce council spending is to invite middle and senior managers to reduce their contracts form full time to part time, and do other work in the freed up time, including volunteering for the Big Society. Could most managers afford to do this – probably not – indeed Lord Wei himself has announced that he is cutting the time he works in the House of Lords on the Big Society so he can take on more paid work.
At the same time, the retiring Head of the CSV (Community Service Volunteers) appearing on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 7.2.2011 said:
“The cuts that are being imposed on local government and the health service are taking place now. “So there are a lot of very worthwhile programmes – for example volunteers working in child protection as promoted by the minister for children – which are now under threat of closure.”
Liverpool City Council has also announced that they are pulling out of being a one of the four Big Society Pilot Vanguard authorities as the government cuts were making the role impossible.
The Government have responded by announcing they are to provide up to £100 million nationally to support voluntary organisations in the transitional period during the ‘cuts’. £100 million is two thirds of the £141 million cuts Liverpool alone has to make over the next two years. No wonder perhaps that the prestigious Local Government Chronicle of 3.2.2011 has the headline “Big Society on the Rocks”
The Comprehensive Spending Review 10.10.2010
The Coalitions Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review sets out its plans for public spending plans until 2015; over the next five years the plan is to cut public spending £81 billion pounds. Certain areas are said to be protected, the DfE budget is to be raised in real terms by 0.1% per annum, NHS funding by 0.4% per annum. However, most commentators believe that in effect there will be real cuts to all budgets in practice, and the estimates are that at least 100,000 public service jobs will be lost each year. Maurice Bates, interim Co – Chair of the College of Social Work, said that councils faced cuts of 7% pa over the next 4 years and “any cuts will put pressure not only on the already stretched local authority social work teams, but also on the voluntary and private sector providers of social work services.”
Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs)
EMAs were introduced by the Labour Govt to provide support for post compulsory education age students from poorer families to continue their studies. A weekly allowance of between £30 and £10 was payable to 16, 17, or 18 year old students on full time courses in colleges or schools, or courses leading to an apprenticeship etc, where household incomes were low (on a sliding scale from below £20,817 – £30,810). EMAs are now to be phased out by the Coalition Government from the end of this academic year, despite Michael Gove’s pre election commitment to keep them. The impact on the education of the 16, 17 and 18 year old poorer young people who will be denied them in future is unclear, but it is hard to see how it can be anything other than negative. Update – following intense criticism of the EMA decision, at the end of March 2011 Michael Gove announced that students who got the EMA in 2009/2010 will continue to receive it until the end of 2011/12, albeit at a reduced level. A new scheme to give 1200 pa to the most disadvantaged 12,000 students (eg those in care) was also announced. Climbdown or refocusing? – in any event the total amount of money payable for the scheme overall appears to be reduced, from £560 million to £180 milllion. A further criticism of the policy re EMAs has come in April 2011 when the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) stated that recommended, in its country report on the UK, that the government should “encourage participation in secondary education by reintroducing the Education Maintenance Allowance” (p.148, Economic Policy Reforms 2011- Going for Growth, OECD http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/oct/13/college-enrolment-falls-ema-grant?newsfeed=true) with a risk that there was a ‘significant impact’ on vulnerable groups.
There have also been suggestions that the urban riots in the UK in the summer of 2011 were in part contributed to by young people who were frustrated and angry by EMS cuts.
In November 2010 the DfE has announced that it plans to withdraw funding from the CWDC. In addition, the CWDC will cease to be a NDPB (non – departmental public body) and the DfE will take over its functions. This obviously raises questions about the future independence of decision making, and potentially creates even more of a Whitehall-centric position in relation to children’s’ services and workforce development. Whilst the CWDC has had its critics, it has been generally acknowledged to have done a good job in difficult circumstances, and even though it has announced that it will seek to continue without government funding its future looks somewhat shaky.
Education Changes and the Coalition Government – the White Paper
The Coalition Government 2010 White Paper seeks to further reduce the links between local authorities and schools, and in doing so, in the cause of radical change, seeks to increase the power of individual schools, – and individual teachers – and by the by the power of Whitehall. Will it have the effects of improving the quality of education, improving equality of access to education, and improving social mobility via educational attainment? There are those who are pessimistic that it will. Writing in The Guardian, Peter Mortimer suggested that the effective ‘selling off’ of public education is driven by politics not evidence
“The concept of privatisation is not discussed in the white paper, but can be detected in its subtext – with frequent references to “new providers”, “private sector organisations” and “a new market of school improvement services”. Yet where is the evidence that a market-led system, run by hedge-fund managers and their ilk, will create an education system to equal Finland’s?” (The Guardian, 7.12.2010)
Similarly, ‘free schools’ – run by parents – are much mentioned (36 times) but there are many unanswered questions about them – will they advantage middle class parents who run them, what will happen if parents lose interest in them, what are the advantages of stripping resources form public sector schools in an area and yet generously fund free schools in the same area, how ill free schools provide – or access – services such as educational psychology etc?
Gove is also seeking to reform teacher training and take it out of universities into ‘a new generation of schools on the model of teaching hospitals,’ and is seeking to fast track ex servicemen into teaching via a ‘Troops to Teaching Programme’ in an attempt to ‘improve discipline’ in schools. HMForces.co.uk, a website ‘Serving the Armed Forces Community’ commented that
“For the benefit of punchy headlines, Michael Gove seems to be perpetuating a misunderstanding about school discipline: that bringing in ex-military personnel will somehow transform chronically disaffected young people into complaint students. Successful discipline is not about shouting loud enough to intimidate a class but clear and simple rules, fair procedures that all staff follow and consistent rewards and punishments”
If control, and discipline was such an easy route to educational success, the surely the educational achievement of prisoners would be extremely high – the fact that they are not shows that a range of other measures are more important than simply employing ex service personnel – some of whom have, and would, make extremely good teachers but not solely on the basis of being able to give and take orders.
Ending Detention of children from failed asylum seeking families
On 16th December 2010 the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced that from May 2011 the policy of detaining children from failed asylum seeking families – effectively jailing them – will be ended and the much criticised Yarls Wood Centre in Bedfordshire would be closed forthwith. This is clearly good news for children in this position - 665 of whom were detained in 2009 – although the British Association of Social Workers has suggested that the cuts in legal aid funding will be likely to mean that more asylum seeking families – including children – will fail in their applications to stay in the UK.
Children’s Commissioner Role to be Retained and Revised
The welcome news for children in England is that Dr John Dunsford’s independent review of the Children’s Commissioner role (December 2010) has concluded that it should be retained but revised -
“The report finds that the current model is flawed and consequently the overall impact of the Children’s Commissioner has been disappointing. Dr Dunsford attributes this mainly to the current limited remit of the Commissioner, which refers to children’s views and interests rather than their rights.
He recommends that the Government changes the role as follows:
- a strengthened remit – a new rights-based Children’s Commissioner for England;
- greater independence from Government – the Children’s Commissioner should report direct to Parliament, rather than just the Department for Education, and should not have to consult the Secretary of State before undertaking an inquiry;
- the Commissioner should be in post for a single seven-year term of office;
- increased powers – advising Government on new policies and undertaking an assessment of the impact of new policies on children’s rights, and a duty on Government and local services to issue a formal response to concerns raised by the Children’s Commissioner;
- a merger between the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the Office of the Children’s Rights Director in Ofsted to create a new Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England.
In addition, Dr Dunsford recommends that the Children’s Commissioner needs to improve the credibility of the role by always basing advice on evidence and not offering opinions on subjects relating to children without that evidence.”
The Minister for Children in the DfE, Sarah Teather, has accepted the report, and thus it looks as though in 2011 the changes will be implemented.
Council Cuts and Every Child Matters
As local authorities in England begin to implement their plans for the financial year starting April 2011 it is clear that cuts in services will have an impact on children and families. For example, Manchester City Council has announced it is having to find cuts of £110 million over the 2011-2012 financial year
“£8m is being cut from its early intervention grant, which includes Sure Start, as the council learns to live with a 25 per cent cut to its children’s service budget. “I cannot and will not pretend that the financial position in which we have been placed is anything other than bad news. Manchester is the fourth most deprived local authority area but is among the top five hardest-hit local authorities,” Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester Council (The Independent, 9.2.2011)
The reduction in services is not confined to urban, Labour controlled council areas. Conservative controlled North Yorkshire Council has announced that it will have to make £14 million cuts to its children’s services, and Children and Young People Now(11.1.2011) reported that Conservative Council Lincolnshire was planning 62% cuts in its children’s services with Connexions and youth services being hardest hit.
As well as these types of cuts in direct services for children, cuts in other areas of council activity are likely to impact disproportionately on children and young people. Cuts in library and public transport services for example, will have a heavy impact on children and families, and will be likely to hit poorer children and families the hardest, putting pressure on their educational and social activities.
Sure Start Children’s Centres
The position across the country is varied – “Children and Young People Now” on 14.2.2011 reported that 42% of local authorities either would be making some closures or had not made final decisions. Controversy rages in some areas – eg Hampshire is cutting £6 million from its children centre budget of £16.9 million, but, by a combination of management reduction and mergers, ‘reviewing non- core services’, and transferring the running of ‘those centres currently under local authority management’ it believes ‘most will stay.’ When a slimmed down children’s centre service becomes a cut service is not clear, but it does seem that local authorities are seeking to prioritise some form of children’s centre service
Playwork funding from government has been hard hit, and the latest decision by the DfE to not renew any of its contracts with Play England from the end of March 2011 continues this trend. Where this leaves the 2008 National Play Strategy is unclear, but Adrian Voce from Play England said
Our work with local communities to support them in providing for their own children’s play is exactly what the Big Society is supposed to be all about but it will be difficult to continue without government support. We are calling on each of the governing parties to think again; to be true to their rhetoric about play, and to make it the priority that it is for children and families. Play England’s work will continue in spite of the reduced circumstances that we will now face, and announcements about our new structure and work programme will be made as soon as these are finalised. (Play England Website, 14.2.2011)
In March 2011 SkillsActive, the sector skills council for sport and playwork, announced that due to the cuts it was issuing potential redundancy notices to all its playwork staff.
Government Response to the Munro Review
On 10th May 2011 the final report of the Munro review of child protection was published – “A child – centred system”.
“Taken together, the recommendations cover the following key areas:
- radical reduction in the amount of central prescription to help professionals move from a compliance culture to a learning culture, where they have more freedom to assess need and provide the right help. Statutory guidance should be revised and the inspection process modified to give a clearer focus on children’s needs. Inspection should be unannounced;
- a change of approach to Serious Case Reviews (SCRs), with learning from the approach taken in sectors such as aviation and healthcare. There should be a stronger focus on understanding the underlying issues that made professionals behave the way they did and what prevented them from being able to properly help and protect children. The current system is too focused on what happened, not why;
- reform of social work training and placements with employers and Higher Education Institutions and doing more to prepare social work students for the challenges of child protection work. The work of the Social Work task Force and the Social Work Reform Board should be built upon to improve frontline expertise;
- each local authority should designate a Principal Child and Family Social Worker to report the views and experiences of the front line to all levels of management. At national level, a Chief Social Worker should be established to advise the Government on social work practice;
- local authorities and their statutory partners should be given a new duty to secure sufficient provision of early help services for children, young people and families, leading to better identification of the help that is needed and resulting in an offer of early help;
- affirmation of the importance of clear lines of accountability as set out in the Children Act 2004 and the protection of the roles of Director of Children’s Services and Lead Members from additional functions, unless there are exceptional circumstances; and
- strengthened monitoring of the effectiveness of help and protection by Local Safeguarding Children Boards, including multi- agency training for safeguarding and child protection.”
In July 2011 the Coalition Government responded to the Munro Report, broadly agreeing with most of the recommendations:
- “The Government agrees that Professor Munro’s 15 recommendations need to be considered in the round and acknowledges that together they represent the opportunity to delivery holistic reform of the child protection system.
- Government will oversee a radical reduction in the amount of regulation through the revision of statutory framework to place greater emphasis on direct work with children, young people and families.
- An amendment to statutory guidance by December 2011 to remove the prescription of timescales and the distinction between core and initial assessments.
- Government supports Professor Munro’s view that the quality of relationships between social workers and children and young people sits at the heart of an effective child protection system and will support and work with the SWRB, the College of Social Work and ADCS to develop the knowledge and skills of the profession.
- Inspection will continue to be important with a new inspection framework that will have at its heart the experiences of children and young people
- There will be greater transparency and coordination of local arrangements to deliver an early help offer to children, young people and families
- Creation of a chief social worker to advise Government on social work practice and the effectiveness of the help being given to children and young people.
- A co-produced work programme between the Department for Education, the Department of Health, NHS bodies, local authorities, professional bodies and practitioners to ensure continued improvement of safeguarding arrangements in health reform.
- Government agrees that in future systems review methodology should be used by LSCBs when serious case reviews are undertaken but believes it is important to plan the transition to new arrangements carefully.” (http://www.education.gov.uk/munroreview/index.shtml)
This article accompanies the book ‘Making Sense of Every Child Matters’, available below: