In the heady days of 2003 when Labour’s second term of office was in full swing, there were many who hoped that radical and progressive change was going to happen. The signs were good. Whilst the electoral mandate from 1997 was somewhat diminished, the electorate had given the party a clear endorsement to pursue some socially responsible policies when re-elected in 2001.
Out of this came “Every Child Matters” – an excellent document that attempted to bring services such as health, education, community safety and social care together; all working collaboratively for the sake of the child. Developed by professionals – experts in their field, together with the very people who would benefit from change, i.e. children and young people, this looked a promising blueprint for developing the type of service delivery that would help both vulnerable groups and provide universal support to all.
Every child mattered. When wasn’t this the case? But the government had quite rightly determined that there was a lack of cohesion between different departments and that targets set by the government themselves could only be achieved and sustained with radical new joint-working practices. Furthermore, there was a very clear demand from children that consideration should be given to all aspects of their lives and not just, for example, educational achievement.
For those unfamiliar with Every Child Matters, there were five categories.
- Be healthy
- Be safe
- Enjoy and achieve
- Make a positive contribution
- Achieve economic wellbeing
Within these five key statements were sub-objectives such as support for mental and emotional health, staying safe from bullying and discrimination, achieving personal and social development and enjoying recreation, developing self-confidence and successfully deal with significant life changes and challenges, and living in decent homes and sustainable communities.
For those of us who had been working for years in multi-sector organisations this was manna sent from heaven. Finally people were realising that being mentally healthy, developing a sense of self-worth, being part of an active and engaged community and learning the skills to deal with life’s ups and downs were as valuable to a child’s development as academic achievement.
Estelle Morris, who was the Education Secretary immediately prior to the publication of this document, has said on many occasions before and since her time in government, that in order to raise children out of a cycle of poverty, they needed to achieve standards in reading and writing, attain appropriate grades and then aspire to further education. However, this, as we know, is only half the story. What this Every Child Matters document was doing was giving everyone a healthy reminder of the complexities of child development and how if one cog in the wheel was not engaged, progress would not happen. Breaking cycles and lifting people out of poverty, reducing inequalities and giving all equal access in life was not and could never be just a question of every child attaining A-C grades at GCSE. These key points of access to health, development of communities, safe places for our children to live, learn and play, were all vital aspects of making this document come to life, making a real difference for our children and young people.
Only, it didn’t quite happen.
The very targets put in place to raise attainment in tests and exams acted as a barrier to engaging in the other important aspects of the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda. Although there was mention of the ECM priorities in the Ofsted inspection of schools, the main focus and the main judgement concerned attainment. Nothing else really mattered, and therefore frightened and intimidated schools couldn’t afford time to look at the health or housing inequalities, even though it was unbelievably obvious that these issues had a significant impact on the achievement and attainment of their pupils.
Sex and Relationship Education for example, in some schools, took a complete back-burner role, even though self-worth, personal goals, relationships with others (particularly at that difficult phase of puberty) were so important in contributing to attainment. Sadly these lessons were not deemed to be as important as booster classes and a focus on achieving those all-important judgement criteria.
This is not a mere qualitative statement. It is not the hearsay of a disgruntled professional who was desperately trying to get schools to see things more holistically. This was fact. There were people within the health sector desperate to support schools and families in making better health choices. Money was there, lots of it. But they were stymied in their vision by not being able to cross the school threshold as they were told there was insufficient time in the school day to pursue such vital work.
Community safety officers, policemen, health professionals, youth offenders who had seen the error of their ways, were all there waiting to support the vulnerable young people who needed a different type of education, and needed support on all areas of their lives, but there was no way of accessing the children.
The document was a good one, but it became an aspirational statement rather than a document of intent, and soon the money started sliding away and the opportunity was missed.
Every child matters. But perhaps the document should have gone further so it was abundantly clear to all people involved that each of the five statements and the sub divisions within them carried the same weight. Perhaps it should have been titled “Every Element of Childhood Matters”. In order for children and young people to find their “element”, they’d need every aspect of ECM in place. A child can be a brilliant and creative artist, who can be massively encouraged by their school, but if they have no resources to pursue this outside school, no social clubs to attend, no room in their home to develop their skills, no money to get involved in their element and the added disadvantage of being more susceptible to health related problems, then we’ll never find the next Picasso unless they happen to come from an affluent family where the failure of the ECM agenda was less felt.
So how do we move forward? The fundamental changes that should have been an outcome of ECM have not happened. Social inequality is as prevalent now as it was then. Our society continues to polarise between the haves and the have nots. Children and young people suffer from mental health issues younger and for longer than in previous generations. As our blog the other day reported, the NEETs are still jobless, demotivated and lost. How the hell did this happen?
One of the key issues is ensuring that we get some parity in professional circles. Health, education and social care were and are all on different forms of pay. With the onset of integrated services and locality management, a person from social care may be providing the same service and doing the same job as a person from education but with a differential pay packet (sometimes over £10,000). If that’s the case there is bound to be professional envy, or certainly a sense of injustice. This certainly doesn’t help and is a significant barrier to joint working.
Without the joint work and the mutual respect of one another’s profession and professionalism, the coordination of services falls at the first hurdle, so a radical overhaul is needed. But again, this isn’t likely to happen and certainly didn’t happen in the early days of Every Child Matters.
The other key issue concerns funding. From 2003 onwards there was plenty of money around, and plenty of money wasted. Initiatives were popping up here, there and everywhere,but essentially they were dysfunctional due to their lack of coordination with other similar initiatives. Everyone was trying to do something but there was no cohesion. Silly, incidental “proxy indicators” and targets that were focused on process rather than outcomes were set in place. In order to change this, we must really look thoroughly at what went wrong, and use funding effectively.
However, our thought is this. Every Child Matters or Every Element of Childhood Matters is only ever going to work if we have a radical rethink of our offer to children and how we work in a collaborative way. Fundamentally though, we could have all the money, all the professional parity, all the engagement of young people and their communities and it would all fall flat if there wasn’t an absolute focus on what we actually want to achieve, i.e. a real life change for children and young people, providing everyone with opportunity to live a healthy, safe and creative life – free from the burden of poverty, injustice, inequality and prejudice.
Too often in the past, people have forgotten the intended outcome and focused on satisfying the criteria for a funding source. In doing so we lose sight of the needs of the children.
We have to be clear about what we want. We need to engage children in this and not just at the planning stage. Their views should carry us through implementation and evaluation too.
Again, this didn’t happen with Every Child Matters.
Obviously, we feel we have a solution. By focusing on the 3Di model of intelligences, we can develop a very clear framework to support a policy of Every Element of Childhood Matters. Currently, the Labour Party is reviewing its approach to education, and the signs are that there is likely to be a much more realistic and inclusive view of what education is all about. It needs the sort of integration of thought and service that Every Child Matters was supposed to provide. It needs agreement and concern for shared values and support in acting on the virtues that society and individual choose to hold in high esteem. It requires an intelligent approach. The Every Child Matters document wasn’t perfect but it was a damn good starting point.
In our previous blog post we wrote about the academies process, about the need for education to be in the hands of educationalists and the absolute need to focus on teaching and learning. In other posts we’ve discussed the need to personalise the learning agenda for our children. Joint working doesn’t prevent education from remaining with educationalists, and for that matter health initiatives from remaining under the direction of health professionals. In fact, the only way that a focus on an Every Child Matters agenda can work is if we rely on the professional capabilities of the individual organisations and people involved rather than the politicians who haven’t the necessary understanding or experience required, although as said previously, we need to ensure that there is equality of pay for the different services. It needs a radical overhaul.
To have the current micromanagement of everything in education in the hands of the Education Secretary with legislation furthering his powers to astronomic proportions is no solution whatsoever. Our children, for all the potential of achieving high levels of GCSE grades, will still be living in poverty, will still be coping with overcrowded homes with inefficient and insubstantial resources. They may still be dealing with mental health issues and the potential of harm from drugs or over-eating or inappropriate sexual activity – and all because someone high in the hierarchy of power cannot see things in a holistic way, and adamantly believes that attainment of decent exam grades is the only way out of a cycle of poverty.
(One has to ask what happens if everyone achieves A grades at GCSE? How are employers going to differentiate then? And if we are only going to concentrate on academic attainment, who is going to fix our showers or build our houses? Who is going to want to develop skills in a trade when it is constantly seen as the ‘lesser’ choice?
On arriving in power Mr. Gove and his colleagues allegedly banned the phrase Every Child Matters and replaced it with Every Child Achieves. This allegation was apparently refuted but policy suggests that this is their actual focus. The lessons from abroad as well as the insight from professionals who have worked for decades across sectors all point to a need to press for a focus on the holistic needs of our children. We have an intelligent formula to enable that, and in being intelligent about it we really could have a situation where every child has every element of their childhood provided for.
We even have a document in Every Child Matters to use as a new starting point, as well as our intelligences model of course. We can have a situation where “Every Element of Childhood Matters” and every child is catered for.
(NB this document has been archived – such is its relevance to the current government)