Less Finger-Pointing, More Collaboration
There are many who share culpability in the tragic and heart-breaking case of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. It’s our grief-driven instinct that immediately wants to fight for justice for this mistreated youngster. We can rightly blame the murderer and the immediate man-slaughtering bystander, who watched his son endure months of neglect and abuse; Arthur being the recipient of psychopathic behaviour that is inconceivable, unimaginable. Our responses manifest themselves physically and emotionally.
We can blame the workload of social workers and school staff. We can scream that this is yet another appalling side-effect of the pandemic with its obliteration of normal social contact. We can complain, quite rightly, that successive governments have underfunded the local authority services, the police, the judicial services, the health provision, education – dismantling the collaborative network of teamwork across sectors.
And we’d be correct in apportioning blame to all these factors.
(As we write, we’re listening to Sir Michael Wilshaw – former head of Ofsted – on Radio 4, who’s rightly condemning this lack of coordination without recognising his own role in downplaying the vital importance of wellbeing work in schools and other educational settings. Attainment, attainment, attainment was his perpetual mantra.)
Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings and those who played their part in the dismantling of the fundamental right to a “broad and balanced” curriculum should be hanging their heads in shame at their education legacy that silences children and disables teachers and support staff from having the time, energy and resources to work beyond the constraints of the narrowed curriculum focus to the needs of the child.
Wellbeing in schools has always been undermined. It’s always been the side-lined to the seeming premiership of academic attainment. Those of us who’ve constantly insisted that there’s a fundamental necessity to provide equal time and management to the physical, social, and emotional education of the child have been ridiculed for our idealism and lack of “ambition” for those in our care.
The best schools are not and have never been about academic attainment alone. We see the families, the children and their needs. We understand that a broad and balanced curriculum enables creativity, liberty, voice – all of the things that were taken from young Arthur.
I need food. Nobody loves me.
Arthur felt that. Basic needs, according to Maslow. And our system for so-called caring about our children doesn’t even cover the basic necessities for life, for living.
Let’s turn to the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda, brought into Children’s Services in 2003 after the tragic “never-to-be-repeated” death of Victoria Climbie – shortly followed by the death of Peter Connelly in 2007 and Daniel Pelka five years after that. Let’s also pause for thought for the thousands of abused and neglected children who remain anonymous yet have endured physical, emotional distress for years.
The ECM agenda was supposed to protect and nurture them whilst simultaneously supporting a more holistic approach to child development, and education.
Be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, be economically well.
We’ve written about this before and remain distressed by the lack of focus on wellbeing and safety. You can read our comments here.
For now though, we need to reconsider the whole set-up and reintegration of the ECM agenda and the role of Children’s Service – as a way forward, not more finger-pointing.
Here’s a prediction. Any inquiry will recommend joined-up thinking. But this has to be on every level.
Children’s Services must truly open themselves up to the sometimes-conflicting agendas and properly account for their support to children. Funding streams should start with the fundamental question “What do we want to be the outcome for our children?” NOT “What will we have to do to get this source of income?”. Collaboration between services doesn’t mean people can sit in meetings and spend 45 minutes of an hour talking about educational attainment and 15 minutes talking about health, wellbeing and safeguarding.
Collaboration at a school level needs to immediately look at the curriculum as well as the coordination of services to the individual child.
And we need to collaborate in order to enable children and young people.
I need food. Nobody loves me.
Arthur had no voice, other than the time he was stuck in a room effectively talking to himself.
We need to encourage children to talk. We need to give them the skills and experience to be able to talk about their feelings, to listen to their peers, to be able to approach an adult to say that they’re frightened and in danger.
We need children to be able to talk in class, to collaborate, to share ideas and experiences. We need them to talk as they are walking around the school corridors – to be able to tell their stories, express their opinions because this is life, this is living. This is what we do. Why do we persist with this oppressive strategy of silencing children?
Yes, criticise, yes consider the reintroduction of the Every Child Matters agenda, Sure-Starts, joined-up working between education, health and social care. Yes, consider the emotional wellbeing focus (and duty) in schools to be given the parity with academic achievement it deserves. Do all of these things but do them properly. Focus on the child. Look up, not down at the paperwork, the targets, the proxy indicators.
But most importantly, demonstrate effective collaboration by involving young people; engaging with them, enabling them to have a voice and to use it.
For further reading from our archive.
PSHE, Wellbeing and Neglect – the case of Daniel Pelka: https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/pshe-wellbeing-abuse-and-neglect/