I had cause to ponder the other day whether or not education is enhanced by a direct link with children’s social work (children’s services) as part of an integrated department – and vice-versa.
In East Lothian the two services were brought together nearly eight years ago. It was formed by hiving off those members of staff who worked in children’s social work from those who worked with adult social care. The simple – and continuing logic – was that there was much to be gained by enabling all those who worked to meet the needs of children to be linked together into a “seamless” service. Of course the theory in such cases is always easier than the practice but over the years the benefit to children has been recognised as a positive – most recently in the inspection of services to protect children in East Lothian.
Nevertheless, it’s important to continually review whether such logic stands up to scrutiny in changing circumstances. And so it was on Thursday that I listened to Angela Constance speak to Scottish Directors of Education. I was encouraged by what she had to say about the aspirations of the government to focus upon Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) as a cornerstone for improving the outcomes (achievement and attainment) for children and young people being educated in Scotland. I suppose this is reflected in the Government’s decision to place Children’s Services under the portfolio of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning – whereas the responsibility for older people lies with the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-Being and Cities.
Angela Constance’s input was preceded by Sir Peter Housden, the head the civil service in Scotland, who made a powerful case for adopting an outcome focused approach to public service. In relation to education in Scotland he highlighted the huge discrepancy between highest performing 20% of young people and the lowest performing 20% – which is the amongst the highest in the developed world. For me the only way we are going to address this scandalous statistic is to see education within the wider context which is Getting it Right for Every Child.
Teachers and schools cannot – and will not – be able to dent these figures alone. Simply thinking that Curriculum for Excellence – even if taught by fantastic teachers – is going to be enough to help Scotland compare favourably with other countries is doomed to failure.
That’s why we are working in East Lothian to create a service which is genuinely built around the needs of child and not around the needs of the service. Such an approach requires professionals to think very differently from how they have in the past where the first thought was often to think of the professional boundaries – which would prevent them from working in a certain way – as opposed to adopting a positive perspective on how to solve problems.
What we are attempting to build in East Lothian is a way of working which meets the needs of people and their families from pre-birth to 18 (and beyond) which has “stretch” and “reach”. By “stretch” I mean a journey for every child that is not characterised by “clunky” transitions from one discrete organisation/agency to another, which only serve to hold them back, but a service, which can stretch forwards, and back in anticipating the needs of young people and understanding the impact of their developmental history. By “reach” I mean a way of working which can reach beyond the professional location and traditional parameters of practice, e.g. a school which can reach out to the family, or a social work team who can reach into a school.
By seeing ante-natal care, early years, parenting, health and well-being, additional support for learning, severe and complex needs, social and emotional behavioural difficulties, attainment, the curriculum, corporate parenting adoption and fostering, alcohol and drug misuse, positive destinations, etc, as inter-connected issues which impact upon children – as opposed to discrete elements which need to be managed in isolation from one another – we have a much greater chance of really making a difference.