A multi-agency approach is essential for our children

Written by: Deborah Lawson | Published:
Deborah Lawson, general secretary, Voice

Schools and others lack the capacity and resources to embrace the partnership approach that is essential for the future of our children, says Deborah Lawson

There is little doubt that the funding announced in the Spending Round (DfE, 2019) is welcome, if somewhat lacking and long overdue. However, the Spending Round failed to bring the much-needed immediate relief that schools desperately need.

The much-lauded “end of austerity” and politicians’ apparent generosity are signs that an election is on the horizon. So, as manifestos are drafted and polished, now is the time to make the case for long-term, fair funding and investment in education. What is needed is – as the Education Select Committee has called for (2019) – a 10-year plan for school funding.

Within days of the Spending Round, Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, published her Manifesto for Children (2019). A number of the commitments that she wants the political parties to make in their election manifestos involve schools. They include: Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service counsellors, police officers and youth workers in schools, adequate SEND funding, and – most controversially in terms of budgets and staff time – opening schools at evenings, weekends and holidays to provide sports and arts activities to support children’s mental health and social skills, and to tackle violence and gangs.

Once again, it seems that schools – already at breaking point in terms of resources and staff shortages – are being asked to pick up even more of the pieces after the hammers of austerity, poverty and social breakdown have done their worst. Crucially, however, Ms Longfield added: “The cost of this must not be borne by schools and teachers.”

The sport, music, drama and other arts subjects central to the commissioner’s vision can – both within the curriculum and after school – not only improve schools’ “performance” across the board, but play a fundamental role in widening young people’s horizons and creating well-rounded and physically and mentally healthy individuals.

However, if schools are spending existing budgets on extending extra-curricular activities and services, they are not spending that money on pupils and staff in “school hours”.

The Education Policy Institute’s view, in its analysis of the Spending Round (EPI, 2019), is that, if other support services are not adequately funded and there is the expectation that schools will have to continue to fill in the gaps left by social welfare and support services, the education funding announced will not be sufficient and will not alleviate workload or funding pressures: “If children and families are not receiving the support they need from other services, it is harder for them to thrive at school; and schools will find it more difficult to meet their needs.”

Austerity cut all agencies and services working with young people to the bone and brought about the demise of the Extended Schools programme, Every Child Matters (which supported children to “stay safe and be healthy”) and the Connexions careers service.

Schools cannot fix society’s ills, but they can be a key part of the solution in partnership with others. However, they lack the capacity and resources to embrace the partnership approach and make it work.

To realise such a vision, greater investment in public education, health and welfare services is necessary. It is only with a properly funded, holistic, multi-agency, approach – which provides capacity and resources to enable all essential services to work together in partnership – that the aspirations for education and a safer, healthier society for our children, will be achieved. 

  • Deborah Lawson is the general secretary of the union Voice.

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