Children’s Rights in Practice

In the last month, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children held two meetings:

  • Monday 8 May 2006 – Children’s Workforce.  With presentations from Rt Hon. Baroness Morris of Yardley (Chair, Children’s Workforce Development Council) and Paul Ennals (Chair, Children’s Workforce Network). 
  • Wednesday 17 May 2006 – Education and Inspections Bill.  With a presentation by Jim Knight MP, the new Minister for Schools.  

Children’s Workforce

This meeting was an opportunity to discuss progress being made in the development of the children and young people’s workforce.  Baroness Morris of Yardley and Paul Ennals provided an overview of the establishment of the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) and the Children’s Workforce Network (CWN) respectively, and addressed how these organisations are working to take forward the Government’s Children’s Workforce Strategy. 

Rt Hon Baroness Morris emphasised the importance of all people working with children and young people at what is often their most important age, or at times when they are most vulnerable.  One of the key challenges facing the workforce is poor pay, including little recognition of training and responsibility through pay.  People often enter the workforce because it fits with their family life, but not due to any great ambitions, leading to a casualised workforce with high turnover. There is also a lack of clear career paths for progression or for crossing between areas within the sector.

Over the next 3 years, CWDC will be developing an Integrated Qualifications Framework with common core skills, more specialisation and bridges between careers within the sector.  The Council has published results of its consultation on common induction standards, is consulting on standards for the early years professional, and is working to develop qualifications for foster carers.  One of the difficulties facing the CWDC, according to Baroness Morris, is the fact that the workforce and parents are not actually clamouring for children’s workforce development.  Other challenges include funding, delivering training in smaller settings, and pay and conditions in the sector.  

Paul Ennals informed the Group that CWN was set up to facilitate joining up at every level – especially at the level of training, and to develop paths for career progression, common understanding, and joined up working.  The CWN is made up of national workforce bodies, regulators, and local government.  Paul said that CWDC has the special role of ensuring that the joining up actually works. 

One of the network’s key priorities is to develop the Common Core & National Occupational Standards, and to ensure that these are embedded in training of all members of workforce.  The network will also contribute to the development of the Integrated Qualifications Framework and a children’s workforce diploma for 14-19 year-olds.  Transition Pathways will be developed, mapping out how professionals can move between roles within the sector. 

The CWN will also carry out data analysis, work to remodel roles around the child instead of the professional, and develop leadership and management skills that cut across the sector.  One challenge facing the network is to ensure that the workforce is joined up, but distinctive, and that shared working is core business.  CWN will work to ease professional anxieties, as some members of the workforce will ask, “This was not how I was trained 20 years ago, so how is this going to affect me?”

Education and Inspections Bill

This meeting was an opportunity to discuss the Education and Inspections Bill with the new Minister for Schools, Jim Knight MP.  The Minister made a short presentation, outlining his views on the Bill’s key measures and their impact on children, young people and parents.   He identified the Bill as a real step forward, giving parents and children more of a voice, and forming cohesion with the Every Child Matters programme.  The presentation was followed by questions and discussion.

The Minister outlined the Government’s amendments relating to looked after children. The local authority will decide on a school that is most appropriate for the child’s needs, while the chosen school will have the right to appeal if appropriate.  These measures would also apply to children who move in to care mid-school year. 

It was confirmed that new statutory guidance to be published by DfES in September 2006 will reflect a commitment to giving children a voice within the exclusions process.  The Minister also hopes that guidance on reintegration interviews will recommend the inclusion of children as part of normal practice. 

He confirmed that the Children’s Rights Director’s role would continue to have the same scope when it moves from CSCI to the new Ofsted.   Continuing with children’s rights, attendees expressed concerns that the Bill confers more rights on parents than children, and called for children to have a statutory right to participate in schools.  The Minister was informed that guidance on pupil participation was not known to all local authorities.  DfES is looking to reissue this guidance, to which local authorities must “have regard”, and hope this will address communications issues. 

The Minister confirmed that there was no Government presumption regarding the closure of special schools.  He said that any decision on whether special education needs provision should be within or without mainstream settings should depend on what was the best for the needs of the child. 

The Minister agreed with concerns regarding high vacancy rates for head teachers. He said that the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) is doing good work with the existing head teachers, and also to bring forward the next generation of school leaders.  He added that the disciplinary measures in the Bill will provide needed clarity for head teachers, and that collaboration and federation opportunities will allow for the flexibility required to relieve head teachers of their bureaucratic burdens.

Members of the Group emphasised the importance of welfare as well as education.  Some felt that the fit between the Bill and the Every Child Matters (ECM) programme was not as good as it could be, and there were concerns that schools were being isolated into an education agenda. 

Concerns regarding the disciplinary measures in the Bill were also raised.  The Minister was asked about measures to consult all parents, but only a sample of pupils, on behavioural policies, and about the Bill’s focus on the behaviour of the pupils alone.  He was asked to clarify which staff could enforce penalties and ensure procedures are followed.  Responding to this final point, the Minister said that the head teacher would authorise members of staff to issue penalties, authority would vary with the type of penalty, and that further clarification will come with the publication of the code of practice.

Future Meetings

The following meetings have been arranged for June:

  • Tuesday 13 June – Paediatric Medicines: a joint meeting with the APPG for Pharmaceutical Industries.  With speakers: Judith Cope (Chief Pharmacist, Great Ormond Street Hospital); Dr Sheila Shribman (National Clinical Director for Children); Professor Rosalind Smyth (Professor of Paediatric Medicine, University of Liverpool and Director of the Co-ordinating Centre for the UK Medicines for Children Research Network); Kedge Martin (Chief Executive, WellChild).
  • Monday 26 June – Directors of Children’s Services.  An opportunity to learn about local authorities’ approaches to the role, with speakers: David Hawker (Chair, Association of Directors of Education and Children’s Services and DCS at Brighton & Hove); Terry Piggott (DCS at Rochdale); and Andrew Webster (Director of Family Services at Surrey). 
  • Tuesday 27 June – Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill (rescheduled from early May).  An opportunity to discuss measures in the Bill with the new junior minister with responsibility for children, young people and families, Parmjit Dhanda MP.  

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