Informing Parliament : Disability and Children, Extended Schools, and the Children’s Commissioner

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children has held three meetings in July:

  • Monday 2 July: Joint Meeting on Independent Living with the APPG on Disability with speakers Caroline Ellis, Head of Parliamentary Affairs, and Gerry Zarb Head of Health and Independent Living, both of the Disability Rights Commission
  • Tuesday 10 July: Every Child Matters and Extended Schools with contributions from Anne Longfield, (Chief Executive, 4Children), Gemma Cooper (Play Service Consultation & Participation Officer, London Borough of Camden) and Carol Smith (Headteacher, Cardwell Primary School, Woolwich)
  • Monday 16 July: AGM and update from the Children’s Commissioner for England with Prof Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Children’s Commissioner for England

Monday 2 July:

Joint Meeting on Independent Living with the APPG on Disability

Caroline Ellis, Head of Parliamentary Affairs, at the Disability Rights Commission introduced Independent Living as an issue of disabled people having the same freedom, choice, dignity and rights as non disabled people. There is a huge gap between the expectations of levels of support and the reality. The reality is getting increasingly dire: it is widely accepted that the social care system is in meltdown. Evidence shows that councils are increasingly restricting support only to those people who are in critical or substantial need.

There is negative impact on the health, wellbeing and employment prospects of many carers providing support to disabled relatives or friends. There are 175,000 young carers denied their childhood. It is unacceptable that society is prepared to allow 5 or 6 year olds to fill adult carer roles because a local authority alleges they can’t afford it. There needs to be more investment in a reformed system so money is not wasted on inappropriate services which do not promote independent living.

The Independent Living Bill constructively sets up a new system which will provide a framework for health, housing and support, not based on caring for disabled people and enabling them merely to exist but on liberating people to participate and live with dignity, in control of their lives. Disabled people should have freedom, choice and control over their care, health and housing with duties on local authorities to promote Independent Living.

Individual budgets have already been piloted in thirteen areas in the country and the results have been very positive, transforming lives. The Bill also tackles the issue of the narrowing eligibility criteria. It would enable disabled people to live ordinary lives by guaranteeing minimum outcomes. The level of need does not matter but the focus is on the barriers disabled people face. This would lead to disabled people being supported in work, education and training, leisure activities and to have the same level of contact with family and friends as non disabled people. The Bill would give new rights to communication support – which has no reference in current legislation, and expand rights to advocacy which are currently very limited. The Bill also gives the right to short term breaks.

The current law is a mess and the system is opaque. Judges have expressed their frustration that it is too difficult to ascertain the intentions of legislation. This is a barrier in itself: it is very difficult to find out what disabled peoples’ rights are. A cultural shift is needed to change practice, yet this is only possible with a change of law.

Gerry Zarb, Head of Health and Independent Living at the Disability Rights Commission, said that under current restrictions in community care there are very few preventative services for older people. Evidence from the Partnership for Older People (POP) project, with evidence taken from the Dorset scheme in particular, shows that a range of low level support aimed at promoting independence led to a reduction in the use of acute services and residential care. The cost benefit analysis carried out independently on the Dorset project showed that while implementing independent living involved considerable initial costs – to finance work force developments administration – this was more than balanced out by long-term savings.

There is similar evidence looking advocacy schemes for parents with learning disabilities who are supported to keep their children. 25% of court orders going through family courts involve families with parents with learning disability. Advocacy support for these parents to live independently (for typical families) costs £106,000. The cost to the local authority of splitting up these families and the process of adoption costs £113,000. That is nearly a 10% reduction in costs for the local authority.

Tuesday 10 July:

Every Child Matters and Extended Schools

Anne Longfield, (Chief Executive, 4Children), said that the Extended Schools programme is based on evidence that children and parents fare best with joined up provision. Extended Schools recognises the role of schools as a central part of the community. For younger children, the childcare aspect of extended schools is probably the biggest reason they attend, while for older children, it is about safe and reliable places they can spend time with other young people and take part in activities. Extended schools provide opportunities for swift referrals and specialist help for those who need it, and it also offers parenting support.

It is now becoming clear that the schools actually act as the hub for many other services that are provided by outside organisations, soothing concerns schools would have to provide it themselves. There is a DCSF support programme to help schools introduce them, and 4Children have been part of providing the support for the child care related aspects of it. Children and young people clearly understand the benefits of extended schools, but the services need to be inspirational and exciting.

Extended Schools are not about ‘warehousing’ children while their parents are at work – the providers have set their sights much higher to provide much more, including services that make a real contribution to the outcomes for children. There are complexities around governance, how clusters and partnerships work, with some partnerships, for example with health services, harder to build. But many schools are now doing it well. The next important step is ensuring integration with youth strategies.

Gemma Cooper (Play Service Consultation & Participation Officer, London Borough of Camden) told the meeting about the results of their consultations with extended schools service users. On breakfast clubs they have found

high levels of satisfaction with the services among children and parents, but affordability was an issue, with the service costing £2 a day with no concessions.
However the service is mostly used by working parents, and there is a low level of awareness of the childcare element of the working family tax credit among parents.

The games and activities and the food are popular with the children.

Several parents said that the breakfast club had allowed them to return to work. Parents and children’s views do not necessarily coincide. While parents appreciate the timeslots it covers, most of the children who attend the breakfast clubs also come to the after school club and they dislike getting up early for breakfast club. This reflects the view of a lot of practitioners that the 8am-6pm day is a very long day particularly for very young children. On after school clubs, there are higher levels of satisfaction among parents than among.

Their analysis indicates that children think their ASCs are better if there has been consultation, if there’s been music or dance, if they think there’s enough age appropriate activities; and if Playworkers chat to them all the time instead of just sometimes. What struck her was that most of the things children were unhappy about were about children’s relationships with each other, such as teasing or bullying, feeling excluded, and these are things that Playworkers can be in a position to help with by recognising that there is a problem, talking to children about what’s going on and helping them to resolve conflicts and making sure ground rules are enforced.
She said this highlights the importance of high quality provision – with experienced and qualified staff.

Gemma feels the key issues are:

  • There are potentially low levels of awareness of the childcare element of the family tax credit.
  • Children enjoy breakfast clubs but not necessarily the long day it entails.
  • Children can get a lot out of learning in imaginative ways.

But the primary issues for children are:

  • being listened to by Playworkers,
  • having opportunities to take part in dance and drama,
  • having enough age appropriate activities and
  • resolution of conflict with their peers.

Carol Smith (Headteacher, Cardwell Primary School, Woolwich) told the meeting about how she had taken on the school as her first headship under challenging circumstances. In an area of high deprivation, it had few staff, the curriculum in disarray, and major behavioural problems. She realised she needed to drastically change the direction of the school, and that to do this she needed to work with partners.

She got the Local Authority on board, introduced a behaviour management policy to change the culture of the school, and then brought on board partners such as CAMHS services, Surestart and police, and created what she calls the ‘Cardwell Wheel’ of extended services to provide the support and opportunities the children needed which fits in with the Every Child Matters programme and aims.

  • They worked with translators and faith leaders to address language problems, started early intervention to address problems before they started, and provided families with a one-stop shop where they could get information on everything.
  • They started providing more nursery places and teamed up with Greenwich Community College to provide parenting classes.
  • They also have a teenage pregnancy support service and a drugs awareness programme based in the school. Now they are seeing the results in improving key stage 1 and 2 results.
  • They reinforced good behaviour with house points for good behaviour and attendance.
  • They brought in a family therapist through neighbourhood renewal funding to work with families through the school.
  • They worked hard to develop good links with social services.
  • They started tracking pupils’ behaviour against their educational achievement and the barriers outside the school that they faced. Some of their children were classed as having 16 of the 44 defined barriers.
  • They engaged parents with the school through family learning sessions, arts and crafts and ICT, and also providing stress management classes for parents that were hitting their children.
  • They have introduced lots of drama, music and art provision, as for many of the children if they don’t experience it at school, they never will.
  • Recently, they took a group of pupils on their first ever theatre trip, which had a big impact on the children.
  • They have also worked with Charlton Athletic football club in the past as well.
  • They have homework clubs, and emphasise ICT, as this is a key job and life skill that will stay with the children for life. Adults are able to come in and use their ICT equipment as well for job and advice searching, as the majority of the parents are unemployed.
  • They also run information days for parents. They use things like aromatherapy classes to bring the parents in, and from there get them involved in the curriculum.

Carol said the ‘Cardwell Wheel’ programme of extended work is now five years old, and they are reviewing and updating it in September. She believes that the success of the scheme is down to working with all their partners. The proof of the success is visible in the improving results – but the benefits in the children’s, and communities, wider life is clear as well. The change can be felt in the whole atmosphere of the school.

They now have excellent Ofsted reports, good staff retention, and a lack of complaints. There is a real buzz to the place, and they are very open to visitors coming and seeing for themselves. It is now a place for all the community. This is the impact that extended schools can make.

Monday 16 July:

AGM and update from the Children’s Commissioner for England

Prof Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said that he feels more optimistic now about the future for children than he has done in all the time he has worked in the sector, but there are a number of areas of concern he is working on. There are two key parts of his remit of work: the Every Child Matters (ECM) programme and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). They are complementary, but he believes the UNCRC lays out the principles of how children should be treated and be able to live, while ECM is just the programme for implementing improvements to children’s lives.

He highlighted UNICEF’s ‘Rights Respecting Schools’ ( which does not just teach about the UNCRC, but imbeds its principles into the school culture. Sir Al’s theme this year is Happy and Healthy. We have to ask ourselves why children in the UK are not happy, and need to address issues such as child income poverty, the impact of inequalities, and the cycle of intergenerational deprivation. His six spotlight areas for this year are:

  • youth justice and antisocial behaviour;
  • asylum and trafficking;
  • a fair life;
  • -mental health;
  • enjoying education and leisure; and
  • staying safe.

His areas of concern are ‘hidden harm’, youth justice and asylum-seeking children. Many of the problems children face are hidden because they are at home and to do with their parents, such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol misuse, mental health, or caring needs.

There is also a creeping criminalisation of children, and the number of children being locked up is of great concern. Restraint in the secure estate needs addressing urgently since the deaths of Adam Rickwood and Garath Myat in prison, but the Government’s response to the deaths is inadequate. He is also concerned by the introduction of mosquito devices to disperse groups of young people, which is a fundamental breach of young people’s right to gather, and is indiscriminate in targeting any young person.

On asylum-seeking children, while there have been some improvements there are still major problems. There is a lack of facilities and the children and young people have nothing to do, not even TV to watch or crayons. They are not provided with appropriate food and water, (for example Halal compliant), and it is not explained to the young people why they’ve been put in the centres.

The handling of age assessment is a real problem. Sir Al wants to see :

  • holistic assessments in an appropriate environment,
  • an end to the use of x-rays, which are intrusive, unreliable, and potentially bad for the child’s health, and
  • the use of the benefit of the doubt in borderline cases, in line with the Government’s own policy and the UNCRC guidance.

Sir Al finished by saying that he believes that every child is special – one in eleven million.

Please contact Sally Cole, Clerk to the APPGC on 020 7843 1907 or by email to [email protected]:

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