At the crossroads: Education and social care in time of coronavirus
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Educator Ian Duckett says disadvantaged youngsters are in danger of being left behind by the coronavirus pandemic
In recent times I have been the designated safeguarding lead in three educational settings, including an alternative provision attended (or more often not) by some extremely vulnerable young people. In the present pandemic I have been working in the guise of educator.
Nothing I have experienced in these roles has challenged my view that barriers to learning are neither purely educational concerns to be addressed by teachers nor problems to be solved by social workers. In almost all cases they existed and continue to exist at the crossroads of education and social care.
At the heart of this argument is the ground-breaking legislation by Labour in 2003 and pockets of local initiatives that pre-dated and influenced the barely still breathing Sure Start project.
Every Child Matters (ECM), the radical government initiative for England and Wales that was launched in 2003, led in the short-to-medium-term to massive and progressive advances to the children and families agenda, leading to the Children Act 2004. ECM covers children and young adults up to the age of 19, or 24 for those with disabilities and it is important (especially perhaps in the time of coronavirus) to remember its keynotes:
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Enjoy and achieve
Make a positive contribution
Achieve economic well-being
One issue has been the provision of free school meal vouchers. In usual fake Tory so-called “value for money” solutions, it has been out sourced to a company with inadequate IT to deal with the demand. There are families who are starving because of it. One of the children I have been dealing with in Norwich only engages at all so that he can get a daily Aldi meal deal voucher. There are similar stories up and down the country and the government, shamed by a campaign spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford, has thankfully has reversed its decision to scrap school meals over the summer holidays.
The BBC’s Newsnight Special Coronavirus: How Britain’s invisible children are being forgotten, broadcast on April 9 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0892xt2) also provided great insight into the social, economic and health crises. The low numbers of at risk children taking their crisis place in a school is frighteningly low and the most economically disadvantaged are without the free school meals service, in some areas as low as 10% of the most deprived children in the UK.
Simon Bailey, Norfolk Chief Constable and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child protection told BBC Newsnight: “A worryingly low number of vulnerable children allocated a school place in England to keep them safe during the coronavirus crisis are actually turning up”. In some areas just a quarter of the “at risk” children who are meant to be in school are attending, the programme has been told. Norfolk is the only local authority to have reported an official figure. It is 13%. In some areas the figure is below 10%. A head teacher said that she believes those officially deemed “at risk” were “only the tip of the iceberg”.
Children who would probably be taken into care under normal circumstances, where a more specialised provision would be available are having to be dealt with in a wholly inadequate mainstream provision. Teachers and social workers are on the front line and having to have contact with children and their parents at their own risk.
The remedy for this, of course, as it was in 2003 and always has been: to achieve economic well-being for all of our young people.
This can only be done by preparing learners for employment and economic, independent living through training providers’, proper apprenticeships and work.
The following characteristics would provide the evidence for young learners achieving economic well-being:
Examples of the development of learners’ self-confidence;
Learners’ involvement and achievement in enterprise activities
Learners developing employability skills
Learners engaging in team building and
Learners access to, and take-up of, careers, education, advice and guidance;
Personal finance education
Information, advice and guidance must be evidenced by careers advice and guidance and a schedule of one-to-one interviews.
The real fear is that the inequalities inherent in a social class-rigged education system will be exacerbated by the pandemic school closure in a Michael Gove-inspired wet dream with a well-resourced affluent middle-class keeping up with, and getting ahead of, the school curriculum and an army of disadvantaged youngsters with no resource and no encouragement
Ian Duckett is a Norwich-based educator, secretary of the Norfolk and Suffolk Socialist Educational Association as well as a member its Labour Party affiliated National Executive Committee. Ian is also Post-16 officer of Norfolk National Education Union.