The coalition government made it clear in the early stages of its office that the ECM agenda would not be pursued. At least in the form it had taken under the Labour government. However, this reduction in emphasis on ECM does not necessarily mean less of a commitment to multi-agency working. There are key indications that schools will have to work more rather than less actively with other agencies and the health service in particular.
Some initial changes introduced by the coalition government suggested that cross-departmental work was to become less of a priority. Local authorities are no longer required to set up children’s trust boards and to publish children and young people’s plans. In a report to the Education Select Committee (28th July 2010) Michael Gove was quite dismissive of ECM stating that ‘I’ve got no problems with Every Child Matters as a list, but I do think it’s important that we recognise that it should be policed in a hands-off way.”
It is perhaps the ‘hands-off’ intention that gives the impression that ECM and multi-agency work is off the agenda. It’s not. In fact, in some respects it’s more prominent than ever. For example, in the SEN Green Paper.
The SEN Green paper
The SEN Green paper includes several indications of the level and direction of multi-agency work. The introduction of the ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’ for pupils with significant special needs will require schools to work closely with health services and other agencies. These plans will be central to SEN provision and by 2014 it is intended that they will have a budget attached to them. It is intended that the allocation of this budget will rest with parents supported by advice from professionals.
It is expected that the Health Visitor will have an increased role. The ‘Health Visitor Implementation Plan’ sets out the government’s vision for a transformed health visiting service that will be a key part of the reviewed provision for pupils with SEN and disabilities.
The role of the educational psychologist is also set to change. Too often just part of the statementing process, there is much potential to enable them to work more constructively with pupils. The intention outlined in the SEN Green paper is that frontline professionals will have the freedom to work together to develop better services for children.
The government intends to support the work of the voluntary sector including the Communications Trust, the Dyslexic Trust and the Autism Trust. Greater involvement from the voluntary and community sector is planned through an increase in specialist advice for parents and teachers in relation to specific impairments.
Health and Well-being Boards are proposed in order to consider how the needs of children and young people with SEN or who are disabled can best be taken into account in an area. It is intended that Health and Well-being Boards will bring together:
- Leading local councillors
- The NHS
- Public health services
- Local authority education
- Social care services
Family Intervention Projects
The prevalence of Family Intervention Projects in the government’s plans are another example of how multi-agency work will feature in the foreseeable future. These intensive programmes require the cooperation of different services around the input of a key worker. Schools will be as obliged as others to play their part.
Bids are currently being invited for councils and other agencies to deliver:
- Multi Systemic Therapy (MST)
- Multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC)
- Keeping Foster and Kinship Carers Safe and Supported (KEEP)
- Functional Family Therapy (FFT)
So, it’s not ECM as we know it but the coalition government, just like its predecessor, recognises that the best solution to barriers to learning requires a multi-agency approach. The difference is that previously there was more directive, ECM being one example. Now the imperative is expected to come from frontline services themselves.