News Views

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including missing children, maths teaching and motivation, abuse at Caldicott School, play, two re-organisations - social services and primary schooling and Eleanor Simmonds

Missing Children

The Care Leavers’ Association have put out details of a survey which they conducted of 172 local authorities in England and Wales, and which revealed that there are currently almost 400 young people who have gone missing from care without a trace.

The survey, undertaken using the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that whilst some local authorities can account for all of the young people in their care, 41 local authorities have children and young people who are missing, with no knowledge of their whereabouts. One local authority reported losing 110 young people since the year 2000. Worryingly, a further six local authorities could not respond to the survey because they keep no record of children who have gone missing from their care.

The figures reveal that there is a particular problem in the South East of England, where the reported figures tend to be higher. However, this is a nation-wide problem. From the information provided, a high number of those children and young people who are missing seem to be unaccompanied asylum seekers, which is understandable as this country has been used as a staging-post for children being moved with a view to exploitation.

The picture overall is appalling and unacceptable. A small number hit the headlines, but the whole community should be involved in identifying where these children are. We need to be reassured that they are safe, even if they do not want to return to their home areas.

For more details, see www.careleavers.com .

Mathematics for Troubled Children

Keith White writes this month about difficulties children with a history of disturbance have with mathematics. We recall that boys who really struggled with basic arithmetic in the classroom were often a whizz with the odds on horses. For our part we have difficulty remembering processes with the computer that we don’t use very often. So, if - whatever our age - we learn what interests us or what we need to, but we struggle to absorb information and ideas when we are not motivated, isn’t the message that the most important thing in education is motivating people, whether they are children or child care workers?

Did You See?…..

….. Chosen, the TV film shown on Channel 4 on 15 December 2008, about three men who as children had been abused at Caldicott School many years ago? It was slowly paced and built up its story steadily but, as far as we were concerned, grippingly. Mark, Tony and Alastair spoke straight to camera (with very little intrusion from the programme makers) in very measured terms (though at times with real emotion) as intelligent, well educated men who had each had an immense struggle in coming to terms with admitting that they had been abused, in acknowledging it openly, and in recognising that they themselves had to varying extents colluded or that there were some benefits involved as well as the terrible damage which the experience inflicted. They should all be congratulated on their openness and their courage in speaking.

The outcome was very moving, and the film should be used in training teachers and social workers to be aware that paedophiles may be among their most charming and apparently normal colleagues, and to be alert. A fascinating common factor was the unwillingness of victims to report abuse to Police until their parents had died; their abusers had imprinted collusion deep into their victims’ thinking.

A very sad aspect of the abuse is that the abusers clearly had many excellent qualities as educators, and the perversion of their skills to serve their sexual gratification was contrary to all their professional values. Assuming that there are teachers and child care workers in post now who are inclined to use their status and power in this way, how can they be persuaded not to abuse their charges, but to obtain professional satisfaction through the legitimate use of their skills?

And finally, it was chilling to see how governors, teachers and parents colluded in minimising the abuse and covering it up to prevent collateral damage to the school: shades of Haut de la Garenne, Kincora, and the Roman Catholic Schools where the whole of the Church’s hierarchy seemed complicit. It is a subject where investigative journalism is a vital counter-force to the weight of the establishment.

The film also makes the point that Caldicott School now takes all the proper precautionary steps to protect their pupils from abuse.

Play’s the Thing

The Government has announced a £235 million strategy to improve play areas. Children are confined to their houses (hunched in front of their computers or TVs) so much these days that this is very welcome. Adrian Voce, Director of Play England, said, “There is a cultural shift needed whereby children playing in public are not seen as a nuisance”.

Too true. We got rid of park-keepers and the parks deteriorated and became dangerous. We could do with adopting the South African Safe Parks concept. And while we are about it, there needs to be a shift towards the community doing the parenting, with everyone insisting on decent behaviour so that there is not the nuisance behaviour in the first place to trigger or foster adults’ critical views of children’s behaviour.

We’re entirely with Adrian - as long as we don’t have a football through our tulips.

Shaken Up, but not Stirred to Action

Ed Balls has decided that the Social Services need shaking up again, in the wake of the Baby P tragedy. Certainly there were things that went wrong which need to be put right, but we are deeply pessimistic that all the Secretary of State’s humphing and gallumphing will do anything useful.

Over the years, the NHS was seriously damaged by successive Secretaries of State who thought that they could improve things by top-down re-organisations when all they were doing was messing things up.

It is not that long ago that the current Government decided that Social Services needed to be split between adults and children, and it takes time after such a major restructuring to get all the systems working again. It is not just a matter of appointing managers and telling them to get on with it. All the rest of the workers who need to collaborate between services have to get to know their new opposite numbers, devise new ways of working together, develop confidence in each other (sometimes after initial difficulties), and then revise their systems in the light of experience. All of this takes years to get working smoothly, and a Secretary of State, keen on showing how zealous and decisive he is, can wreck the whole complex professional local ecology by driving his centralised legislation-based bulldozer through it.

Re-organisation and new initiatives do not motivate workers to work better. What the services need is to be able to dedicate their time to serving their clienteles, rather than being diverted by yet more central Government intrusion. If you work in the services and disagree, please put us right.

A Fundamental Shift

Having argued against the Government changing things to show that it is doing something about problems, we are arguing for change here, because it is well-grounded and makes sense.

Sir Jim Rose, formerly Director of Inspections at Ofsted, has published his review of primary education and has suggested a lot of fundamental changes. The report really needs to be read in full, but one or two examples indicate its approach.

He wants children to be enthusiastic about learning and argues that project-based work will achieve this better than the subject-based approach used in public education for the last century and a half. We heartily agree and have been promoting this approach on and off over the years.

Other recommendations include offering summer-born children the chance to start school earlier so that they do not miss out, and urging a more collaborative approach between pre-schooling, primary schooling and secondary schooling, both in curriculum planning and easing pupils’ transition.

Jenni Russell, in the Guardian, was critical of Sir Jim’s recommendation for schooling to start at four, and urged the later pattern found generally in continental Europe. We agree with her; children’s learning is institutionalised too early at present in the UK, both in admitting children to nurseries and to schools.

A Deserved Triumph

We were delighted when Eleanor Simmonds, now 14 years old, won the Young Sports Personality of the Year for six reasons.

- It is good to recognise real achievement, and she was a Paralympic champion.

- She has had to tackle all the problems associated with achondroplastia.

- Becoming champion entails a lot of dedication, discipline and hard work, unlike the celebrity status of people voted out of the jungle.

- She had triumphed not only in the Paralympics, but also in competition with the able-bodied; her achievement was not just a tokenist nod to the disabled.

- She was so pleased, happy, clearly bowled over, elated, that it was good to see, and to share, her happiness.

- She seems a really nice young person - and we hope she stays that way.

We look forward to seeing how Eleanor does in 2012.

From the Case Files

There were disguarded nappies on the bedroom floor.

Call in Securicor to make sure they’re safe.

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