Friday, February 13, 2009

A closer look at the Local Authority position

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 is what changed the way the law works in this country. Up until then, every change to an Act of Parliament had to go through Parliamentary procedure - in other words, be openly debated in both Houses and voted upon. Since that act came into force, however, ministers can now change laws without bothering with all that, by means of something called delegated or secondary legislation, otherwise known as a Statutory Instrument. It means that Statutory Guidance documents - which includes many of the pdf documents that are now showering from Westminster like confetti - are the law, and must be obeyed.

You might ask why there wasn't a national outcry when the The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 was being debated, but I don't know the answer. I remember seeing a bit of commentary about it at the time, but I think we were being distracted by something else that was happening then, as usual. (Radio 4's Today programme on 'news and current affairs' has just devoted about 12 minutes to an in-depth study on Murphy's Law, which perhaps goes some way towards an explanation: the lack of real journalism in the mainstream media.)

So today I'm planning to work through at least one such document pertaining to ECM and how it affects the Local Authority position with regard to our children:

Statutory Guidance: Children's Trusts

Oh, it's got a cartoon on the front! Must be harmless, then. Hmmm.

It stresses the importance of robust and effective arrangements under the section 10 “duty to cooperate” in implementing the vision of The Children’s Plan: Building Brighter Futures.

OK, make that two pdfs I'm working through today (and counting..) I did skim through The Children's Plan when it was first published, but I think I perhaps need to pay closer attention now.

The 2005 guidance explained that acting in accordance with the duty, and with the spirit and intention of Every Child Matters, implied putting in place “children’s trust arrangements” which put improved outcomes for children and young people at the centre of all activity.

This sums up what I've been saying for the past few days. First: that the spirit and intention of ECM is quite different from the duty - and also from what it actually says on the face of it. And second: that previous guidance deliberately implied things that would, according to the planned mission creep, be made clear. It's a very slimy setup, in my opinion: dishonest, and designed to trick people. Working very well, though, up to press.

0.4 More recently, the Local Government & Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 has put in place a local performance framework based on new statutory Local Area Agreements, and next year will include a new monitoring and inspection system (Comprehensive Area Assessment). The Local Strategic Partnership – of which the Children’s Trust is a thematic partnership – sits at the heart of this framework, with collective responsibility for agreeing the improvement priorities set out in the LAA.

Another act, another framework. Another endless set of pdfs. Local Authority officers must all be taking pills by now, surely.

1.2 The Children’s Trust is in part a planning body which informs commissioning decisions and ensures, (through a range of sometimes agency-specific approaches) that front line services work together to improve outcomes. It is underpinned by the duties in section 10 (1) and (5) of the Children Act 2004 on local authorities and their ‘relevant partners’ to cooperate in the making of arrangements to improve well-being for local children. Well-being is defined as the five Every Child Matters outcomes: that all children should be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and enjoy economic well-being.

Did you get that? Your child's wellbeing no longer relates to how well s/he feels. It is officially - legally - now "defined as the five Every Child Matters outcomes". Just like that. When Social Services come knocking and say they want to check on your child's wellbeing, you will think they mean one thing ('a state of being well, healthy, contented, etc' according to my dictionary) but they will mean quite another: whether your child has been properly officially intervened with, whether s/he's been vaccinated, whether s/he attends a school/Children's Centre/Extended school programme from between 8am and 6pm, regardless of his/her age, whether his/her personal and genealogical details have been entered onto a database; and whether both her parents work full-time. If the answer to any of those questions is 'no', an eCAF [opens pdf] will be carried out, with an agreed 'improvement plan' filled in and signed by you all at the bottom. Yes, you have the choice to say no, but your child will probably be immediately removed from you if you do.

Using a multi-agency team, working through the local Children’s Centre, to address the needs of children underachieving at the Early Years Foundation Stage.

My children don't attend the local Children’s Centre. They don't do the Early Years Foundation Stage. They just live their lives, happily, at home with me. Presumably we'll be targeted, then. They haven't done all this for the likes of me to ignore it. Let alone this.

Oh dear. We're not doing very well at ascertaining the Local Authority's position here, are we?

It is also important that all local providers including Academies, City Learning Centres, faith schools, pupil referral units, special schools and the independent sector, engage with their local 14-19 Partnership, to inform its work

We're not in that list, which is good news so far. I think the term 'partner' in this context is important. At first, I was riling against parental exclusion from the list of these, but I'm starting now to think it's a very good thing that we don't count as 'partners' in this system.

This is worrying:

The school also shares a commitment with others to promote the well-being (including educational achievement) of all children and young people in the area, not only its own pupils.

Where did that come from?? Complete broadside. More investigation required. Any volunteers?

1.22 The government is proposing to legislate to include schools and colleges among the statutory ‘relevant partners’ of the Children’s Trust. The effect would be to place them under the section 10 ‘duty to co-operate’, to give them the power to pool funds and share resources and to place them under a requirement to ‘have regard’ to this guidance.

Yes, home educating parents definitely need to avoid being added to that list, as a group.

2.13 Children’s Trusts should take responsibility for ensuring that all local partners are prepared for and implement correctly the new Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS), when it begins operation in October 2009. The VBS requires all those working with children, in a paid or unpaid capacity, to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority; any employer or organiser of voluntary activity must check their workers are registered. Failure to comply with the scheme’s requirements will be a criminal offence.

Something else for us to keep a close eye on.

Children’s Trusts should make a reality of the Government’s ambition that all young people participate in positive activities by 2020, and that by 2011 all young people will have access to three hours of sport in addition to the two hours they have during the school day.

Note the use of the word all here. I think there's scope for local home educating groups to use this to secure the use of free venues from their Local Authorities, but nothing can be taken at face value. 'Positive activities' has a very real meaning in Statute, to do with checking, monitoring and compliance.

Local authorities are expected to integrate IAG services with the wider youth support services they manage and to ensure that all young people receive the IAG they need on personal well-being and financial capability.

The word 'all' captures my attention again, because it really means what it says: no exceptions. IAG means 'Information and Guidance' and in this instance it refers to the kind of services provided by Connexions, which are soon to be transferred to the Local Authority. Our Local Authority passed our phone number onto the local Connexions people (without asking our permission) and one of them phoned last year out of the blue, and asked to speak to Zara (then 15), giving me no reason or identification. Unthinking, I handed the phone to her and she was then interrogated regarding her career plans, most of which she hadn't even started making by then. (And why should she? She's got another five years before she needs to start earning money.) The woman wanted her to commit to attending meetings and appointments - all without reference to the rest of the family. We found the whole experience quite bizarre, invasive and unsettling, but last year Zara had the choice to opt out of the process. It looks like my younger two children (6 and 2) won't be given that choice.

2.30 The Government intends to include Job Centre Plus as a statutory ‘relevant partner’ in the Children’s Trust to help ensure that partners consider their contribution to tackling child poverty within each of the five outcomes. Jobcentre Plus makes an important local contribution to tackling child poverty. It is important that, at a local level, their services are delivered in conjunction with wider children’s services, helping to reach families in need of greater support.

Engagement with the new, planned workfare programme will effectively be compulsory for all parents-with-care who are not in full-time employment when the family income falls below a certain rate.

Splutter! :

3.6 Parents, not governments, bring up children, although sometimes parents and other carers can feel overwhelmed

Yes, by the encroaching ECM regime!

Children’s Trust partners should engage with parents, as well as children and young people, in ways that reach each family and each family member, including fathers.

Each family. Every family member.

Parents, who need information, advice or help to do the best for their children, may be reluctant to ask for it. The Children’s Trust should undertake high quality consultation with parents13 and consider innovative ways of identifying and speaking to hard-to-reach or hard-to-help parents, involving community groups and community assets to support outreach as necessary.

I'm predicting LA requests for the inclusion of an 'outreach group' at home ed meetings.

3.7 Specifically, parents and carers should be consulted during the preparation of the local Children and Young People’s Plan. This should not be a “oneoff” event but regular ongoing engagement to help evaluate progress and seek advice on what services are needed as well as the quality of those already offered.

But have we got any real choice, when 'Leave us alone please' is no longer an option?

3.9 A strong integrated governing board is the cornerstone of a Children’s Trust. It should include representatives of all key partners at senior level, determined to drive whole-system change through clear leadership and effective action, and have appropriate arrangements in place to ensure the voices of children, young people, parents and front line workers are heard.

- Leadership to be trained by Common Purpose, no doubt.

3.13 Professionals such as health visitors and GPs are key players

Of course, their primary purpose never was to help us in our own aims and now the gloves are off, aren't they?

3.14 The step change to the performance of Children’s Trusts..

The sneaky tip-toe reform process is even named: "step change". Why is it needed though, if not to break down what would inevitably be a wholesale, healthy, natural resistance? These changes are not right. They will not help families or children to have healthier or happier lives. Every human being taking a good look at what's happening and what's being planned for UK families and local councils will feel revulsion. Hence the need for 'The step change'. This in itself should sound out the warning bells, loud and clear. We are all under attack. In a few days, when I've done one or two other things, I'm planning to write a clear, relatively short summary about this for general use, to be circulated on parents' forums and anywhere people might think is appropriate, because these profound changes affect all families.

Needs assessments will improve and become more accurate as local areas collect and analyse local data and develop data of their own (for example children not on a school roll).

This means us. There is a process all set out to deal with us. From what I've read so far this morning, I can't see that there's any further legislative work to be done, apart from perhaps to further corral us into line should we prove to be too obstructive. But if all goes according to plan, ContactPoint will pick us all up and eCAF will process us. I suppose there might be a question about what exactly to do with us after that to address. We will present some difficulty, no doubt.

Reviewing and challenging – assessing effectiveness and monitoring the impact on children’s lives and prospects.

Will they assess the effect of all this monitoring and assessing on children’s lives and prospects?

3.32 Close collaborative working between local authorities and their PCT partners is essential for joint commissioning to be effective. This is an area where a step change in ambition and impact is required.

This is an area where a step change in ambition and impact is required. Is this what they're teaching on those CP courses? (Amongst other things.) Sneak things in step by step [change] to avoid resistance?

The PCT has a responsibility to work with early years’ partners through service providers such as Sure Start Children’s Centres, to help them achieve better outcomes for all children and families and to narrow the gap of disadvantage

There it is again: all children. If I was a Local Authority employee, reading all this stuff my question to government would be: What about the children whose parents absolutely refuse to engage with us about this? If I was in government, I'm not sure what my answer would be. Stick and carrot. The stick is obviously to threaten Care Orders, but this will be tricky to present in such a way as to prevent an outcry. Perhaps that's Mr Badman's real brief.

3.42 A range of approaches is required to support the diverse needs of children. ContactPoint, the electronic enablement of the Common Assessment Framework (eCAF), the Integrated Children’s Systems (ICS) and the Client Caseload Information System (CCIS) have separate, specific purposes, but all support integrated working. Together they will enable practitioners from different agencies or areas to agree the right package of support for each child.

And there they all are: the individual claws of the family-busting, power-grabbing machine.

I haven't got time to go through the Children's Plan as well today, but it predates the one I've just worked through and so I'm thinking (hoping) it doesn't contain any more unpleasant surprises. It's on my list though, to work through at a later date.

Tomorrow I'm going to be trying to find out to which international treaties and other agreements and processes our country is signed up, which might be affecting this unbenign project.


Blogger Elaine said...

I am not as well versed as yourself but reading ammendments to the education act last night I became aware that if home edders had to register with the LA as opposed to being known to the LA then there would be a great risk that homes would become schools for the purpose of the act and therefore open to inspection. I really think this should be borne in mind.
Very good piece Gill.

11:06 am, February 13, 2009  
Blogger someday said...

Excellent piece, Gill.

These Fabian New Labour Common Purpose crooks need to be watched at all times.

They are obsessed with social control and probably have doing away with home schooling as part of their hidden agenda.

11:24 am, February 13, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Elaine. I've got the other pdfs you linked to last night flagged up on my browser too.

Thanks Someday. Yes, I'm the daughter of a principled Socialist, who believes we're the property of The State from the moment we're born. His reaction to our home education has been interesting to say the least!

11:42 am, February 13, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...
good plug
for you

3:30 pm, February 13, 2009  
Blogger Tech said...

I'm not surprised, but still utterly disgusted at the way we really are nothing more than *human capital* to them. Excellent piece Gill, hat off to you for ploughing through it all. Oh and great article you're linked to in the times :D

4:17 pm, February 13, 2009  
Blogger lotusbirther said...

I was under the impression that the only teeth so-to-speak of this document was the part entitled "legislative underpinnings" - was I mistaken there? If so, !!!
These docs are so hard to understand. Perhaps that is the ulterior motive of the consult/review - to get us home educators to go through it all and work out what it means to each "party" - we stand a better chance of doing it than anyone else.

10:57 pm, February 13, 2009  
Blogger Louise said...

OMG this must be taking up so much of your time but thank you for doing it.
I now have a headache though (stress!!!) :-(

10:05 am, February 14, 2009  
Blogger someday said...

Gill, you say "Yes, I'm the daughter of a principled Socialist, who believes we're the property of The State from the moment we're born.".

These people think that we are State property only from the time that we get a birth certificate and there is a way to opt out of the system:

10:42 am, February 14, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh thanks Elaine! That was a nice surprise. I must return the compliment ;-)

Yeah, more on 'human capital' in today's post Cosmic.

LB, well here's how one such amendment is worded in the Education Act: "In exercising their functions under this section a local education authority must have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State."

Sorry about your headache, Lou! :-/

Thanks Someday, yes I'm familiar with that site :-) Has anyone that you know of successfully not registered a child's birth then? That's always the question that springs to my mind, because the consequences in trying it out on a real baby would probably be too severe to contemplate..?

1:53 pm, February 14, 2009  

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