The ECM tangled web: how legitimate is it?
"At a deeper level Every Child Matters is a language game or discourse - a favoured way of thinking that is imbued with the full weight, authority and power of the English state."
That's just one snippet: I'd actually have to quote at least half of the article to cite every part of it that supported my findings. I'm glad I did my own digging before I read it, although I think Dr Hoyle approaches the issue from a different perspective to our own.
I'm trying to confine my work on this to within the context of the current Independent review of home education which seeks, amongst other things [opens Word.doc], to investigate:
- Whether any changes to the current regime for monitoring the standard of home education are needed to support the work of parents, local authorities and other partners in ensuring all children achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes.
This statement in itself heavily implies that parents have a legal duty to ensure that their children achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes but we've already discovered that the outcomes don't mean what they say. To summarise from the findings of my recent explorations:
- 'Be healthy' actually means 'accept government intervention';
- 'Enjoy and achieve' actually means 'attend school';
- 'Stay safe' actually means 'be registered on a database and subjected to an eCAF [opens pdf] assessment';
- 'Make a positive contribution' actually means 'take part in 'diversionary activities' in extended schools and/or SureStart centres'; and
- 'Achieve economic wellbeing' actually means that if either one or both of your parents isn't either working or extremely wealthy, they must take part in a full-time Workfare programme, co-incidentally freeing you up for all of the above.
The parents' 'duty' in all of that appears to be to enforce their children's unquestioning compliance and otherwise get out of the way to a full-time job and stay there.
As Dani pointed out, the five outcomes appear in law in Section 10 of the 2004 Children Act:
10 Co-operation to improve well-being
(1) Each children’s services authority in England must make arrangements to promote co-operation between—
(a) the authority;
(b) each of the authority’s relevant partners; and
(c) such other persons or bodies as the authority consider appropriate, being persons or bodies of any nature who exercise functions or are engaged in activities in relation to children in the authority’s area.
(2) The arrangements are to be made with a view to improving the well-being of children in the authority’s area so far as relating to—
(a) physical and mental health and emotional well-being;
(b) protection from harm and neglect;
(c) education, training and recreation;
(d) the contribution made by them to society;
(e) social and economic well-being.
(3) In making arrangements under this section a children’s services authority in England must have regard to the importance of parents and other persons caring for children in improving the well-being of children.
(4) For the purposes of this section each of the following is a relevant partner of a children’s services authority in England—
(a) where the authority is a county council for an area for which there is also a district council, the district council;
(b) the police authority and the chief officer of police for a police area any part of which falls within the area of the children’s services authority;
(c) a local probation board for an area any part of which falls within the area of the authority;
(d) a youth offending team for an area any part of which falls within the area of the authority;
(e) a Strategic Health Authority and Primary Care Trust for an area any part of which falls within the area of the authority;
(f) a person providing services under section 114 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c. 21) in any part of the area of the authority;
(g) the Learning and Skills Council for England.
(5) The relevant partners of a children’s services authority in England must co-operate with the authority in the making of arrangements under this section.
(6) A children’s services authority in England and any of their relevant partners may for the purposes of arrangements under this section—
(a) provide staff, goods, services, accommodation or other resources;
(b) establish and maintain a pooled fund.
(7) For the purposes of subsection (6) a pooled fund is a fund—
(a) which is made up of contributions by the authority and the relevant partner or partners concerned; and
(b) out of which payments may be made towards expenditure incurred in the discharge of functions of the authority and functions of the relevant partner or partners.
(8) A children’s services authority in England and each of their relevant partners must in exercising their functions under this section have regard to any guidance given to them for the purpose by the Secretary of State.
(9) Arrangements under this section may include arrangements relating to—
(a) persons aged 18 and 19;
(b) persons over the age of 19 who are receiving services under sections 23C to 24D of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41);
(c) persons over the age of 19 but under the age of 25 who have a learning difficulty, within the meaning of section 13 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, and are receiving services under that Act.
- which includes no reference to a parent's legal duty or of education that does not take place in schools. Indeed, it seems to be mostly about children in receipt of Local Authority services, not those who are not. I don't know of any other mention of these outcomes in UK law. If anyone else does, please tell me. The 'background' page on ecm.gov.uk doesn't cite any other.
But let's look again at the detail of that remit:
Terms of reference
The review of home education will investigate:
· The barriers to local authorities and other public agencies in carrying out their responsibilities for safeguarding home educated children and advise on improvements to ensure that the five Every Child Matters outcomes are being met for home educated children;
· The extent to which claims of home education could be used as a ‘cover’ for child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude and advise on measures to prevent this;
· Whether local authorities are providing the right type, level and balance of support to home educating families to ensure they are undertaking their duties to provide a suitable full time education to their children;
· Whether any changes to the current regime for monitoring the standard of home education are needed to support the work of parents, local authorities and other partners in ensuring all children achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes.
I don't know about you, but I'm dismissing - perhaps unwisely, we shall see - the second and third of those four points as diversionary hot air.
The first point doesn't make grammatical sense, does it? Oh, I see.. the review will.. advise on improvements to ensure that the five Every Child Matters outcomes are being met for home educated children. It seems safe to assume this refers to the duty of Local Authorities then, as set out in Section 10 above.
And the fourth point makes, I think, two erroneous assumptions: that there is a regime for 'monitoring the standard of home education' (Did whoever wrote this even read the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities [opens pdf] first?); and surely, that all children are supposed to achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes, when Section 10 of the 2004 Children Act (above) talks only about "arrangements being made with a view to improving the well-being of children".
The whole ECM structure as set out on the website - and most especially the part pertaining to this 'Independent review of home education' seems to be the most amazing pre-planned, systematic, governmental process of mission creep, the aim of which can only be to bypass proper parliamentary procedure. These are such huge changes to make to people's way of life, without the people themselves having any democratic input, beyond being invited to take part in a long sequence of consultations and reviews, the terms of which are questionable at best, and which all seem to grind inexorably towards the not-so-hidden, real five outcomes:
- Accept government intervention;
- Attend school;
- Have your personal and genealogical details entered onto a database;
- Attend school between the ages of at least 2 to at least 19, and from 8am until 6pm every day; and
- Sacrifice both of your parents to a full-time workfare programme.
Which - well, I don't know how your maths is, but to me that adds up to the total obliteration of the family unit as some of us still currently know it.
The lie is exposed in those countless PSAs and DSOs that I've been ploughing through these past few days. So I wonder what legal basis they have, if any?
Here's a page about them from the Cabinet Office Website. Actually, even better: here's a pdf about them, by the deliciously-named Oonagh Gay.
The Government's five aspirations for its targets are that they should provide:
• a clear statement of what the Government is trying to achieve;
• a clear sense of direction and ambition;
• a focus on delivering results;
• a basis for what is and is not working; and
• better accountability.
Well, the ones I've read certainly give a clear statement of what the Government is trying to achieve! Even though this bears no resemblance to the public face of the five outcomes in question, or, indeed, the Act of Parliament in question. A 'clear sense of [the government's] direction and ambition' is made in the PSAs, but this is obfuscated by misleading outcome headings and by deliberately inciteful allegations which have no statistical basis in fact. It's smoke and mirrors. Home educators are supposed to look the other way and get in a stew about being labelled potential child abusers, instead of concentrating on what's really going on with this ECM agenda. It nearly worked, didn't it?
But - do the PSAs have any basis in law? Or can a so-called democratic government really bring about a whole regime change by subterfuge? Back to Oonagh Gay.
Her Section D starts talking about something called the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit, so I googled and found this page on the No.10 website:
The Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit
The Delivery Unit is headed by Michael Barber and is responsible for ensuring that the Government achieves its delivery priorities, both across the key areas of public service (health, education, crime, asylum and transport) and in the other main domestic service delivery departments. Working closely with the Treasury, the Unit ensures that the departments have in place effective delivery plans for their Public Service Agreements and develops the framework, methodology and database for delivering these targets and identify training and development needs for civil servants involved.
The Delivery Unit reports regularly to the Prime Minister through the Minister for the Cabinet Office on progress on the delivery priorities of the delivery departments. It establishes the agenda for his regular stocktake meetings with the Ministers concerned; and also reports twice a year to the PSX Cabinet Committee. All departments remain accountable for meeting their PSAs through the PSX process.
The 'PSX process'? I found the answer to that here: Cabinet Committee on Public Services and Public Expenditure. On the face of it, everything seems to come back to money, but I don't think that's the whole story by any means. (I've just been sidetracked by a speech by Liam Byrne on political reform, which contains this hilarious quote: "I believe we are living in a post-bureaucratic age"!)
Oh, and I've just found PSA 10, which I was missing when I was looking at the 'enjoy and achieve' outcome.
Well, I've spent all morning reading about PSAs and I can't find anything that says they're legally enforceable, other than in a contractual sense between the employer: government and employee: Local Authority personnel. The impression I get is that there is quite definitely a wide-ranging, long term agenda for our country. Whose agenda? I'll leave that question for another day. But I think it's being advanced through this system of PSAs and similar vehicles behind the scenes, as it were, while a slightly different face on things is presented to the public.
Who co-ordinates it all? Well, it was no co-incidence that took me to Liam Byrne's webpage - although I see he has a link to Liberal Conspiracy on his blog! But of course, his wasn't the only name that popped up. Politicians are queueing up to hammer nails into 'the family' coffin - not least Ian Duncan Smith with his latest offering: Early Intervention: Good Parents, Great Kids, Better Citizens, which contains the following, about the children of single mothers:
They arrive at nursery school unable hardly to speak or relate to other children without resorting to violence.
Well, you know, Mr Smith - maybe if they had chance to be born, and maybe have a feed or something before you shoved them into nursery school..? Just a thought.
Something else I've gleaned on my explorations is that ECM is absolutely enmeshed in the system now. None of the main parties would reverse the process, or even do much to change it apparently. And it doesn't seem like there would be much mileage in the argument that "this shouldn't apply to our children", when they deliberately called it "Every Child Matters". Perhaps there is some mileage, though, in the argument that some of the PDAs and indicators bear such little relation to the apparent spirit of the meaning of the outcomes, that what we're actually getting is not the product we were originally sold. Not that we ever had a choice about buying it.
What we can obviously say is: "We don't need your help, thanks. Our children are better able to meet those outcomes than schooled ones are," but then it's a matter of finding a way to avoid the interminable checking and measuring that goes with the territory now and increasingly will for all other families.
I think my job for tomorrow is to take another look at the position of Local Authority personnel in the light of this system of PSAs, to try to find out whether there really is a conflict now between duties for them. Not that it should be our problem if there is, and I'd go further to guess that if there was such a conflict, it might well have been engineered that way to generate exactly the complaints from Local Authorities that have supposedly been received.
I also want to check the international treaties and agreements to which our country is signed up, just to see if I can find out for sure whether the ECM programme is coming from a higher place than Westminster. But that will have to wait for another day.