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Schools Blog

The Children’s Plan

‘What’s in a name?’ asked one of Shakespeare’s most naïve heroines. Well, quite a lot, Juliet. You can tell a lot by a name. In June 2007, the Department for Education and Skills bade us farewell and shuffled off stage left. Enter our new hero: the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The title says it all. Forget the cold, heartless concerns of education, seeing young people as simply statistics in international league tables. This department puts the well-being of its children first and foremost. It embraces and supports the role of the family in ensuring this well-being. And in the middle of the two… schools.

And this is certainly where the school of the 21st century finds itself. In December 2007, Ed Balls (Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families) published details of his new ‘Children’s Plan’: a strategy to enhance the well-being and achievements of children and young people. The sound-bite version seems to be a plan to help kids to be kids. £225 million will be invested in building or upgrading play areas. £160 million will be spent on new youth facilities to keep young people safe and engaged outside of school. There’ll be more 20 m.p.h. limits, and places for ball games, so that children play outdoors safely. And to help children enjoy their childhood, parents are getting a helping hand too. Free nursery school support for deprived children, support for children and families in the event of family breakdown, guidance on helping children to progress in their learning…

The small-print of the plan, however, goes back to schools. This is another document, following shortly from the prospect for Extended Schools, affirming the role of schools in safe-guarding the well-being of children. ‘Schools in the 21st century should be central to their community,’ the press statement reads. “[They] should strive for educational excellence but should work in partnership with other agencies to actively contribute to all aspects of children’s lives such as health and wellbeing, safety and care.” The buck has to stop somewhere, and it seems to have packed its satchel and arrived at the school gates. Yes, schools will strive to be places of academic achievement, where 90% of students at each key stage will reach set targets. But the vision goes wider. New schools will have space for welfare and health services on their sites. Schools will continue to be instrumental in delivering government intervention strategies on such social problems as binge-drinking and under-age sex. And they will be virtually on-hand to report on anything and everything relating to a child’s well-being and progress to parents.

This is the next, perhaps inevitable, step in the long road out of Eden. In January, the Times ran a front page story on the ‘backlash’ over parents using late baptisms to get their children into (high achieving) faith schools. Ed Balls was reported as telling MPs that the ‘current administration was not ideologically committed to their [faith schools] spread’ (despite the overwhelmingly positive ‘Faith in the System’ document of last year). The State is continuing its gradual move away from the Church, apparently even as far as its schools are concerned – hitherto the mainstay of Church and State partnership. And yet at the same time, schools are coming full circle and stepping into the big boots that the Church used to fill.

Think about history. Who pioneered education, and education for all? The Church. Which buildings were meeting points for the community, facilitating cohesion? The Church. Where could parents receive support and advice, as well as additional childcare? Who provided the first point of reference in social morality and responsibility? The Church. For years the State has been replicating the historic work of the Church in terms of personal and social well-being, but it is only now that there is single point of reference for where the responsibility lies (as far as children and young people are concerned), and that’s in schools.

The divorce of Church and State is not necessarily a bad thing. And it is worth observing here that, although the State is replicating historically ‘Christian’ work, it cannot bring the gospel. Though Ed Balls writes that the Children’s Plan ‘isn’t about nanny-state intervention or telling parents what to do.’, any kind of target-driven operation provides a strong argument to the contrary. The Church still has a key role to play in demonstrating the love of God – the only solution – to a world very clearly in need of healing and wholeness; inviting people to experience God’s grace and choose to walk His way. We must therefore continually ask the question: if this is the way it’s going to be from now on, how can we maximize these opportunities to share the love of Christ? For in the 21st century, creating and maintaining partnerships with schools is not a way forward in reaching young people; it is the way forward.

To read the Children’s Plan in full, go to:

Submitted by Rachel Noyce at 7:55am, 1st February 2008