Wednesday, July 06, 2005

On "Community"

My brother works in an inner city school. I was talking last week to one of his colleagues about the Government's wonderful new Children's Act 2004, out of which came this nightmare vision of a nation of state-conditioned Stepford children.

The Government's aim is for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support they need to:

Be healthy (Always use a condom)
Stay safe (Always use a condom)
Enjoy and achieve (Oh alright - don't use one)
Make a positive contribution (ditto)
Achieve economic well-being (Sure Start for the baby, call centre for you)

Among the visions - sorry, among "the different strands of the Change for Children agenda" is the integration of "children's services" at local authority level. The idea is that "health", social services and education will come under the same department. The Guardian is filled with adverts for 'Directors of Children's Services' at six-figure salaries.

So social services, "health" and education will be provided to children by one department. At local level. Nationally I know of no plans to merge the Home Office, Department of Education, and Department of Health. A recipe for some interesting challenges when it comes to the interfaces between the (integrated) delivery and the (non-integrated) strategy.

By September you could well find that your child's education is controlled by a social worker. Or a nurse. Look out for some interesting appointments in the London Boroughs.

One of the bright ideas is extended schooling. You may have already heard of this in connection with the idea of a school open 6 am to 6 pm, providing childcare after hours for working mums. But there's more to it than this. The idea is that the extended school is the place where the 'integrated delivery strategy' comes alive.

There is the school health centre, dispensing the morning after pill and providing abortion counselling. There are social workers in the corridor, the probation officer's office - maybe a police presence.

But "we can build on this". The wet dream is the "on-site community centre", a "school" with an "e-bar", whatever that is, and maybe its own community radio station. A school that's a resource for the whole community.

This should be fun. To the extent that schools actually DO constitute 'communities', it's because they're full of children, controlled to a greater or lesser extent by adults. Where control is not an issue they can even do some teaching.

When 'the community' have access as of right it won't belong before the computers are being sold in the pubs and the radio station is doing pirate FM from the roof of a tower block. It sounds a better place to hang than the local shopping centre. You haven't forgotten to create space for the security guards, have you ? Put them next to the police.

It was an aside by the teacher that struck me. "The government is desperate to get these going," he said, "because they've realised that in the cities community has collapsed. The school is literally the only place where everyone comes together. It's the only community there is - all we've got."

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