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ASCL President condemns government for ‘deplorable’ state of children’s support services

ASCL President Evelyn Forde will today (Friday 10 March) condemn the government for the erosion of children’s support services over the past decade as a survey reveals that the vast majority of school and college leaders view these services as being inadequate.

Opening the association’s Annual Conference 2023 in Birmingham, she will say:

“Today we publish the bleak results of a survey showing the deplorable state of local children’s support services.

“To be clear. The dedicated professionals working in local authorities and other local agencies are not to blame. These support services have been eroded over the last decade by government austerity, by increasing demand, or by a mixture of both.

“They simply do not have sufficient resources to be able to cope. And that has had a profound impact on the wellbeing of children.

“And it has left us – in our schools and colleges to pick up the pieces. We’ve become a ‘fourth emergency service’. By default, we’ve ended up with the unsustainable burden of trying to fill in the gaps from budgets and workforces that are stretched beyond breaking point.

“The core business of education is no longer just education. We’re actually providing an unofficial network of welfare support that goes largely unseen by the public.

“We step into the breach because we have a moral purpose to look after children. But we also have to do this for the practical purpose of ensuring they are fit to learn.

“The government has to understand that local services and education are interlinked. Both need to be sufficiently resourced so they can do their respective jobs.

“And at the moment neither are adequately resourced – and this is the impact.”

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) carried out a survey in February of 1,120 headteachers and principals in state-funded schools and colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which found:

  • 99% said children’s mental health services were inadequate
  • 96% said children’s social care services were inadequate
  • 93% said local authority educational psychology services were inadequate
  • 81% said local authority attendance support services were inadequate
  • 64% said police support services were inadequate
  • 53% said external support for careers advice and guidance was inadequate

Several also highlighted lack of sufficient support at local authority level for children with special educational needs, and the insufficiency of high-quality alternative provision in their local area.

Respondents listed a wide range of support they provide to fill the gaps. These include providing additional mental health and counselling support, employing more pastoral and attendance support staff, employing their own educational psychologists, and also providing support such as food banks and uniform for children living in poverty.

Several said that their leadership and staffing teams had seen their workloads increase in response to these pressures, and that the extra provision they were providing was unsustainable in terms of their budgets.

They said the impact on children of inadequate local services included escalating mental health issues, poor attendance and behaviour, self-harm, eating disorders, and poor educational outcomes.

Our survey also asked respondents whether more pupils were affected by a range of social factors compared to before the Covid pandemic and the recent cost-of-living crisis:

  • 86% said more students were affected by poverty
  • 99% said more students were affected by poor mental health
  • 71% said more students were affected by abuse or neglect
  • 63% said more students were affected by being drawn into crime

Other factors mentioned included parents struggling to cope with their own mental health, families in crisis, an increase in poor student behaviour as a result of the insufficiency of early intervention support; more misuse of social media, and increased drug use and vaping.

ASCL’s Annual Conference 2023 is taking place today and tomorrow (10-11 March) at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham and is attended by more than 1,000 school and college leaders from across the UK.

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