I think we need to reinforce and extend the bold vision for child welfare and education (expressed before in various intervention programmes, in this country and abroad) to counter the current market and laissez faire approach to schools, with its inherent risk of ‘the devil take the hindmost’.
The Chord vision entails a degree of ‘all through schooling’ – we certainly need to remove the transition risks, particularly between early years, primary and secondary schooling. Parents would need to begin contact with the Chord Centre during pregnancy. The school should be the location for the Chord Centre and source for advice and teaching on health care and early development – in particular, on how to establish guidelines for behaviour, a balanced diet and the stimulation of language development and cognitive skills. It would offer Integrated Services/Multi Agency access as well as contact with Voluntary and Community support groups.
Pragmatically, there would need to be some linkage between receipt of benefits or tax breaks and attendance at the school centre, or some field work capacity for parents who cannot get to the school. All parents would be offered advice on parenting and the consequences for all parties of either failing to support the child or of creating too much pressure on the child (and pressures on parents themselves). The aim would be to develop a lifelong, supportive relationship between the family and centre/school. Another focus would be on early intervention strategies.
Idealistic? Yes. Achievable? Possibly, and given the high stakes involved, where the consequences of failure and the fruits of success have such a huge economic and social impact, vital to try. Costs? Not necessarily huge in finance terms but large in terms of a political investment. Discrimminatory, Big Brother? Potentially so, but this is why it would need to involve every parent (as all of us can learn) and why it would need to be a system that integrates both the independent and state school sectors. We need to make the argument, that the fate of this country rests on this form of collective effort – probably best to avoid the war time comparisons but when you look at the risks and challenges we face…
Schools are currently judged and managed by a performance data approach that concentrates on the input and output of the school. This is surely an unhelpful convenience, as the more significant and difficult educational parameters relate to and involve family and community. We need to see the whole process of schooling as a shared endeavour and make it work, so that the damaging processes of judgement, competition and political interference can be suspended. As the African proverb has it: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.