UK Family Law Reform

Free information index

Schools may be judged on teenage pregnancy rates and drug problems

· Plan to include 18 social targets in Ofsted reports
· Teaching unions reject proposals as madness

Anthea Lipsett 30 April 2008

Schools will be made to keep records of teenage pregnancy rates, pupils' drug problems, criminal records and obesity levels under government plans to give parents a true picture of children's lives.

The ideas, set out in a discussion document from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, suggest schools would become accountable for 18 new targets, from bullying and neglect, to what happens to pupils after they leave school. Sources said the 10-page document, entitled Indicators of schools' performance in contributing to pupil wellbeing, calls for Ofsted inspectors to judge schools on the wide range of measures in addition to existing criteria such as exam results and exclusion rates. The measures could be implemented by Ofsted from 2009, and suggest that schools would become broadly responsible for children's safety, enjoyment and happiness.

The move is part of a government attempt to tackle the UK's teenage pregnancy rate, which is one of the highest in Europe, and reduce drug use. A government survey of 115,000 children in England aged between 10 and 15 last year found one in seven had taken drugs.

The proposals were discussed last week at a meeting of the New Relationships with Schools group, which includes civil servants, teaching unions, children's services directors, local authority and Ofsted inspectors, governors and headteachers of primary and secondary schools.

They call for a study of pupils' experiences, suggesting "parents' and pupils' views will need to be gathered through surveys, probably regular and nationally administered", as there is no existing consistent national school-level data.

These findings could be included in Ofsted's annual report on the state of schools in England and Wales, which is used by parents to find out more about schools in their area.

The move follows the publication in December of the Children's Plan, by the schools secretary, Ed Balls, which made wellbeing a priority, and expands upon the Every Child Matters policy, in place since 2004, which looked at health, safety, enjoyment and achievement.

But last night teachers' leaders - alarmed that the plans would make schools accountable for solving social problems over which they have no control - described the proposals as "madness".

Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools already promote the wellbeing of young people, but could not be made solely responsible. "The new Ofsted inspection framework will include wellbeing, but this has to be delivered in partnership with other authorities," he said. Health professionals not teachers should deal with pupils' health. Similarly, police records were not always passed on to schools because of data protection laws. "It's absolutely essential this agenda is not dumped on schools," he added.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the target-driven culture was already "pounding schools into the ground". "If the government adds more targets over which schools have very little control that would sound the death knell for teachers and school leaders. While it's important for schools to have good joined-up working with a range of other services, they can't be held responsible for everything." She said schools could promote healthy eating, but should not be held accountable for obesity rates in year 9s.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We are concerned about the extent to which schools are held accountable for all the ills of society. It's become quite ridiculous.

"If the DCSF thinks it's going to come up with a numerical scheme to create a league table of happiness, they really need to get out more. If this is going to be yet another collection of data to beat schools over the head with this will be a worse than useless measure."

But there was some support for the plans in the New Relationships with Schools group, with some saying the targets could highlight differences between schools in similar circumstances.

A DCSF spokeswoman refused to comment on leaked documents and informal discussions.

Join us in campaigning for equality and justice.