Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Cultural services putting "every child matters" into policy

I have unearthed two documents form different parts of the country that analyse the way to integrate Every Child Matters into their systems. One is from the East Midlands, called "Unlocking the Potential" by Dixon and Roberts. The other is "Review of Museum, Library and Archive Activity with Children and Young People" by Naylor and other authors for the North West. This is what they say.

Dixon and Roberts
  • Museums and Galleries do not work with children's services at a strategic level, but libraries are doing some.
  • Children's services would prefer to have strategic relationships with libraries, museums and galleries than to commission their services.
  • Libraries have a greater awareness of children's service priorities and are more willing to reflect them in the library services.
  • young people should expect libraries to offer participation in library development, Volunteering opportunity
  • a place to develop citizenship
  • free, safe welcoming spaces IN THEIR LOCAL COMMUNITY
  • Formal and informal learning support
  • Inspiring books, reading materials, activities
  • information of education, training and careers
Naylor, et al

  • Hard for libraries, museums and archives to be strategically involved with other partners at government level, but there is an opportunity at local authority level.
  • Libraries are better at doing this than museums and archives. Their strategic plans are closer to Every Child Matters. "Public Libraries have a longer track record in this area having always a more clearly defined pedagogic and social purpose than museums and galleries"
  • there is not a lot of literature about the impact of the cultural sector on academic attainment because of a lack of longitudinal research. Apart from Libraries, that work with PEEP, EPPE and bookstart. These have had studies published about them and many studies are ongoing.
  • There is no baseline on which to judge the impact.
  • There needs to be research to capture in impact and output of working with children, research with control groups and ethnographic analysis of the nature of the learning that goes on.
  • Youth Matters is also another notional programme that fits with every child matters. There is a youth capital fund. (or was, depending on forthcoming government cuts). It is mandatory for young people to be involved in the design of services.
  • Generic Learning Outcomes are are good idea
  • Nearly all public libraries do rhyme-times and story times, but their benefits are unknown.
  • Local Authorities are meant to deliver partnership programmes and embed them in the community, partnership working is the key.
  • libraries are actively increasing literacy work across the board
  • There is not much in depth ethnographic work to analyse the nature of learning.
  • Difficult to work out what influences in a child's life leads them to economic success or failure.
  • Libraries need to support the school curriculum (Mobile libraries do)

Will transliteracy make all this research obsolete?

I went to a conference yesterday about working across subject boundaries, such as computer scientists working with performers and ethnographers. I found the entire thing so refreshing and interesting, people talking about the breadth of research experience instead of just channelling all their thoughts into an imagined problem, like the children's librarians at the conference at the weekend. The workshop that unsettled me the most and has made me worried that this research project will ultimately be of little value in the real world was one on transliteracy which looked at the situation we have these days of working out how to read not only written and printed symbols, but also media, "orality", signing and digital social networks.

The argument that reading text is not the only literacy has been around for some time, but the workshop put the argument in the context that it is not really necessary for people to do so. There is a tribe of Amazonian Indians who have decided that only certain members of their tribe need to be able to read and write to communicate with the rest of the world, the others have to concentrate on the real things in life such as hunting for food. This reminded me that Welsh was basically an oral language and it took many centuries for the druids to allow poets and story tellers to write down their works, or so it is said. They were afraid of the loss of skill, the long memories passed down in story form by bards. I think that the skill of verbal memory in the population has declined or is it that the people with those skills are not encouraged and celebrated.

The children's librarian conference at the weekend was so concerned with making everyone the same, to enhance reading so that the entire population could read Jane Eyre or Wuthering heights and enjoy those books that I came away thinking that really people should have the choice to be literate or not. There should be a mixture of skills in the population, we can't all be academics and we can't all be leaders or there would be no-one to teach and no-one to lead. So, is a little vehicle trundling around the towns and countryside distributing books to children a total anachronism in the forthcoming digital society? Will there be any point in doing that when children will be learning to read and keyboard on their "i" or "e" devices that have that ability to download thousands of stories and gallons of information? It seems a little pathetic.

A managing director of a leading publishing house commented at the librarian's conference that it did not matter if words were published in books, i-phones, kindles or what ever, there would always be authors with stories to tell. The leader of the transliteracy workshop, who invented the term, talked about the need in companies and organisations for an individual that can understand and interpret data in whatever form it takes. I commented that in my world that person was a librarian, and I fully believe that the librarian of the future is someone who can "Twitter", use Goggle and other databases, add tags, navigate the web and understand the dewey decimal system with equal ease. That person would be transliterate. This leads to the question does everyone need to be? Like the Amazonian Indian tribe, surely only some people in a society really needs to be while the rest of the population gets on with life, with plumbing, making bread, growing potatoes and persuading children that reading and adding up is a good idea.

So why bother to find out if a little library van has an impact on children's lives? I think it is because it is happening now, no-one has found out the effect that it has on children. In the future it may not just carry books. Although I believe that it does not just carry books at the moment they also carry stories and the stories can be hidden inside people as well as books and electronic Internet devices. The service cannot change if it does not know what it happening at the moment. If the impact and social effect is not charted and recorded then something important in the development of a child from a passive learner to an active participant in their own learning may be lost. If the study finds out that other inspirational ways of doing the same thing are more effective, then the study will show that authorities can cheerfully stop the services with no harm to the development of our children.

Transliteracy was defined by Professor Sue Thomas of the Institute of Creative Technologies, De Montfort University, Leicester. The website is

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Plethora of Initiatives

I have just come away from a CILIP youth libraries group conference, well I was there all weekend and arrived home yesterday afternoon, so I thought I would know all there is to know about what is happening in libraries for children and young people. But No! I have been doing some more searching for every child matters information and today I have found that there is a Youth Libraries Board, a Library offer to young people and an initiative called "Fulfilling their potential". Can I include all these into my report? It is beginning to get more and more complex.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Setting it in the context of Every Child Matters

Any work with children these days seems to have to revolve around the five principles of the government initiative "Every Child Matters". The government greenpaper of that name sets out the principles of:

Be healthy
Stay safe
Enjoy and achieve
Make a positive contribution
Economic well being

These five things are the basic outcomes of working with children. To say that in a clearer way, children should learn how to keep physically and mentally healthy, to understand how to avoid dangerous circumstances, to have the ability to enjoy life and achieve their potential, to be able to put something back into society by being a responsible citizen and attaining and retaining enough money to live comfortably. This is a tall order. There are many issues about the list that could be discussed, but for now I am just accepting that they have to be taken into consideration when I study Children's mobile libraries.

The green paper says that the government was spurred into action by the Victoria Climbie investigation, but I suspect that they had similar plans in mind before that happened. I would hate to think that laws are passed as knee jerk reactions to current events, and not a swell considered and thoroughly thought through ideas. There already was a lack of communication between services although it is never certain that even if the police, social services, health service and the school did communicate that Victoria's guardians would still manage to deceive them all. However, the green paper calls for child specialist multi-disciplinary teams to be based at children's centres and put "Children ant the heart of policies". There should be one person heading those teams with the authority to make decisions that will change children's lives.

The government also hope to make children's work well paid and high status with a well paid, flexible workforce. High Calibre people should be attracted into the children's workforce. There should be better, joint training about children and the pooling of budgets. Services to children will enter the realm of commissioning, by the children's commissioner at the head of local children's trusts. Well, this has come about, the children's trusts, and children's commissioners with the green paper becoming law in the 2004 children's act. Local government offices have shuffled around to accommodate the changes but one element is lacking in the act. No mention is made of the contribution of libraries, museums and archives to development of children. The cultural sector has been forgotten.

This has not passed by the Arts council, and Museum and Archives Council. Their report "Creating Better Outcomes for children and Young people by improving the commissioning of Cultural Services" looks at the problem that cultural services find to be part of the children's services commissioning system. The report is based on a study and set of workshops involving children's commissioners or their representatives. Generally they don't think of looking at the cultural services for provision although all of them knew how rich a vein of education and experience can be obtained in a museum, art gallery or library. IT was felt that Cultural services straddle all the definitions of providers, public, private or "Third Sector", and because they are not included or defined in any of those categories they slip through the net. Another difficulty is local authorities put cultural services in different departments, some in education , some in regeneration, there is not a defined place where they should be. The onus is then on the cultural services them selves to tell children's commissioners what they can provide to achieve the five principles of Every Child Matters.

Commissioners are looking for efficiency and effectiveness. They want value for money.The cultural sector has to collect evidence of their impact on the outcomes of the children's plan and share it. Cultural activities are best placed to focus on enjoyment, prevention and early intervention, especially libraries and literacy. There are already partnerships between libraries, sure start and children's centres. The report says organisations need "The ability to demonstrate better out comes and evidence of making a difference is the top priority for organisations wanting to be involved in providing services for children and young people." What is the relevance of this to children's mobile libraries? Commissioners are looking for people who work with children to be CRB checked, trained and skilled at working with children and vulnerable children. Can the library service grantee that they employ people with those skills and provide the training? Can the library service prove that they are delivering value for money to be effective and efficient? This is a good reason for the research.