Edinburgh Council's guardianship of vulnerable children is a disgrace that should make councillors question why they're in the job – Susan Dalgety
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Less than a year after a damning report revealed that children living in the city’s secure care accommodation had been assaulted by staff, government school inspectors have heavily criticised the council for failing to provide adequate education for the young people in their care. Education Scotland said the teaching on offer at the Howdenhall children’s home was weak and unsatisfactory, and criticised the council for failing to provide full-time education – the majority of children are offered less than half a normal school week.
A shocking state of affairs if there were scores of vulnerable youngsters requiring schooling, but as a hapless education official confessed last week, there are “less than four” students in the secure unit. And the home only has beds for six youngsters.
Lorna French, the acting head of the city’s schools and lifelong learning department, told the education committee that, “the whole improvement journey for Howdenhall is predicated on who is actually attending it and the numbers just aren’t there”. And she revealed that teachers had been deployed “to other duties because the population was so small”.
But surely it doesn’t matter if there is only one child living at Howdenhall, they should be getting the best education the city council can provide. After all, It has the power to transform their lives.
These children, often victims of gross abuse, have already had their chances of a good life reduced through no fault of their own, and now they find themselves in the care of a careless council – their corporate parent. The Scottish Government defines a good corporate parent as an organisation that will want “the best outcomes for their looked-after children, accept responsibility for them, and make their needs a priority”. On that definition alone, Edinburgh City Council is a bad parent.
Officials and councillors may point to their improvement plan for Howdenhall, with its 123 milestones, as proof of its commitment to the vulnerable children in their care, but the school inspector’s report tells another story. It shows that senior “leaders” in the council received a report last May which identified concerns about the education on offer at the secure care home. “As yet these areas requiring attention have not been addressed,” the report reveals.
At the education meeting last week, councillors agreed to visit Howdenhall at the end of this month. When they return to their desks, I hope they will reflect on their responsibility to the children they have just met. It is their duty to provide them with the best possible care, and that includes the finest education our city can offer – one-to-one, full-time tuition if that is what it takes to turn these kids’ lives around.
Being a parent is a tough job. Being a corporate parent to vulnerable, damaged children is even harder, but that is the job for which senior education officials are handsomely paid, and the role councillors took on when they were elected. If they cannot fulfil their most important duty – taking proper care of the city’s most damaged children – then they really should ask themselves why they are in the job.