Schools a 'crisis' centre for families, Leeds academic warns

Dr Doug Martin, Leeds Beckett University
Dr Doug Martin, Leeds Beckett University
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Schools have become a “crisis” centre for families amid a perfect storm of rising poverty and dwindling services, a Leeds academic has warned, in the wake of reports over the loss of Sure Start centres.

A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, published in recent days, found Sure Start centres brought big benefits for children’s health, but 500 sites have closed as they face major funding cuts. As schools are increasingly relied upon to become a new emergency service for family support, Dr Doug Martin from Leeds Beckett University claims, he calls for an urgent review of what the welfare state can offer.

“The vanishing welfare state has seen the removal of the supportive services that were once valued and cherished, while community networks developed in partnership with schools have all but disappeared,” said Dr Martin, course director at the Carnegie School of Education. “Schools have become the only infrastructure remaining in some of our poorest communities.”

Sure Start report

The IFS report found the flagship Sure Start scheme had seen its fund cut by two-thirds from a current value of £1.8bn in 2010 to £600m in 2017/18.

A Government spokesman said it recognised the important role that children’s centres can play in supporting families, adding that it is down to local councils to decide how it meets local needs, but that it continuously reflects on what works best.

Schools have never been burdened with more complex needs, Dr Martin warns, taking on wider agenda around pupil poverty and challenges in mental health.

“But they are in crisis as they attempt to do the impossible – support families with diminishing budgets while attempting to retain their position within a falsely engineered educational market place,” he adds. “This cannot go on. If we are asking schools to become our new emergency service, they need to be skilled, equipped and resourced for such as role. We need to urgently review our understanding of what the welfare state is and what it can offer if we are avoid a return to the Victorian era.”