DfE outlines plans to spread innovation programme learning

By Joe Lepper

| 19 April 2017

The Department for Education is set to encourage councils across the country to adopt the best projects to emerge from its £300m innovation programme, a senior civil servant has said.

DfE civil servant Graham Archer said themed reports will be published over the coming months to spread best practice from the social care innovation programme. Picture: UK Parliament

Appearing before members of the education select committee today, Graham Archer, the DfE's director of improvement and learning for children's social care, said six themed reports will be produced for all councils to learn from once all evaluations from the first wave of 53 projects have been collected this summer.

Issues covered will include social work practice and support for teenagers making the transition into adulthood.

Initially announced by children's minister Edward Timpson in October 2013, £100m was set aside for projects in the first two years of the innovation programme. It is worth a further £200m for the four-year period 2016 to 2020.

However, last month Association of Directors of Children's Services president Alison Michalska raised concerns that the programme was being hindered as information about what works is not being shared effectively.

She told CYP Now that councils are still in the dark about the most effective programmes to invest in.

Speaking at an education committee inquiry into fostering, Archer said: "In the summer we expect to see six themed reports alongside the individual project reports that will pick up aspects of the programme.

"We will have one around reframed social work practice and one around how adolescents and the transition to adulthood has been influenced by the progamme.

"We will use those as the basis for both face-to-face networking and for products which will help local authorities to implement and learn from."

In January 2016 then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced plans to set up a "What Works Centre" for children's social care to take the lead on ensuring information from the programme is shared.

It was announced that the centre would be launched late last year but Archer confirmed that the government is yet to set it up.

In total there are 59 Innovation Programme projects under way, with a further 11 set to launch, Archer said. 

Education committee chairman Neil Carmicheal asked: "That's quite a large number. Is it too complex for local authorities to navigate around the best examples?"

Jonny Woodthorpe, commissioning co-ordinator for Bournemouth Borough Council, who was also giving evidence, said: "The learning we take has been very useful in forming our vision and thinking about what works well, [but] what I've read to date doesn't go into the minutiae of detail.

"For example, if I wanted to take a project and replicate it in our region some of the detail required to do that isn't necessarily readily available to do that.

"What it does give you is that high-level vision of what works well and embed that in practice. It gives the ideas rather than the practical tools."

Archer said he hopes that this summer's information sharing drive will help councils to be in a better position to adopt successful initiatives.

"It was right to have a broad range of projects and there is a challenge for us as we get evidence from the projects and disseminate that learning to distill what are the really powerful lessons and create themes from them that local authorities can easily access," he said.

"Clearly we need to frame that in a way that is easily and attractively accessed so that people do get the learning and don't feel overwhelmed," he told MPs.

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