If sector-led improvement (SLI) had a slogan then surely Better Than Today would be it. In fact, improbable as it might sound, Kylie's song titles could provide quite a few chapter headings in the SLI handbook. Come Into My World, Confide In Me…the list goes on and on.
But my favourite has to be Better the Devil You Know because, let's face it, this is what SLI should be all about. This is not about Ofsted. This is all about us, as directors of children's services (DCSs), taking collective responsibility for the performance of the sector as a whole.
In the South East we're embracing this through the development of a new triad model which involves three DCSs in each of our peer challenges.
We've refreshed the self-assessment process, and once that has been completed, the area for challenge is now selected through a dialogue between the host DCS, the DCS leading the challenge team and a DCS who has agreed to act as an observer.
We really want to ensure that the area for the challenge is the one that would most benefit from an in-depth external perspective and are exploring if an observer, using active questioning and reflection can ensure that the right area for challenge is selected and well framed.
Because, Hand On Your Heart (see what I did there) do you really think there hasn't been a DCS or two who steered a peer review team away from the really difficult stuff? If SLI is going to have the sort of impact we would like to see and be credible then we need to focus more sharply on areas where performance is below that of similar authorities or where performance has not shifted over time despite there being several interventions in place to improve outcomes.
Back to our new model. The peer challenge team then carry out a two day visit which focuses both on developing insights which will help drive operational improvement and how leadership and management might change to better support service delivery with improved outcomes. The role of the DCS acting as the observer is once again to ask questions, but this time of the challenge team, to ensure that the emerging insights are triangulated and evidence based.
It's not long since I took on the role of observer and found it surprisingly powerful with lots of potential for development. Over the coming months we'll be continuing to explore this model in our region and no doubt making further changes. We all know there's a lot more to do if we are going to make SLI more effective and there is some really interesting work taking place nationally. But whatever the future model of SLI, one thing is for sure, it will require the active support of all DCSs if we really are going to make tomorrow Better Than Today.
Michael Bracey is corporate director - people, Milton Keynes Council. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website