Anyone fancy burnt oven chips?


If this pandemic has done one thing, it has allowed us the opportunity to reflect and examine our relationships, collaborations and partnerships in both our personal and professional lives.

The question is, have we seized the moment, or have we simply been driven by the next data request, survey or research, grateful to come out of ‘lockdown’ unscathed or with limited damage?

Out of necessity, having spent three weeks on my own for the first time in 17 years and with a talent for being able to burn oven chips, I have been reacquainted with my culinary skills and learned there are five essential ingredients to a healthy relationship both in my personal and professional life:

  • A regard for our own wellbeing and happiness
  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Openness
  • Passion

The whole sector, including schools and children’s services, has had to adapt and respond to the spread of the coronavirus in a way that leadership gurus Heifetz and Linsky would be proud of. There has been a great deal of learning, as reflected in the staff college’s Covid-19-learning and predictions series, and opportunities to re-evaluate what is important. Who would have thought that four months ago a HMI would be ‘trusted’ to work as part of a local authority frontline team, chairing a child’s review/conference or assisting in the planning/mapping of schools and early years settings recovery - but they have and their contribution has been valued and appreciated.

Weekly local REACT meetings with Ofsted regional directors, Regional School Commissioners and Department for Education officials have been a new challenge. Thankfully, we have been ably supported by trusted colleagues and have been able to successfully implement Bruce Tuckman’s team development model: ‘form, storm, norm and have the opportunity to perform’ in a way not previously envisaged; collaborating sub-regionally in respect of school attendance and inclusion.

Within the context of our Regional Improvement and Innovation Alliance (RIIA) priorities, we have taken the opportunity for greater and more ingenuitive means of collaboration on areas we are passionate about such as children’s learning, safety and welfare; it seems we just needed the presenting conditions and ‘permission’ to do so. Turning to the national context it seems that since the Social Policy Association published its 2018 article on the impact of austerity on children, the financial situation has not improved. Arguably it has worsened, with local authorities reporting significant financial deficits as we head into Brexit and a Comprehensive Spending Review that will need to respond to the ‘cost of Covid’. The prospect of more councils making s114 declarations is increasingly inevitable and therefore innovation and initiative led funding in themselves will not provide the required solution. There needs to be a structural financial solution for schools and children’s services, one that recognises and addresses disadvantage and inequality.

If we are truly passionate about the future of our children and young people, then we have an opportunity to build on our collective learning and develop a partnership between government departments, national bodies and local authorities to collaborate on a policy framework that brings with it the structural resources, vision and ambition. One that builds a safe, healthy, happy and successful future for all our children; underpinned by a healthy relationship. Or, we can simply conclude Bruce Tuckman’s cycle; mourn and have burnt oven chips!

Paul Marshall is strategic director for children and education at Manchester City Council. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website

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