Change, challenges, and chances: Reflecting on the ADCS annual conference

John Pearce
Friday, July 22, 2022

Following the recent ADCS conference I thought I’d use this blog to reflect on the strength of ADCS as an organisation and how we can continue to develop and support system improvement.

John Pearce is director of children and young people in Durham. Picture: Durham County Council
John Pearce is director of children and young people in Durham. Picture: Durham County Council

Firstly, it was fantastic to be back in Manchester in person for conference for the first time since 2019 with a capacity attendance and a real buzz around the whole event. Conference was also set against a backdrop of multiple national policy developments and during a week in which the events in Westminster led to some interesting last-minute discussions about the programme.

We are undoubtedly in a period of very significant national policy development, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Every Child Matters (remember that?). Proposed change is overlaid on a very unstable environment created by the pandemic, cost of living crisis, and further financial challenges following years of austerity. In this context, how do we as system leaders establish an environment at a local level that enables our children to flourish? There are some very promising signs with a positive trajectory in Ofsted ILACS outcomes, the growing strength of Regional Improvement and Innovation Alliances, and the increasing recognition of the LA’s key role in the education system.

The highlight of conference for me was the wave of new DCSs, some of whom presented with a passion and substance across a range of subjects which was inspiring to hear. Due to the gap since the last in-person event, there were also a considerable number of colleagues from the wider ADCS membership who were attending for the first time. Listening to the discussions it was clear that, as an association, we are very lucky to have a huge wealth of ideas, expertise, and energy that can be harnessed to make a difference for our children and young people.

We also heard about the extreme challenges DCSs, and their teams, can face during difficult times and the importance of peer support in what can sometimes be a very lonely role. As an association we need to think about learning from experiences, both good and bad, and how we can wrap support around those authorities who may find themselves at the centre of a storm. There is a strong development offer in place for our aspiring and new DCSs but there will be some things even the best programme cannot prepare you for. That’s when the connections and networks we establish through ADCS can be so significant.

At such a critical time for the future of children’s services I would encourage all ADCS members to get actively involved in regional and national networks. I know I have personally benefited hugely from involvement in ADCS and as sector leaders we have a very important voice in shaping the future.

John Pearce is director of children and young people at Durham County Council and vice president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. This blog was first published on the ADCS website.

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