12 years with ADCS

By John Freeman

| 26 February 2019

This is my last blog as a member of the ADCS Council of Reference, as I'm standing down as Chair of the ADCS Associates Network at the end of March. I'm retiring from even part-time work and a couple of other appointments, including being the Chair of NCER. ("Finally!", I hear some colleagues say, and "about time too!") I'm retiring in large part for family reasons (three sons in Australia… don't ask …) but more importantly I have come to the view that I'm increasingly grumpy and a ghost at the feast, too frequently tempted to say "We tried that in 200X and it didn't work then, and it wont work now", or sometimes, "Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt'. And of course, I haven't been a serving director of children's services (DCS) since 2009 - a long time ago!

The reality, of course, is that there are now very few people around who have shared the ADCS journey from that first cohort of DCSs back in 2005/6/7 when appointments were a matter of local chance - whether it was an ‘education' person or a ‘social care' person. Certainly, there is no-one now serving on the ADCS Council of Reference who was there in the very early days of the Association. So, I'm indulging myself with some reflections on the path that leads up to 2019, with Stuart Gallimore soon to hand over the Presidency to Rachel Dickinson.

Back in 2005, following the passage of the Children Act 2004 and the introduction of the requirement for local authorities to appoint a DCS, there was a flurry of local authority restructuring and associated appointments - I was appointed in July 2005, having been Director for Education and Lifelong Learning. It was obvious to us all that we needed to reconfigure the national associations, Confed, SCEO and ADSS, but it was by no means obvious how that should be achieved. Confed and ADSS were markedly different organisations, with different histories, structures and ways of working, and we spent several months discussing the problems without coming close to a consensus way forward. (Does that remind you of anything?) During the summer of 2006 progress was made, though, when both ‘sides' appointed a small group of colleagues to reach an agreement on behalf of their parent organisations. I was part of that group as Confed Vice President and then, for a matter of a couple of months, President.

In the midst of everyone's wildly different points of view, it struck me forcibly that what was needed was someone nerdy to draft a constitution and to mould it into a shape that was acceptable round the table. I volunteered to have a go, and while I was the author of the first constitution, I was very much the ‘hand that held the pen', working to find acceptable compromises.

The whole thing crystallised in the late summer of 2006 at a summit meeting at the Hinckley Services on the M69, leading to the now-all-but-forgotten ‘Hinckley Accord' that opened the way to the new organisations, ADCS and ADASS. The final piece of the jigsaw was that John Coughlan and I, who both might have been President of the new ADCS, decided that the common good dictated that we should together become Joint Presidents for the first year (actually, 15 months from 1 January 2007), with elections for single Presidents from year two. Looking back, I remain genuinely proud to have been part of the process that led to that first Constitution, which has proved robust and resilient, so that almost all the features we introduced then remain in place in 2019.

Having launched the new ADCS in January 2007, we were all then able to go back to the day job of improving outcomes for children, both in our local authorities and nationally. Looking back, again, there were many issues on which we debated long and hard with Department for Children, Schools and Families (now DfE) officials and Ed Balls, but on the whole it was a time of real dynamism and optimism, and of shared purpose. While much has changed, and structural tensions abound, alongside austerity across the public sector, ‘Every Child Matters' and the notion of joined-up services still have enormous resonance. ADCS as an organisation, and ADCS members individually, have held the faith and provided outstanding professional leadership and advocacy for children, and, notwithstanding the huge financial pressures, local authorities have been well-led in making some of the most difficult policy and practice decisions there could be.

Over the years, I have been repeatedly struck by the changes in the detail of the debates within ADCS while the fundamentals have remained unchanged - "How do we do the best for our children?".

I'm proud to have been part of ADCS from the very start, and offer my thanks to all past and present members, office holders, and staff who have made ADCS what it is. Thanks to you all, and best wishes for the future, especially to Rachel Dickinson!

John Freeman is chair of ADCS Associates Network. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website

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