I imagine we all approached the new year in a slightly different way. Some of us will be renewed with the optimism a new year brings, whilst others will have a sense of impending doom when considering the extent of savings that have to be made in the year to come. Others will be focusing on looking back on the things that were achieved in one of the most difficult financial environments many of us have faced. Whatever our individual positions it feels that as a sector there are some aspects we can approach with renewed optimism. For example, Ofsted's Annual Report 2017 highlights that more authorities are on the up compared to the year before, with more recent inspection reports showing further authorities significantly improving their children's services.
By the time you read this we will have held the annual ADCS policy seminar where we spent a considerable amount of time focusing on sector-led improvement (SLI) and Regional Improvement Alliances (RIAs). SLI is what it says on the tin - local authorities taking responsibility not only for their own performance but for the performance of the sector as a whole. This is why ADCS is working with the LGA and Solace on developing RIAs - a model of improvement that aims to catch local authorities before they fall and puts the sector in a central role in the improvement journey of children's services. The DfE has also been involved in these discussions. The development of Partners in Practice (PiP) further strengthens the view that the skills, knowledge and expertise for support and improvement lies within the sector. Thinking back to a couple of years ago this would have been unthinkable, with some holding the view that the experts were outside the system not within it often at significant cost and limited benefit to the local authority involved.
Although a regional approach cannot and will not guarantee authorities don't go into intervention, a more open regional approach that presupposes all authorities will be open with their peers about the challenges they face, the help they need or the support they can provide can only be a good thing and reduces the likelihood of intervention. Put this alongside a more grown up and proportionate inspection regime and there is cause for optimism that we are moving in the right direction. It is now up to all of us and all our authorities to play our part and get on with it.
Continuing on the theme of sector-led improvement, in my own region, we have seen West Berkshire move from an "inadequate" to "good" rating from Ofsted with a clear plan predicated on support from the sector. And Hampshire County Council, with its PiP hat on, is doing some amazing work whilst always positioning that work within the wider South East sector-led offer where all authorities in the region are making a contribution to improve outcomes in other authorities. This is the picture across the country as local authorities are working together to improve outcomes for children and their families. Improvement can never be the prerogative of the few but must involve harnessing the expertise of the many. Even in authorities that are perceived to be struggling there are always pockets of best practice that even the best can learn from. ADCS is absolutely clear that every local authority, irrespective of their most recent inspection outcome, has something to share and everyone has something to learn.
Stuart Gallimore is ADCS vice-president and DCS in East Sussex. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website