At a recent regional meeting of the South East ADCS group we were joined by a couple of Department for Education officials who will be providing regional support in the future. I was struck by how frequently the phrase "in the space" was used by both of them. Since then, I seem to be hearing it being used more and more, as if, after buying a red Ford Escort (yes I'm that old!) one constantly sees other people driving red Escorts.
Over the last couple of weeks at different events and discussions with ADCS colleagues, Ofsted and the DfE, I've been confronted by just how busy our space is. DCSs are very familiar with juggling, but it feels more and more as if our space is contracting as flexibilities are reduced, while at the same time also being made more complex by others entering the space that we are used to inhabiting. The range of organisations that are interacting with us in our space increases: the LGA, Ofsted and DfE are all of course familiar partners. More recently they have been joined by an increased presence from our neighbouring councils as part of more robust sector led improvement arrangements, Partners in Practice, trusts and commissioners in some areas, regional school commissioners, multi-academy trusts and ever more complex NHS configurations.
Added to this there are the range of organisations jostling within the school improvement space and others offering magic bullets that purport to help keep children safe. This is at a time of shrinking budgets, increased demands, an unfriendly press and a dramatic representation of a social worker with a hip flask close at hand. Every day I probably delete at least 20 emails from organisations who contact me out of the blue offering some kind of help. I do not have the capacity to read these emails and the help they offer is generally at a price that is not affordable.
Despite all of this complexity, hundreds of balls up in the air at any one time and the wicked issues we have to tackle, we do on the whole deliver our statutory roles well and we do on the whole get things right. Generally things are getting better for children and young people. This is in part, I think, because we are the unique glue that binds things together locally - champions for children, keeping them happy healthy and safe. I'm proud of the work that teams in my area do to make a positive difference for children. I do wonder, however, if we might be even more effective if we were liberated from constantly manoeuvring around an ever-crowded dancefloor in order to have more space to work in partnership with each other, supporting and challenging, but not shouting.
I'll soon be entering my fifth year as the DCS in Brighton and Hove. I still feel that there is a lot to learn and a lot to do. I'm lucky to be working with great colleagues locally and if I'm not sure about something I know that there are lots of people I can pick up the phone to talk to - DCS colleagues and partners. I'm also lucky to have had the time to understand the city I work in and the complex partnerships locally. There are of course no quick fixes, but by sticking with things, holding one's nerve and remembering why we are here we can make a positive change for children and young people. It's a great space to be in.
Pinaki Ghoshal is DCS in Brighton & Hove. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website