RIAs, RAAs, PiPs, NAO, NCER, CHAT, SPLAT
OK I made up at least one of those acronyms. But the theme that I want to talk about in this blog is co-operation which is inherent in all of the acronyms that I haven't made up.
As directors of children's services there is a temptation to look at our neighbours as, in some ways, competitors. We tend to want to achieve better Ofsted results, better adoption recruitment rates, better educational outcomes etc for the children, young people and families in our local areas. I suppose to some degree that is healthy and means that we strive to be "the best", or at least the best that we can be. But the prolonged period of public sector austerity, increased demand for our services, a 49 per cent reduction in local authority budgets since 2010 and new models of inspection mean that we probably need to rethink this - even for the hopelessly competitive amongst us (ahem).
In the South East region we've been trying to think through what this might look like, through the RIA. As the DCS for Hampshire and one of the Department for Education's Partners in Practice (PiP) there is an expectation that we will support other local authorities. But at the moment we have based that offer on what (we think) we are good at rather than what other authorities in the region may necessarily need. That's because this year is the first time in which we've had an annual conversation with Ofsted and the first time (at least for a while) that we've had a regional DfE improvement adviser acting as a link between the region and the department. So, we've now agreed to share our self-assessments and the outcomes of our annual conversations between authorities so that we can better identify our collective needs. We've also got a regional data set (our regional lead is leading on the work to develop a national, real time data set for local authorities - and that work accounts for most of the acronyms above). It seems pretty unlikely to me that one local authority alone - yes, even Hampshire - will be able to meet the likely diversity of needs. So, the question will be how do we bring in the right support from across the region and vouch for the quality of that support? What happens if an authority is spiralling quickly? What should be the role of DfE and Ofsted in the ongoing discussions?
We don't have all the answers at the moment but like all other regions we've committed to having a really good crack at it this year to try to work it out together. I for one am pleased that we have an opportunity to take sensible steps forward, work out our responses, trial and modify what we are doing and learn from how others are doing in this first year - whilst being cognisant that we must deliver improvement for the children that we all work with. This feels so much more sensible than an imposed top down solution but relies on our ability to trust each other, to try new things, honestly evaluate their success or not, to communicate what has worked effectively and yes, co-operate. On the one hand it sounds tricky but on the other we won't have a better opportunity to shape how to improve services for children. And if it's not us then who?
Steve Crocker, DCS Hampshire County Council and Isle of Wight Council. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website