Overcoming life’s hurdles…

I have been reflecting on improvement in children’s services after reading previous ADCS blogs from Pinaki Ghoshal and Stuart Gallimore about the development of Regional Improvement Alliances, as well as hearing from colleagues about how sector-led improvement work is developing around the country. It struck me that the South West region’s journey to self-improvement can sometimes feel a bit like a hurdle race – lots of barriers to overcome just in order to keep up with the pack, let alone truly shine!

Here in the South West we sometimes (literally) feel a long way from the centre of things and even when you have crossed the (soft) border into our region, you may have another 200 miles to go to reach the furthest (mainland) authority. Any attempts to develop and sustain regional working in this part of the country (and I know we are not entirely unique in this respect) will always have to find a way to ensure geography doesn’t become a barrier. With sector-led improvement I believe we have the chance to overcome that barrier through harnessing the enthusiasm and commitment of colleagues across the patch who are passionate about improving what we do for children and young people and who believe, as I do, that every authority has elements of good practice to share, and that the sharing can be a positive and two-way benefit.

Levels of engagement in sector-led improvement across the region have recently been at an all-time high with a fantastic regional summit focussed on sharing good practice and exploring effective leadership strategies to sustain service improvement in November, the director self-assessment and peer challenge processes completed in December, as well as strengthening links with chief executives and lead members. We have also made significant developments in our regional benchmarking data – we’ve shamelessly built on the learning from initiatives that other regions have adopted and so we no longer see ourselves as lagging significantly behind the pace.

But only the best is good enough for our children and young people! Our next barrier is having no local authority with Ofsted ratings of ‘good’ across the board, and so no local authorities eligible to be designated as Partners in Practice (PiPs). Given the DfE’s strong focus on PiPs as a key component in the improvement agenda (with a new wave of PiPs announced this week), coupled with our peninsula geography making distance a challenge for any external PiPs, we risk being further marginalised from the pack. But hurdles are there to be overcome and never daunted we still seek to show the world there is another way!

It isn’t rocket science, but we are increasingly recognising that the route to a successful South West strategic plan for improvement will take a bespoke approach for our circumstances. One that is both strengths-based – making best use of our existing talents and at the same time being really clear about the contributions that we need from other agencies and developing partnerships with PiPs from other regions who can bring great added value in the areas where we most need support.

Nothing less than a podium finish will do!


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