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Determining the nature of sound

It’s four weeks since many local authorities were involved in overseeing local elections and, Milton Keynes being a unitary council with ‘no overall control’, we are getting used to the beginning of a new leadership termed as a ‘Progressive Alliance’. We have been focussing on a new council cabinet, new councillors, and new training sessions; particularly to support those exploring new portfolio responsibilities for the first time, and congratulating those new lead members who are finding out about being (corporate) parents for the first time!

Amid local election time, there is often some loud voices proclaiming, ‘what needs to be done’ and ‘how things must change’. At times, these loud voices overpower the real voices we need to listen to. Those families whose resilience evidences that if their circumstances and experiences were to be understood, it would position us well in being on the front foot in our approach to the months ahead, as opposed to reacting to events as they happen.

Over these last four weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit some of our children’s centres and schools in areas that were particularly challenged by Covid-19. My discussions with those new parents whose babies were born during lockdown, and with teachers and students whose schools have continued to offer so much to their communities, challenged me as to the voices we need to hear. We all recognise the power of a story, but these stories are only going to be heard if the people they belong to are listened to. The loud voice of a few can often drown out the experiences of those we work with, so we need to acknowledge this and consciously work to ensure we’re listening to the right narrative. This is perhaps the only way we can build a Tower of Insight over a Tower of Babel!

As we listen and help shape the steps ahead and move towards the contestable ‘end of lockdown’ date of 21 June, our voice as leaders in children’s services needs to give a strong message over some of the noise currently prevalent in our work. Representing those whose choices do not extend to which foreign holiday to take, but to which of their more immediate daily needs are prioritised, is critical if we are going to deliver the right services to the right people in a timely way.

This support should not be understood in using the language of ‘recovery, catch up, or of missed opportunities’, but to acknowledge the strength and resilience of our children, young people, families and communities who have shown immense strength, resolve and resilience throughout these past 15 months, too often unacknowledged. Whether a tension exists between delivering a summer of play and activities to support children’s socialisation, or whether there is an increase in summer schools to deliver formal learning, it is important we don’t just let the loud voices be heard. In the words of Vera Nazarian “don’t let a loud few determine the nature of sound. It makes for poor harmony and diminishes the song”.

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