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Getting behind SLI

As in all other regions the North East ADCS group has been investing considerable time developing a regional sector-led improvement (SLI) approach that we hope will have a real impact in the region. Having made the mistake of missing a meeting I found myself ‘volunteered’ to take a lead on SLI within the region. After thanking my colleagues for this wonderful development opportunity I started to think about the impact of place and context on improvement journeys. There is a great deal of commonality in the emerging Regional Improvement Alliances (RIAs) nationally and whilst it is good that the building blocks have standardisation, everyone is starting from a different position due to their history and regional context, so our journeys will not be the same.

So what will be the ‘X Factor’ that makes a difference this time from the range of previous attempts to embed SLI? For me it is all about culture and looking at the system as whole, children’s services do not operate in isolation and can’t thrive in a vacuum. The corporate and political context, partnerships, demographics and the geography of a place and region will all significantly influence any change or improvement journey. Understanding that is critical to brokering the right support and for it to be effective.

As a relative newcomer to the North East I have been struck by its exceptionally strong sense of place and identity. This context should provide a sense of place in which a regional SLI approach should thrive but historically that has not been the case. So what do we need to do beyond the mechanics of an SLI model? For SLI to work we need strong relationships, an open culture, an understanding of each other’s challenges and a willingness to share our best practice (and people!) to help not only those who may be at risk, but for all (LAs) to move to the next step of their journey. Ultimately, we must see improving outcomes for all children and young people in the region as a shared enterprise that both ourselves as systems leaders and our organisations are committed to.

In that context I was delighted that the ‘Tyneside Alliance’, a partnership between North Tyneside and South Tyneside, recently became the region’s first Partner in Practice (PiP). I understand why there are opposing views in the sector about the PiP programme but for me this is not only an opportunity to share good practice from within the two LAs, it must be integral to the RIA. PiPs are not and never will be the ‘saviours’ but they do provide another tool that can be used when co-ordinating support and we need to use this opportunity, and resourcing, to have a positive impact both regionally and nationally.

It is important to recognise that all 12 LAs in the North East have areas of good practice and strong professionals so we can maximise the huge potential of the region. One of our initial aims as part of the PiP is to establish a framework of ‘improvement associates’, drawn from professionals across the region. This would be based on the National, Local and Specialist Leader of Education models within the education sector and support the sharing of learning across the region. I hope this will help lever in capacity to drive improvement from all areas of the region as well as provide development opportunities and learning for individuals to take back to their LAs. Our PiP should belong to the region and not our individual LAs and in that way we will have the biggest impact.

If SLI is to work this time it will be because of our collective commitment to making it work.

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