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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

Improvement work

First a comment about blog changes … having blogged almost single-handedly since April 2014, we’ve decided to broaden out the number of contributors in an attempt to keep it fresh and appealing, so that we can capture more perspectives.

The blog has built quite a reasonable readership and has been a useful form of communicating current issues.

If you are one of our regular readers, you will have already noticed the new bloggers, and I hope you have enjoyed the diversity of views so far. Let us know what you think!

Each of our policy committee chairs, regional chairs and board members, will write posts and contributions from others will increase as the year unfolds. So watch this space.

This week it’s my turn and I wanted to share my current thoughts on improvement work.

Looking back on previous governments, there were many different arrangements driven from central government to both lead and support the improvement of our areas of work.

If you, like me, were around at that time, you will remember the ‘field forces’ (2007) – which eventually led to the need for a protocol to stop children’s services becoming deluged with national advisers and specialists.

Although this era saw valuable capacity to bring about improvement, and often worked well, it sometimes felt that improvements were being made to you rather than with you.

Later following a change of government improvement capacity was channelled through the Children’s Improvement Board, which captured some of the best thinking from the previous arrangements. For a time, it aimed to orchestrate a broad approach to improvements, as well as supporting the targeting of capacity towards those in greatest need. But in truth this arrangement did not last and national funding was withdrawn in 2013.

Nevertheless, there are a couple of important legacies from that time. The first is the work still taking place under the Local Government Association where peer reviews form a central part of the improvement offer. The second is the work that is being carried out in ADCS regions under the sector led improvement heading. This usually involves the analysis of performance at regional level, peer reviews and performance, challenge arrangements and in most cases there is a work programme of improvement drawing upon resources from across the region. This is an important vehicle for challenge as well as for sharing best practice and innovation at a local level.

But what capacity do we now have across the system? And what do we need?

ADCS are undertaking some work to understand and codify what is taking place in the regions. And we are having some conversations with partners about what a joined up approach, to improve what goes on in different parts of the system, might look like.

The importance of this was brought home to me on two occasions in the last fortnight.

First, in the conversations we are having with the Department for Education about the Public Accounts Committee’sconsideration of support for care leavers. The Committee questioned how support for implementing improvements happens across central and local government and in reality it’s not clear how this happens at present.

The second occasion was during a conversation with Tony Hunter and his senior team at the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). SCIE plays an important part in the gathering and dissemination of best practice, but don’t have an established improvement role in the children’s sector.

ADCS too has a part to play. We do actively support sharing of best practice as well as enabling local improvement collaboration through our regions. However, this is not coordinated nationally and we are not an improvement agency either.

This made me realise that we don’t always have a clear understanding of how sector improvement is being supported across the piste. We clearly don’t have a single improvement agency for the children’s sector, but have we got a coherent improvement system where there is a coherent offer from the various players either?

The innovation programme is intended to, and will, contribute to developing innovative practice and disseminating that. But does it lead improvement on particular themes across the system? Is that part of the future intention?

So all in all, I think it’s time we all took two steps back to consider how we want to ensure that there is a clear set of arrangements in place to help to drive improvement. We need to be much clearer about what we can do to achieve the best possible outcomes in the most effective and efficient way.

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