New term, new ministers, same priorities

I had the good fortune to go to the cricket last week at the Oval to watch England’s run chase (stay with me…) where I heard the sounds of a lone trumpeter sounding out Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on Prayer’. Not being a fan of the poodle haired LA soft rockers I turned to my friend for guidance who assured me that the second line is ‘oh yeah, we’re half way there…’ and indeed we were in terms of the run chase and, as I subsequently reflected, we are in terms of my presidency of ADCS. So I thought that I would use this blog to give a bit of a halfway update on this year’s activity.

Firstly, it’s been a bit of a tumultuous year for all sorts of reasons that I don’t need to spell out but suffice to say that I have now met with the fourth Secretary of State for Education to have graced the role during my tenure. In fairness, they’d be quite within their rights to treat me with caution given this attrition rate – I feel like I must have walked under several ladders - but all have been welcoming and keen to work with ADCS. It is a crucial part of the role to explain to ministers exactly what we do and how we can help delivery of policy on the ground and if we can help shape it.

In particular, it has been extremely positive to see that government has again indicated its intentions to follow through on the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. Over the summer a good number of us have engaged with officials on some of the ideas contained within the review and the National Implementation Board now looks likely to step up in the autumn to look at how to implement the proposals in the Review. Obviously, I’ll be doing everything to bring our members’ expertise to bear any new proposals as they emerge; our USP is our organisational and system leadership expertise and we will want to help set things up so that they are effective for future delivery.

In other areas of policy, the proposed Schools Bill takes us only so far with regards to the proposals in the White Paper. There is much here that is still to be worked out and our focus remains on the things that we particularly welcomed in our initial responses to the Bill; specifically, the requirements for co-operation by all actors within the education system, transparency and accountability, the pursuit of high educational standards, and the ability for local authorities to set up multi-academy trusts. All still remain on the table, so far as I am aware, but all are very much part of the next phase that we hope to see with new political leadership in place. Similarly, you haven’t missed a lot with regards to the SEND and AP Green Paper as officials have been gathering parental and other consultees’ views over the summer with a view to moving things on in the autumn. Again, ADCS will be bringing its influence to bear both through myself and John Pearce, our Vice President, but also through Heather Sandy, the new chair of the Educational Achievement policy committee, replacing the recently retired Gail Tolley, and Nigel Minns who has taken over from Edwina Grant (who has recently retired as a DCS) as the chair of HCAN.

So, those three policy areas feel like they are now set up and waiting on the start line for the new government, but there are areas of continuing pressure that we have been bringing to government’s attention on a regular basis and which are likely to form the main challenges for me in my next six months. Specifically, they are the cost of living crisis and its impact on families and our services, the workforce crisis (and I think we can really call it that now), the placement crisis (ditto) exacerbated by the asylum crisis, and the crisis in children’s mental health and the responses to this. I realise that I have written the word ‘crisis’ several times here but without wishing to catastrophise, unless we can find, alongside central government, some quick tactical solutions to these issues they pose a significant threat to the potential for the care review in particular to deliver the strategic reform that we all want. ADCS has made positive and constructive submissions to government on all of these issues, based on your views and feedback and we hope that we will see at least some of these ideas taken forward.

Finally, in my mid-term report (I won’t ask for marks as I know you’re hard to please…), one of my objectives was to help stabilise the ADCS team after the sad death last year of the esteemed Sarah Caton. I am delighted to be able to report that after a rigorous interview process the ADCS Board have unanimously appointed Esther Kavanagh Dixon as our new Chief Officer. Esther has done a brilliant job so far on an interim basis and will carry on the work of ADCS for many years to come hopefully, long after these ‘here today gone tomorrow’ presidents have departed!

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