The year that was

Well, that was the year that was, to paraphrase a famous satirical TV programme. And there has been the odd moment during the year when I’ve wondered whether I was a bit part player in an Armando Iannucci comedy. The political comings and goings at the time of the ADCS Annual Conference last year being one such moment.

Thankfully, things are a bit more settled now and I can take a moment to reflect on what has been a rollercoaster of a year. We’ve had three major policy initiatives that ADCS has had to constructively engage with and help to shape: the Schools White Paper, the Special Educational Needs and AP Green Paper (and the government response), and the independent review of children’s social care (and the government response). We also published phase 8 of ADCS Safeguarding Pressures research alongside a special thematic report on children’s mental health, both of which provide an invaluable contribution to the evidence base. More recently, you’ll have seen my comments on the Illegal Migration Bill. Responding to these policy changes has taken a real concerted effort from ADCS policy committee chairs, council of reference, the ADCS staff team and indeed all ADCS members who have taken part in discussions that have helped us to shape our engagement. In carrying out that engagement across government departments and with various non-governmental organisations, I’ve been continuously struck by the number of talented and dedicated people that I have met who simply want to do the right thing for children – that has been a real privilege.

For my own part, I must thank the members in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and my own teams who have tolerated and supported me in equal measure, in spending so much time and effort on ADCS work. They have done so because they ‘get it’ in understanding how important these issues are for the future of local government, schools and the children that grow up in our communities.

There are frustrations of course. Arguably, no work on long term policy such as the above is ever ‘done’. We’ve made progress in some areas but there is more to do and in particular the lack of progress on improving services for children experiencing mental health difficulties should shame us as a nation.

Perhaps the single priority that I have been able to take forward that will, in the long term, continue to make the biggest difference has been a bit more behind the scenes. This time last year things were very unsettled and many of us were still reeling from the passing of Sarah Caton, the Chief Officer of ADCS. In the last year we’ve managed to ensure that we now have permanent succession arrangements in place with the redoubtable Esther Kavanagh Dixon taking up the reigns and putting in place a range of sensible permanent arrangements that secure the future of ADCS as an organisation. It’s not glamorous but it was really necessary and it means that the future is in safe hands because I can assure you, from my own experience, that the work that the ADCS team do behind the scenes is of the highest quality and ensures that we continue to exercise influence at the highest level. I know a bit about good teams and this team is top notch; I owe them a big thank you for wrapping around me as President in the last year.

Talking of which, it’s nearly time for me to hand over to my successor, the brilliant John Pearce from Durham (via Liverpool). John will be an excellent President and I know that everyone will get behind him. Before I go I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has supported me, challenged me, caused me to think differently or just bought me a coffee over the past year. It’s been a wonderful, exciting, thought provoking, frustrating, exhausting and satisfying rollercoaster of a year. That’s part of the reason why I’ve decided to move on from current day job and retire, nothing will really match the last year – although I hope that I can still play a part in some way.

I started the year with a quote from one of my favourite authors, F Scott Fitzgerald and I am going to finish it with a couple of quotes from a more quintessentially English author, EM Forster, who said ‘life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur but not punctually’, or more concisely ‘I suppose that I shall have to live now’.

And with that, it’s farewell from me and over to you John.

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