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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

Walk a mile in my shoes...

I am a bit of a closet Elvis fan and the lockdown has led me to explore the backwaters of my record collection which, in turn, led me to the king’s song ‘Walk A Mile in My Shoes’ (Live in Las Vegas 1970 if you’re interested - and I know you are). Which got me thinking…

This lockdown and the responses that we are having to make requires quite a lot of walking in other people’s shoes. Firstly, let’s spare a thought for ADCS President Jenny Coles, Vice President Charlotte Ramsden and the ADCS team whose leadership and support has been stupendous throughout. As Chair of the Standards, Performance and Inspection (SPI) Policy Committee I get drawn into some of the meetings with national bodies but Jenny, Charlotte and the other policy committee Chairs are having to shoulder the majority of the burden, ensuring that we are getting our views across and that we are making a difference time and time again. During that time we have had no less than 185 pieces of guidance (at the time of writing) relating to our role as a Director of Children’s Services (DCS). I am struggling to think of who has benefited from those 185 pieces of guidance, but it’s not me.

The SPI committee has been wrestling with two particular issues over the last couple of months; the data requirements being asked of local authority children’s services by the Department for Education (DfE), and the thorny issue of what local authority and education inspection might look like in the medium term as we move out of lockdown and into some form of ‘recovery’. Firstly, it is worth reiterating that neither of these things are ultimately our decision, but for both issues, the committee’s role has been to try to help the DfE and Ofsted ‘walk a mile in our shoes’.

With regards to the data return it was really helpful to get a wide cross section of views from directors of children’s services (DCS). That helped us to engage with the DfE constructively and to help construct a data set that was significantly different from the first draft. I’m very aware that there was little enthusiasm for a data return given the current pressures on DCSs and our services. That said, it’s worth reflecting also the importance of having ministers and senior officials who take a keen interest in the children’s social care sector, so when those people show that keen interest and want to know how the system is working in a time of crisis, it is to our benefit to find sensible ways to demonstrate this (we’ve got to walk a mile in their… ok you get the picture). I’ve no doubt that as time goes on, we are going to have to find more sophisticated ways to express to government the complexity, challenges and on occasions the tragic circumstances, that have been exacerbated by lockdown. We’re going to need to be able to highlight the increasing volume and costs of the work that we are now beginning to see come through the system.

Moving on to inspection. The committee has engaged with Ofsted and we have been pleased that a pragmatic approach has been taken to suspending current inspections in schools and local authorities (although some inspection remains in regulated services, and of youth offending teams via HMIP). Given that inspection it seems, like death and taxes, will always be with us (whether it should be or not is another debate of course …), the challenge now will be about the recommencement of inspection activity in due course; when, how and what it will look like are part of the discussion that ADCS will be having with Ofsted at today’s SPI committee meeting.

As ever, we’ll be trying to help Ofsted ‘walk a mile in our shoes’ in order to try to influence and shape the future.

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