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What's on the horizon

Happy New Year to all and hope you had a good holiday period. Let’s hope this year brings a resolution to some of the long-standing issues that we have been grappling with and also a sense of calm. Looking back on the past year it was a whirlwind for all sorts of reasons not least some of the political turmoil, which led to us having five Secretaries of State for Education in the space of a few months; and many of us will remember the increasingly surreal week in Manchester for the ADCS Annual Conference when there were three in the space of three days!

We are at a critical time in terms of national policy with the imminent government response to the care review, next steps following SEND and AP Green Paper consultation, and whatever comes next on education policy after the demise of the Schools Bill. Such significant national policy reform needs a level of political stability to be implemented, and I think we all recognise the importance of system reform even if there may be some disagreements on the detail. So, a period of calm and relative stability would be welcome to give a foundation for this vital system reform to be progressed.

As we move towards implementation, the role of ADCS becomes even more critical as we are the ‘doers’ in the system, with the operational understanding to recognise the opportunities and challenges that will arise in turning policy frameworks into an operational reality that makes a difference for our children and young people. We are also best placed to recognise the pitfalls and some of the unintended consequences of system reform and use the learning from the past. For those of us who are now more mature, we can bring a knowledge of previous cycles as there is nothing completely new.

Our President, Steve Crocker, has continued to emphasise the importance of ‘test and learn’ as we move into implementation phase and the next year will hopefully give the opportunity to do that. This testing needs to have a breadth to it that enables learning in a range of contexts, geographies, and types of local authority. We also need to ensure any testing provides a safe environment in which to fail as we will not sufficiently learn solely from testing options in environments that are ‘doomed to success’.

Unfortunately, we also head into the new year under the cloud of a ‘cost of living crisis’ that is overlaid on many years of increasing inequality and growing levels of child poverty. We all know that children’s services often provide a sticking plaster on these broader socio-economic issues, and it is essential that nationally there is a focus on addressing the underlying issues that create inequalities and drive up the need for our services.

A national strategy to address child poverty must be an ambition for the new year together with a coherent joined up national plan for children and young people. It’s positive that the government recognises the need for system reform across education, social care, and SEND but it’s critical that the inter-relationships between them and the broader underlying challenges are central to the way forward. Levelling up seems to have gone quiet, but we cannot afford the need to address increasing levels of inequality to fall off the national agenda.

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