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Messages for the new PM and SoS for Education

At the time of writing the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced a string of new ministerial appointments including a new Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP. It is vital that we all work together to secure the best outcomes for children and families and a country that works for all children. This includes making the case to the Treasury, ahead of the Spending Review, that it pays to invest in children and their education, in both human and monetary terms. The Department for Education’s (DfE) own research (Dec 2017) on the potential economic value to the UK of reducing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers in England to the same levels as in London estimates this could lead to an overall financial benefit of around £12 billion.

A preventative approach to improving children and families’ outcomes should be the golden thread running throughout all government policy. We will need to invest in both child protection and early help services but in time we will reap the rewards. Evidence supporting this case includes: recent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies highlighting how investment in children’s centres has improved children’s health and is saving the NHS millions and the latest national evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme suggesting it has reduced the proportion of children in care. If we can reduce the need for more acute and costly interventions why wouldn’t we?

Reducing deprivation and the resulting child poverty must also be an overarching policy consideration this government. Poverty is a risk factor for children and young people, evidence clearly shows that childhood disadvantage affects children’s ability to learn and leads to future poverty – children with low qualifications are five times more likely to be unemployed as an adult. We urgently need a national strategy for this national problem.

As systems leaders, the role of directors of children’s services extends far beyond the services we manage, commission or deliver. We are responsible for ensuring the system as a whole works for all children and young people in our localities and seek to persuade our partners to align their priorities with ours. We believe there should be an equivalent in central government acting as an advocate and systems leader helping to ensure children are at the heart of all policy decisions (perhaps a ‘Department for Children and Families’).

These issues (and more) require recognition from the Prime Minister and ministers and action.

Rachel Dickinson is Executive Director People at Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council and ADCS President 2019/20.

This column was first published in The MJ on 6 August 2019. |

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