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President’s speech at annual conference - Press Release

President’s address at the ADCS Annual Conference 2017

On Thursday 6 July 2017, Alison Michalska, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) gave her address at the ADCS Annual Conference in Manchester.

On resourcing a country that works for all children

“Children’s services are enduring relentless pressure as funding decreases whilst demand most definitely does not. The task of balancing council budgets is tougher than ever before as we simultaneously seek to manage demand, reduce spending and improve outcomes. To protect vital statutory services, early help and preventative services have, in some places, been severely reduced despite our desire to help children and young people by intervening early. Add to this the factors outside of our direct influence that increase demand on our services and strapped resources including a lack of affordable housing and rising levels of child poverty. It is unsurprising, therefore that the funding gap for children’s services is as big, if not bigger than that of adult social care. The LGA estimates that the funding gap in children’s services is likely to be £2bn by 2020. This gap needs to be plugged and it should be done, like all good social work assessments, on a needs basis. The future resourcing of children’s services should connect need with funding.

“Without additional resources this figure will continue to increase as the pressures facing children’s services, and the demands on our partners deepen. I know that government will want to do the right thing by children. ADCS urges government to think big, think system wide and think prevention. We urge priority action across government so that resources for children are marshalled with a view to achieving a cross-party, long term, coherent, strategic whole system approach to helping early everywhere, premised upon an inclusive ‘societal’ vision for all ages, abilities and communities of children.”

On early help and prevention

“It is estimated that there are 4 million children living in poverty – that’s almost one third of the total child population. A growing number of those children live in working households; this is a relatively new phenomenon, exacerbated by insecure jobs and an inflexible welfare regime. We should support and supplement families’ endeavours, especially when parenting difficulties are compounded by poverty and deprivation, rather than pathologizing their needs for early help. The most effective way of doing so is to prioritise and therefore resource, universalist, preventative children’s services. Some may think this is a backwards step, harking back to the days of every child matters. Well, the past can illuminate the present, every child does matter. We do need government to work with us to throw the juggernaut into reverse before our children’s services become wholly reactive, specialist, blue light services funded on a fraying shoestring.”

On improving children’s outcomes

“ADCS does not take a simplistic view that delivering better outcomes for children simply requires more spending. We know there is much to be achieved - both for children, and for more efficient use of resources - by transforming culture, practice and systems, but the government’s touching faith in structure as a means of improving children’s outcomes is not one that ADCS members share. The structuralist pursuit of creating trusts, and other arm’s length bodies of various descriptions - social enterprises, staff mutuals and in fact Multi-Academy Trusts - brings an ‘accountability buffer’ between service users and those accountable for ensuring services are provided. In all cases the council remains accountable because of its various sufficiency duties. The proliferation of distributed actors in our school and social care systems makes behaviour change even more complex amongst what is already an elaborate array of providers, watchers, checkers and doers.”

On a self-improving system for children’s services

“Inspection outcomes appear to suggest that a successful children’s social care service can only operate in a successful wider children’s services context. One where the corporate and political leadership is well informed and engaged, providing effective support and challenge. Moreover, wider children’s services can only thrive where they are seen as an intrinsic means by which councils are transforming and shaping the places for which they are responsible. It is my firm view that councils are uniquely placed to transform local areas, making neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities places that work for all children and their families. I do however acknowledge that in some circumstances a poor children’s service may be symptomatic of broader council failings and in those thankfully rare circumstances a trust might be the right solution. This does not negate the fact that councils are responsible for their own improvement, but collectively we are all responsible for the performance of the sector. This must be our self-imposed improvement mandate. This is not about improvement in pursuit of a better Ofsted rating, it’s about embedding improvement as a habit not a goal.”

On elective home education

“ADCS has been raising concerns with the DfE about home education for some time. It’s hard to be sure, but we think there are at least 30,000 EHE pupils in England. Some parents have legitimate concerns that their local schools are not catering for their children’s needs and thus elect to educate them at home. We also know from surveying our members that some schools use home education as a means of off-rolling pupils who are unlikely to hit their exams grades. And of course, there are significant safeguarding and child protection concerns if home education is used as a cover for attendance at illegal, unregistered schools. Might the answer be finding a way to incentivise schools to be inclusive so they are not tempted to exclude and ‘off-roll’ in the pursuit of academic excellence at all costs?”

On school places

“We will need something like an additional 729,000 school places across England by 2020, this is equivalent to building an additional 2000 schools. Shortages of school places in London, the south east and core cities such as Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham are particularly acute, while some rural areas are continuing to experience a surplus of school places. We need to remain vigilant however, because the Green Paper that contained the grammar school proposals also proposed allowing existing academy schools to become selective. This would add even greater pressures into the system and potentially create new ones too. ADCS would advocate a twofold approach to the provision of more school places. Firstly, by increasing the number of good school places available to all families, in places where they are actually needed, ideally embedded in local communities, serving the needs of that community. Of course, this is rather more complicated in large or sparsely populated rural areas, but as a nation we spend £1 billion on home-to-school transport. Secondly, by giving education providers with a strong track record the right incentives to expand their offer to more pupils. Let me be absolutely clear, I include in this local authority maintained schools which are currently the only providers not allowed to compete to open new schools.”

The full speech can be found on the ADCS website


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