My speech at the ADCS Annual Conference – 9th July 2009


I’m delighted to be here.

This is my first ever ADCS annual conference.

In the coming weeks, I’ll become the second longest serving Secretary of State since 1997.

So let me also say that it’s somewhat of a relief to be here.

I do want to start by paying tribute to Bev Hughes and also to Jim Knight, both of whom did outstanding jobs as Ministers over the past couple of years.

I know that Dawn Primarolo – who I’m delighted is also here today – and Vernon Coaker will pick up where they left off.

And it’s great to have Ministers with in-depth knowledge and experience of both working with the policy and the health service.

I’ve just been discussing a range of issues with a group of your delegates over lunch – including child health, the importance of efficiency and the new Ofsted inspection framework.

And as Kim said, I am proudly wearing a ‘Thank God for Social Workers’ badge today.

But Kim was right to say in his speech that it has been a challenging year for leaders.

As a Department, we’ve had some really difficult issues like those relating to the delivery of last year’s SATs and also of EMAs.

And of course, the tragic events in Haringey and subsequent child protection issues have been particularly tough for us all to deal with.

I want to talk about this first of all and then reflect on some themes that I think can be applied more widely across children’s services.

I know the big rise in the number of referrals and inevitably the more risk averse culture that followed events in Haringey has been a real challenge for you.

Dealing with those events was also a really difficult leadership challenge for me personally.


– I had to respond to a genuine and widespread public revulsion and anger but I had to do so in a fair and orderly way on the basis of the best professional advice and do the right thing;

– I had to provide the public with enough reassurance about the safety of children without giving the impression that no child will ever be harmed – or worse – again because sadly that’s just not true;

– I had to act without in any way affecting or influencing the very delicate ongoing legal proceedings because that would have been a total disgrace but I obviously couldn’t ever say that;

– most important of all, I had to respond without undermining the confidence, morale and professional standing of people who do a vital job under really tough circumstances in our social workers;

– and this is made even more difficult by the fact that social work is a profession in which all the successes go unnoticed because by definition their job is about the prevention of harm – and more than in any other area, different professions have to come together on a case by case basis and make the right decisions.

That’s quite a tightrope – and I do feel as though I’ve been walking it for many months now.

But the thing that I’ve learnt is that best practice is great.

But best practice in one part of the country really doesn’t much help a vulnerable child in another part of the country.

We have to find ways to make best practice into common practice.

That’s why we set up our new cross-government National Safeguarding Delivery Unit.

I’m delighted that Sir Roger Singleton, our first ever Chief Adviser on Child Safety, is here today.

And I do believe that the new unit has an important role to play in providing strong, co-ordinated central leadership and by supporting and challenging every Local Authority and every Children’s Trust in the country.

But child protection is incredibly difficult.

And while Lord Laming challenged us in government to do what we can from the centre, he was also clear that effective child protection depends critically on strong local leadership and accountability.

it is only by the DCS and Lead Member supported by the council, the BCU Commander and the PCT embedding in the culture of their organisations that the safety of children is paramount that a difference will be made.

I can’t drive that culture change from the centre.

I can be challenging and demand improvement.

I did so last Friday when Ofsted submitted their progress report on Haringey to me.

In their report, Ofsted said that improvement is still required.

I am clear that the pace of improvement has to accelerate.

And I have asked Ofsted to provide another progress report in six months time.
And I will do so – just yesterday, Andy Burnham and I met with the leaders of London NHS and Haringey PCT to urge them to accelerate improvement and strengthen partnership working.

But you all have the most important jobs of all.

So as we look at what we more we can do to support you, there are a number of principles that I believe must guide our approach:

– we have to set out our expectations very clearly;

– we must ensure that the inspection framework and accountability system empower local leaders;

– we have to look at the role of the profession in driving sector-led improvement;

– and we must back our frontline workers but also challenge them to demand to be the best they can.

And this is what we are doing.

So first, setting out our expectations very clearly.

I hope you will agree that I have always been clear that we do not need a root and branch review of the child protection.

I believe that the system we have is the right one.

And Lord Laming endorsed this view in his report.

But we must be clear about what we expect from the people in that system.

We are today publishing new statutory guidance on the role of the DCS and Lead Member.

I’d like to thank ADCS and all of you for your input.

I do believe that it marks a big step forward on the original guidance.

That is a reflection of the progress that we’ve made.

And it will help us to make further progress by ensuring everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities, there is real accountability and also there is some creative tension too.

We will also shortly revise the Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance so that it also fully reflects where we are and what you do.

My second principle was an inspection framework and accountability system that empowers local leaders.

I know that Christine Gilbert was here yesterday.

I’m sure you’ll have given her a warm if challenging reception.

This is a new system and the most important thing is that we get the framework and its implementation right so that inspections are fair, robust and don’t lead to judgements that come as a surprise to you.

So I want us all to carry on having the kind of three-way conversations we need in the coming months and certainly before the first round of Comprehensive Area Assessments reports in November.

And I am also clear that the Comprehensive Area Assessments must look closely at the capacity and ability to deliver of Children’s Trust Boards too.

My third point was the role of the profession in driving sector-led improvement.

Over the past yea, I have asked a number of senior children’s leaders to work with other authorities where urgent help has been needed.

I am incredibly grateful to those people for their help.

And I do believe that all of you have an important role to play in helping the profession to help itself by stepping in early before problems get serious and require that kind of intervention by me.

So I do think this idea of how we learn from our best and most experienced children’s leaders is something that we need to look closely at.

And that brings me on to my fourth principle, which was backing frontline workers but also laying down a challenge to them to demand to be the best they can.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that I spend a lot of time meeting people like Kim, the teaching unions and representatives of other professions who work with children and families.

But looking back in particular to the period when we were consulting as we were drawing up our Children’s Plan, it’s a real surprise to me that people representing the children’s social care sector weren’t knocking on my door.

We set up the Social Work Task Force to help us reform the profession – including by looking at how we can work with Unison and BASW, who I met on Monday, to provide a stronger voice for social workers.

I do believe that it is a once-in-a generation opportunity to get this right.

I know that Moira Gibb spoke to you yesterday about some of the discussions that the Task Force has been having, including on whether the social work sector would benefit from having a broad-based, professionally led college – much like that which provides a strong voice for high-status professions like GPs.

And I am attracted to the idea of a social work college because it would, in time, allow the profession to be responsible for driving its own improvement.

The Task Force will publish its second report in the coming weeks

Ahead of its second report, I am today announcing a new social worker conversion.

It will be an ‘on-the-job’ qualification route aimed at experienced graduate professionals who want to change careers.

And we must get the details right but I do think that it’s another thing that we can open up social work as a career option for more people.

I’ve talked so far today about the principles that guide our approach to child protection.

But I do believe that our Children’s Plan and our new 21st Century Schools White Paper provide a consistent approach.

And just as it is in child protection, so it is in wider children’s services and education that the same principles guide our approach to what we can do from the centre:

– setting out our expectations very clearly;

– ensuring that the inspection framework and accountability system empowers local leaders;

– using the profession to drive sector-led improvement;

– and backing our frontline workers but also challenging them to demand to be the best they can;

must also guide our approach to education.

So my first point was about setting out clear expectations.

Our White Paper was based on new guarantees for pupils and for parents that are ambitious and reasonable.

And those guarantees are also be backed by clear expectations on discipline through stronger Home-School Agreements.

We have also been clear about the benefits of co-locating services and our belief that you have to tackle all the barriers to learning if you’re serious about supporting the progress of every child and young person.

I was at an SSAT Academies conference yesterday.

And I said there that I hadn’t ever met an Academy principal who had ever said to me that you had to choose between raising standards and improving wellbeing as separate.

Because the two do go hand-in-hand – especially when it comes to schools in more disadvantaged areas or with more disadvantaged intakes.

We want to ensure that the inspection framework and accountability system recognises that – and that is my second principle.

I do believe that our School Report Card is an opportunity to move away from what has traditionally been a very narrow view of school performance based on the attainment of the average child to a system that also looks at:

–         how the school is improving standards;

–         how well it is helping those pupils who have fallen behind to catch up, and stretching the most able;

–         what it is doing on discipline, attendance, sport, healthy eating;

–         and how well it is collaborating with other local schools and supporting the wider community.

One of the things we still need to work out is exactly how our School Report Card will inform Ofsted’s Comprehensive Area Assessments.

My third principle was using the profession itself to drive improvement – and that includes both the roles of local authorities and of head teachers too.

Over the past decade, we have made real progress when it comes to breaking the link at an area level.

We have also made real progress at breaking the link at a school level.

But when it comes to breaking the link at a pupil, progress has been slower and that’s where the real challenge still lies.

The fact is that it has been too easy for some schools in more affluent areas to ignore the disadvantaged pupils in their schools and still achieve satisfactory or good results.

And it’s also been too easy for schools in the most disadvantaged areas to make excuses and say that the most disadvantaged pupils cannot succeed.

That’s just not acceptable to me.

And I know it’s not to you either.

When I spoke at the joint ADSS and ADCS conference in Bournemouth 18 months ago, I said that while you might have accused us of being unclear about this in the past, local authorities do have a central strategic role in education.

And the White Paper reaffirms the role of local authorities as strategic commissioners of education in their areas.

Because while the first duty for school improvement lies with head teachers and governing bodies.

Where they aren’t driving change fast enough or schools are coasting, local authorities have a responsibility to step in.

And where they don’t, I will hold them accountable and step in to ensure that there is improvement, just as we did last week in Milton Keynes, Leicester, Blackpool and Gloucestershire.

Because I’m not prepared to stand back and let young people in those schools fail.

But as I said, the challenge is also one for head teachers.

In our White Paper, we said that we want to make more use of federations in which our best head teachers can run more than one school.

And we also said that we will now accredit high performing schools, colleges and universities to run chains of schools in not-for-profit Accredited Schools Groups.

Already 9 schools and a multi-Academy sponsor, 4 colleges and 4 universities have come forward to be amongst the first to be accredited.

And I hope that all local authorities will also look at this option when thinking about how they can work with schools in their areas to drive up standards.

My final principle was around how we support and challenge the frontline workforce.

We now have over 40,000 more teachers and over 200,000 more support staff than we did in 1997.

And we’ve also made enormous progress in raising the standing and status of the teaching profession.

In our White Paper, we set out our plans to put teachers’ professional status on a footing with other high-status professions like doctors and lawyers by introducing an entitlement to continuous professional development alongside a renewable Licence to Teach.

I believe that creating that learning culture in every school and being able to demonstrate that there is also high quality teaching can make this a real watershed moment for the teaching profession.

And in many ways, the bar that we have set for teachers is the one that we now have to work towards for social workers.

But in the end, this again comes down to local leadership.

I spoke at the NCSL annual conference in Birmingham last month.

And I was really encouraged by the passion and commitment that both Steve Munby and his delegates showed towards the new wider remit that we have given to the NCSL.

Or rather, the National College as it is now known.

I’m really pleased that there has been such a great demand from all of you to be amongst the first who take the new leadership programme from this September.

Over the past decade, the National College has played a vital role in bringing through next generation of school leaders.

I hope that it can now extend the excellent professional support that it has provided to school leaders to other children’s leaders too and aspirant DCSs too.

And to support both Assistant Directors and heads of service in social care, we will also be working with the National College and the CWDC to set up a programme of peer support and mentoring for them.

Some people say that this is the wrong approach.

They argue that education on the one hand and social services on the other should be separate.

I am clear that bringing them together was a huge step forward – and separating them would be a retrograde step that would undo the real progress that we’ve made in recent years.

And now is the right time to deepen those links – just as the National College is doing.

Let me end by telling you about the school I visited this morning.

It was Newall Green High School in Withenshaw.

I met with the head teacher and his impressive multi-agency team that included an on-site police officer, a SENCO, a CAMHS advisor and a number of family support officers.

I also then met with the school council.

In what was a first for me after over 200 school visits, they said that the best thing about their school was the toilets.

I then met employees from 16 local businesses – all of whom are involved in the school and offering apprenticeships to local young people.

And with their new building, their joined-up approach and their culture of high aspirations, it was an incredibly inspirational visit for me.

That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

It has been a challenging year.

And there are still some challenges to overcome.

But it’s also been a year in which we’ve made real progress.

We can continue to make progress in the months and years to come.

And I look forward to continuing to working with you to do so.

Thank you.

Posted November 26th, 2015 by admin