My speech at the National Children and Adult Services Conference – 23 October 2009

Thank you Councillor Ritchie.

I’m delighted to be here this morning in Harrogate speaking at my third consecutive National Children and Adult Services Conference.

This is a great conference for me to come to because it brings together official and elected members from across adult and children’s services.

And after speaking two years ago in Bournemouth and last year in Liverpool, I’m also delighted to welcome you all to Yorkshire this year.

Over the past three years, I’ve worked particularly closely with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services – and I’d like to pay tribute to a number of people:

– first to the co-chairs two years ago, John Coughlan and John Freeman – who have since also worked very closely with us on really important issues like child protection and the transfer of 16-19 funding to local government;

– then to last year’s chair, Maggie Atkinson – and let me also say that I am sure she will be an independent, tough and fearless Children’s Commissioner when she takes up that role next year;

– and now to the current chair, Kim Bromley-Derry – who has had to deal with some really difficult issues.

While I wasn’t here yesterday to hear Kim’s speech, I was able to read a copy last night.

Kim was right to say that it has been a tough year.

But he was also right to say that while there are still some big challenges ahead, we have also made real progress.

Since I spoke to you two years ago, I’ve gone from being a novice to a veteran.

And I feel as though we’ve come a long way since when it was after all just a few months after we had created our new Department for Children, Schools and Families and we were still consulting on our Children’s Plan.

In many ways, the Children’s Plan was our response in central government to the challenge that you in local government had laid down to us by implementing the Every Child Matters framework.

And it does capture those same principles by saying that:

– we must ensure every child and young person gets the support they need to achieve their potential;

– parents bring up their children but we have to give them the support they need to do so;

– we have to work together to break down all the barriers to learning inside and outside the classroom;

– but schools and parents can do this alone and need support from wider children’s services;

– and we need to create a culture of early intervention and prevention across the whole of children’s services.

And I do feel as though we’ve made enormous progress in transforming attitudes, changing behaviours and ensuring that the are always put first.

Because when I started doing this job:

– some people did say that schools have to choose between improving standards and promoting wellbeing – but I don’t hear any head teacher say that now and while we still have more to do to narrow the gap, turn best practice into common practice and properly recognise all of the great work that our modern state schools do on behaviour, sport, healthy eating and across their communities, that’s what we’re now doing, including through our new School Report Card;

– some people also said that it was a step too far to put schools at the heart of everything we do by extending the duty to co-operate and that it was also a mistake to bring together education and social services under Directors of Children’s Services because they couldn’t understand what DCSs and Lead Members for Children would actually do – but I don’t hear anyone saying that they don’t understand now and while we have more to do to deepen those links and to ensure that you get the support that you need, that’s what we’re now doing by having statutory Children’s Trust Boards that schools increasingly want to be part of and also through the work that the National College is doing on your new leadership programme;

– and some people said that education to 18 couldn’t be done and that you can never have excellence for all because, by its very definition, it’s no longer then excellence – but people now know that we can’t afford not to ensure that all our young people get good qualifications and while we know that we will need to create 50,000 more apprenticeships in the next year and that there are still some tough challenges from the Milburn Commission, I’d like to thank you for all the hard work you’re putting into the new 16-19 funding arrangements and the LGA’s REACT programme for its support too – and we will next week be announcing what we will be do to radically improve information, advice and guidance for young people and I hope you will also work with us to do so.

So the question isn’t yes or no any more.

It’s now how.

I want to speak today about three other areas where we face big challenges:

– child protection;

– preventing youth crime and reoffending;

– and school and children’s services improvement.

But before I do, let me return to Kim’s speech.

Because I also agree with him that there are real challenges on:

– resourcing;

– inspection;

– and leadership too.

I know that resourcing has been a big theme of this conference.

These are tough times.

We have budgets agreed until 2011.

And we are going to have to find ways to do things differently.

In recent weeks, I’ve very openly said that schools should look closely at how they currently do things, their procurement and also whether things like federating with other schools can generate further efficiencies.

Because I believe that it’s right that we start to have these discussions now.

I know that local government has also been looking at these things for a number of years.

And I do believe that it’s really important that we don’t just take the easy option and cut some of the things like early intervention that are difficult to do but also provide the most long-term benefits.

I know too that there is a real challenge around inspection.

Independent and tough inspection is really important.

When I spoke at the ADCS annual conference in July, I said that the most important thing is that we get the new inspection framework and its implementation right so that inspections are fair, robust and don’t lead to judgements that come as a surprise to you.

And I said too that I wanted Ofsted, you and us in government to carry on having the kind of three-way conversations we needed to have ahead of the first round of CAAs.

I know that some of those conversations have happened already.

And we have to carry on having them through the transition to the new system.

But the thing that I’ve learnt doing this job is that whether it’s child protection or school attainment, best practice in Grimsby isn’t much good to a family in Bristol.

Our challenge is to turn best practice into common practice.

And that’s why the most important relationships are those between:

– the Director for Children’s Service;

– the BCU Commander;

– the Primary Care Trust Chief Executive;

– and the Local Council and Lead Member.

And the thing that makes the most difference of all is local leaders being prepared to drive culture change within their organisations.

In the large majority of child protection services, we have good or outstanding standards being offered.

But in some cases, there are some tough challenges – as we have seen in Cornwall today.

It does require support.

And I want as much of this support as possible to be sector-led.

That’s why I’m so pleased that C4EO has got off to such a great start.

And when there has been a need for intervention, we have always used the sector itself to drive improvement.

I said earlier that there were three areas that I wanted to talk about.

And the issues around resourcing, inspection and leadership are all particularly important in each of them.

The first area was child protection.

It is hard to believe that when we met in Liverpool last year, news about events surrounding the tragic death of Baby Peter in Haringey had yet to make the headlines.

It has been a really difficult year.

I know that the increased number of referrals and the inevitably risk averse culture have been a particular challenge for all of you.

And I’ve spoken a number of times about the difficult tightrope that I’ve been walking.

Because:

– 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;

– and 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 there were also two further challenges unique to the social work profession because.

The first is that unlike the police or doctors or firefighters, all of the successes in child protection go unnoticed because, by their very definition, they’re about the prevention of harm;

Last month, we launched a national campaign to boost the status of social workers.

It was called Help Give Them A Voice.

It has prompted over 25,000 people to take action to find out about joining the social work profession.

And we’re hoping to translate that into thousands of new social workers.

We also set up the Social Work Task Force to ensure that social workers get the training, the IT and the support they need to do their jobs.

I’m really pleased with the recommendations it has made so far, all of which we’ve accepted.

And I’m delighted that the CWDC reports that:

– over 300 graduates have been recruited to train as social workers at a Masters level;

– the first return to social work courses are starting in London and the South East now and around the country from the New Year;

– and demand to be amongst the first social workers to get extra training and support during their first year of practice through our Newly Qualified Social Worker pilot has outstripped our expectations – a total of 138 employers have signed up and we expect it to support up to 2,000 social workers.

The Task Force will make its final report to Andy Burnham and me in the next few weeks.

And Moira Gibb is here to tell you more about what it will say.

But the second challenge unique to social work is that, more than in any other area, different professions have to come together on a case by case basis and make the right decisions.

And as Moira often says to me, the real challenge will be to embed the Task Force’s recommendations.

I can’t do that from the centre.

In fact, Moira says that sometimes we’ve tried to do too much like with ICS.

And that’s why we responded to the Task Force’s recommendation earlier this year by improving its flexibility and ensuring that it better supports frontline practice.

But what matters most of all is if both official and elected local leaders are prepared to drive the change that we need in your local areas and if social workers themselves as a profession speak up.

My second challenge was around preventing youth crime and reoffending.

We know that there is already a real focus on public satisfaction in the police force.

Because while reducing overall levels of crime is important, the police also know that people won’t be satisfied if they don’t see them tackling anti-social behaviour.

So there’s a clear incentive for them to focus on early intervention and prevention.

A few weeks ago, I visited a new early intervention centre in my constituency in Wakefield.

It was a great example of what can be done with police officers, youth offending teams and anti-social behaviour teams all in the same room and working together, including on Friday and Saturday nights, to support young people and schools.

I want to do more to tackle some of the cultural issues that stop this from happening in some areas.

But again, that depends on local leadership.

One area that can make a real difference is Family Intervention Projects.

Since last April, FIPs have challenged and supported over 2,300 families to turn their behaviour around.

We announced last month that FIPs would be expanded to reach all families who need them – that’s 10,000 families every year from 2011.

I’m delighted that every Local Authority is now planning to set up a FIP.

But I’m not sure yet that every agency in every area fully understands why FIPs are an excellent way not just of tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, but intervening early to prevent problems that we would otherwise be storing up and which become much more expensive to deal with later on.

So I’m pleased that the ADCS has agreed to lead a new National Family Intervention Strategy Group to drive the agenda at local level.

I’m delighted that Kim Bromley-Derry has agreed to chair it.

It will be supported by my Department, the Home Office, CLG, MoJ and DH.

And I hope it will help to draw out learning from FIPs about what works and how we can spread that more widely and show how investment in FIPS makes a real difference not just in preventing problems but also in the longer-term in reducing youth reoffending and also in savings to budgets.

The final area I want to talk about is school and children’s services improvement.

When I spoke to you in Bournemouth two years ago, I said that we had in the past sent mixed messages to this audience about its role in school improvement.

But I also said that I was clear that you have a vital role to play in school commissioning and improvement.

We know that the most important ingredient in great schools is having excellence leadership.

And the primary role for school improvement is with head teachers and governing bodies.

But where they don’t succeed in turning things around, Local Authorities have a responsibility to act.

Some people don’t agree.

They say that there should be no role for local government.

But I don’t accept that.

Because the alternatives are:

– to try to do everything centrally from Whitehall – and there’s no way I can do that;

– or to stand back and leave it to the market, allow some schools to whither and decline, and watch the pupils in those schools fail.

And that’s not good enough because those young people only get one chance to get a good education.

I’ve always been clear that National Challenge is at its heart a challenge to local leaders to identify what extra support is needed in your areas and then to drive improvement.

Over the past decade, the number of schools below our basic benchmark of at least 30% of pupils achieving five good GCSEs has gone from:

– over 1600 – that’s half of all schools – in 1997;

– to 638 when we launched our National Challenge programme;

– to under 270 today.

And I’ve been deeply impressed at how local government has taken up the challenge of school improvement.

There are times when we need to give more challenge and support.

In July, I announced that we were intervening in Milton Keynes and asking our National Challenge Expert Advisers to report on progress in school improvement in Leicester, Blackpool and Gloucestershire.

I have now received the reports on Leicester, Blackpool and Gloucestershire and expect to receive responses from those Councils shortly.

Last month, I also announced that with the agreement of Kent and Suffolk Local Authorities, we would ask expert advisors to assess progress in those areas.

I am confirming today that Graham Badman will work with Suffolk and that Rob Briscoe and George Gyte will work with Kent.

Milton Keynes remains in formal intervention.

But this will always be a last resort.

Where it does happen, it will always be led by the sector.

And I do not want us to remain involved in any Local Authority for any longer than is necessary.

That’s why I’m pleased that there has been improvement in Bradford and Hackney.

Bradford has been in intervention for some years now.

We met with the leaders of Bradford Council last month.

And I am minded to end our involvement there as soon as I am convinced that the necessary succession plan is in place to ensure that progress will continue.

The same is true of Hackney.

We met with the Mayor of Hackney and the Learning Trust a few weeks ago.

And subject to agreeing their succession plan, I am now minded to hand back to the local leaders.

Because in the end once again whether it’s:

– child protection;

– preventing youth crime and reoffending;

– or improving schools and children’s services;

it can’t done from the centre;

and it ultimately comes down to local leadership.

It is all of you who make the biggest difference of all.

The reason that I am confident that we will make further progress is the moral purpose that I know:

– made you get into teaching or social care or politics in the first place;

– took you into leadership positions;

– and brought you here today.

I will back you and try to strike the right balance between support and intervention as work together to ensure that every child and young person in every part of the country is safe, happy and gets the support they need to fulfil their potential.

And I look forward to continuing to working with you in the months and in the years to come.

Thank you.

 

Posted November 26th, 2015 by admin