Archive for April, 2019

Could you mentor a looked-after child?

Monday, April 29th, 2019

This week, I caught up with the young man whom I’m mentoring as part of our initiative to give our Looked-After Children a good start in life.  He’s in his first year at Welbeck, the Army’s Sixth Form College, and is doing very well – 4 A-S Levels this year and 3 A Levels next year.  Having passed the Army Officer Selection Board last year, he is looking forward and choosing his university and subject.  It’s hugely rewarding to hear and see close up what our efforts as corporate parents can achieve, and just occasionally offer some advice.  It was also a great pleasure by coincidence in the same café at the same time to meet the young lady whom Deborah Ramsdale is mentoring, who is in her final year at university. 

The reason for mentioning this scheme is that we are expanding it and looking for more colleagues to act as mentors.  It is not an onerous task – I meet my mentee every month or two for an hour, and we exchange the occasional email.  What you can offer is a different perspective, particularly from your professional and personal experience, which might just make the difference to a young person and allow them to reach their full potential.  If you’re interested, please contact Sarah Rivers, the Virtual Head of our School for Looked-After Children, who will give you more details.  In all honesty, it’s probably the single most rewarding thing that I’ve done in this job. 

Update from the Senior Managers’ Conference

Monday, April 15th, 2019

This week saw the second in our revamped Senior Managers’ Conferences—many thanks to Sarah James and the Comms Team for putting on such a good event.  Our big idea is really very simple – to connect the council’s strategy securely to the tactics that every one of us are undertaking in our everyday work.  Operational managers have a vital role in this; whereas the wider leadership team work out from the strategy what we’re going to do, operational managers are the ones to figure out how we’re going to achieve it.

The conference went really well—we focussed on our New Council Offer and the People Strategy, issues that you will learn more about in the coming weeks and months.  These afternoons are more than just a day out of the office, in that we will use digital means such as Microsoft Teams and Skype to continue the work and draw upon the deep well of knowledge and goodwill from everyone in the organisation.  On the New Council Offer, I was impressed by how people were up for the challenges of getting citizens, groups and communities to “Do Our Bit,” and I know that many people around the organisation will be just as enthused.  There is clearly more to do, but I left feeling energised.

On the People Strategy, there was a real feeling that we have to demonstrate progress quickly.  Having listened to a large number of colleagues, and noticed myself, we have a number of processes and procedures which do not make sense.  They probably were perfectly sensible when they were brought in, but if we want to be a more confident and agile organisation operating in a smart way in a digital world, we need to challenge them, and get rid of as many as possible.  This will require us to step outside of the normal comfort zone, but it’s about building trust and confidence with our colleagues. 

Clearly there are some exciting and challenging times ahead, and I’d like as many of you as possible to take every opportunity to get involved.

Supporting children with special educational needs

Monday, April 8th, 2019

I spent Monday afternoon taking part in the Minister for Children and Families Roundtable in London.  Nadhim Zahawi MP chairs a group of civil servants and local authority chief executives who advise him on the best options for Government policy towards children’s services. 

I consider myself very fortunate to be include in this grouping, given that I do not have a professional background in the area, but I have been more vocal than previously in my view that very often the narrative around children’s services is negative. This not only impacts on team morale, but also on recruitment and retention.  We are fortunate in Staffordshire that as an authority, our teams are well supported both by their senior leaders and political leaders. Across the country this is not always the case. 

We talked for much of the session about Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). The Children’s and Families’ Act of 2014 set out an aspiration to consider education, health and care needs in a joined-up way, but many local authorities have struggled to make the theory work in practice. 

This is exacerbated by the way support for children with special educational needs and disabilities in schools is funded and recognised as part of the school inspection regime. Currently, head teachers fund the first £6000 towards the cost of supporting a child with special educational needs and disabilities from their school budget. OFSTED inspections focus heavily on attainment, not inclusion or progress as a measure of success. This means that when school budgets are tight, they face difficult decisions with regards to the balance of support they provide to pupils with and without additional needs.

If our societal aim is to support people with special educational needs and disabilities to enjoy fulfilling and independent lives, we need people to recognise the positive contribution they make to our schools, communities and workplaces, as well as understand the challenges they face. For example, GCHQ has recognised that people with autism are very effective in the complex role of code-breaking, and actively recruit them.  But for this to work well, they need colleagues and bosses who are familiar with the attributes of people on the autistic spectrum. Some of this can come from formal training, but the foundation of this kind of understanding comes from breaking down barriers and children with mixed abilities growing up and learning together at school.  The Minister recognises this, and is currently reviewing the OFSTED inspection regime to ensure that inclusion and progress are as much a measure of success as overall attainment and exam results. Overall, it was a fascinating afternoon with people who really want to make a difference.