Posts Tagged ‘your council’

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.    

Digitisation, and the Children’s Services Ofsted

Monday, February 11th, 2019

I’ve spent part of this weekend with the leadership and governors of Staffordshire University, where I am the Deputy Chair.  It’s a fascinating organisation, on a similar journey of modernisation to the County Council, and facing some interesting challenges.  I learn a lot from the sessions with them and from listening to the people involved, both staff and students. 

Like us, the university in on a digitisation journey, and probably ahead of us in many ways.  They have always been a leader in computer science, and Liz Barnes, the Vice Chancellor, has put huge emphasis on expanding this area, along with computer gaming and e-sports.  This last one was a fascinating example of moving quickly – it went from a concept to delivering the teaching to the first students in little over a year, making Staffs Uni one of the first in the world to offer a degree in e-sports.  We also move quickly in the County Council, but I sense that there was a little more acceptance that it would not be perfect before implementation, and I think that we could learn from that.  If the idea is right, one can keep a little capacity to making running amendments and adjustments as the idea develops.  As the famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre put it, “Better is the enemy of Good”. 

Lastly, many thanks and well done to everybody who has been involved in the OFSTED inspection of our Children’s Services over the past 2 weeks.  We will get the formal feedback in 2 weeks’ time, but the immediate debrief was a positive experience; much that was good and better was reflected to us, and those areas for improvement being known and understood.  I am hugely impressed by the inspirational manner in which everybody “turned to” and told their story to the inspection team – despite our being in the middle of a complex transformation process, everyone that they spoke to was positive about what they were doing and who they were doing it for.  People often talk glibly about leadership – as if it were the secret ingredient in a cake recipe to be added by those in the know – but there is real, quiet and effective leadership in our Children’s Service, built up over a long period.  I’m very proud of you, and a bit in admiration.

The Stoke and Staffordshire LEP Annual Conference

Monday, January 21st, 2019

This week saw the annual conference of the Stoke and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, a combination of public and private sector leaders whose role it is to steer the Staffordshire economy.  Although there is much focus on the LEP Review and whether the current overlapping membership of our 4 southern districts with Birmingham will continue, the real task at hand is writing the Local Industrial Strategy.  This vital piece of work will dictate the level and direction of future central government funding that will replace European funding when we leave the EU – probably as importantly, and more so, is making our economy fit to face the challenges of the coming decade.  It is therefore worth taking some time to make sure that we get it right. 

As the famous American baseball player, Yogi Berra, stated, “Making predictions is difficult, especially about the future”.  The challenge therefore is to get it more right than wrong, as making no predictions, or assuming that current industries and businesses will continue as they are today, is not an option.  The economy of Staffordshire will inevitably change, and the pace of change is accelerating.  The world of work is changing – jobs which exist now will either cease to be, or will require people to adapt, and there will be jobs which we can only guess at now.  The dominant theme would appear to be digital, and speech by Alun Rogers, Vice Chair of the LEP, drove home that message.   We are probably on the right track in our work on Smart Staffordshire, with its focus on enabling people to operate effectively in the future digital world, whether at work, while learning or at leisure, but we certainly can’t afford to be complacent.

Senior Manager’s Conference, and a thank you to the Emergency Duty Team

Monday, January 14th, 2019

Continuing with my theme of renewal and energy in 2019, I was enormously grateful for the enthusiasm and engagement that our leadership demonstrated at this week’s Senior Managers’ Conference at Yarnfield.  The central theme was raising our eyes from the here and now and looking to where we want to go.  To use a motoring analogy, we’ve spent a lot of time under the bonnet in the past year, and now we need to get back into the driving seat and get moving. 

One of the highlights for me in 2018, which was one of the busiest years that I’ve ever experienced, was the increased engagement of the Wider Leadership Team in our thinking and planning.  We have created a level of understanding and knowledge across the organisation that allows us to become much more than a sum of the parts – we wouldn’t have achieved the results which we did in terms of the MTFS, the strategy, and the People Strategy to name but three, if we hadn’t had that engagement.  The Peer Challenge in September found great strengths in the knowledge levels and capability of our Members and Officers, and highlighted the WLT as a particular strength.  I want now to extend that into the Operational Management Team, the level below.  In simple terms, the WLT take the strategic idea from Cabinet and SLT and convert it into the tactical plans required for delivery – the OMT then deliver on those plans for the benefit of Staffordshire’s residents.  Thursday’s conference took a slightly novel form with much more conversation and feedback on 2019’s themes than in previous events, and heralds the first of a regular series of these events involving the OMT in landing our delivery plans.   I predict that this will have a similarly transformative effect.

And finally, I wanted to say a big ‘thank you’ to our Emergency Duty Service (EDS) team.  As you will have no doubt seen on the news, last Wednesday a lorry found to be harbouring 27 migrants was picked up by police on the M6.  Amongst the 27 were four children, so our Emergency Duty Service had to work quickly in tough circumstances to ensure we had everything in place to support these children.  Our EDS team do very difficult job, and this incident was particularly trying.  I wanted to say thanks for their professionalism and the speed in which they worked to ensure these children were getting the right support.

Happy New Year

Monday, January 7th, 2019

Firstly, can I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

I hope that you had an opportunity for some downtime with family and friends, and have returned refreshed.  I would also like to thank those of you who were on duty during the holiday period.  The nature of the services that we provide to the people of Staffordshire is such that we operate around the clock and through holidays.  I know that for some of our services, there is a paradox over Christmas that demand rises rather than falls; the weather can cause more problems on the roads, and for some families and individuals, the festive period can exacerbate the stresses of the rest of the year leading to problems in which we must become engaged.

Looking forward to the New Year, I’d like to share a thought with you that I have found useful in the past.  As we enter the New Year, cast your mind back to when you arrived in your present job, and remember the energy and enthusiasm that you had at that point.  Also, remind yourself of the objectives that you set yourself, and run a checklist on whether you have achieved them.  If you can, try to summon up some of that initial energy, and bring it to your efforts in 2019.

Valuing our ex servicemen and women

Monday, November 5th, 2018

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, in which the greatest number of British service personnel died in any of our wars and conflicts, it is fitting that we focus on those who did not come back. But I would like in this blog entry to ask you to think a little about those who came home from this, and other conflicts, and how they integrated back into society.

Staffordshire has a proud military heritage, and we should remember that our predecessors in 1918 spoke of making a country fit for heroes to live in. Just as we do now, they worked on building houses and providing jobs for the men and women who returned. I believe that this effort is as relevant today as it was in 1918; we must encourage young men and women to serve in our armed services, and, as importantly, make every effort to integrate them back into civilian society at the end of their service.

There is something about military service that brings people from all backgrounds together, and that is especially true of people who have experienced service in war and conflict. I am always surprised when I meet ex-service men and women who have been out of uniform for up to 70 years, at how they focus on their military service as one of the most important periods of their lives. There are a small proportion who are physically or mentally damaged by their service, but most of us emerge more confident and capable, ready to serve wider society just as we did in uniform.

With many of us now enjoying more than one career in our life time, I would encourage all employers to consider the huge rewards that having a ex-service person on their side and in their team could have.

The Local Government Challenge, and Destination Innovation

Monday, October 8th, 2018

We had two teams in the West Midlands Employers (WME) Local Government Challenge last week, and they both did very well indeed.  This is an exercise in which teams are given a series of tasks simulated to represent the normal working of a local authority, albeit with a year’s worth of activities crammed into one day!  It’s a significant effort to put on such an exercise, as there is the writing to ensure that participants are given realistic and challenging tasks, but also from the number of people who are required to act as the external contacts for the teams to work with.  WME do it very well, and everybody always gets a great deal from the day.  As we did last year, the teams were made up of volunteers rather than selected individuals, and I think that they were the more effective for it.  Staffordshire Team 2 were in the top 3 as a team and for their presentation, but the honours of the evening belong to Kerrie Morris, who won the Best Chief Executive award.  Mark Lucas, our other team leader, was in the top 3, so overall it was a great night for Staffordshire County Council.

There’s an exciting event happening in reception on Tuesday October 9–Destination Innovation.  As the world around us changes at pace, it is more important than ever that colleagues are empowered to collaborate, connect and contribute to driving forward new ideas and innovation. A group of our colleagues from across the organisation are launching an exciting opportunity to focus on your personal development and organisational networks while helping solve some of the key challenges faced by the public sector in Staffordshire.  Destination Innovation is an ambitious development programme that gives everyone the opportunity to work together to solve some of the biggest issues facing our organisation.

If you want to know more about this exciting opportunity there is a drop-in session taking place on the 9th October in the Foyer of SP1, as well as information on GO , and a workshop on the morning of 19th November.

If you want to develop, unlock your creativity, learn more about our organisation and be involved in shaping innovative solutions, then register your interest via GO today.

The LGA Peer Review

Monday, September 24th, 2018

This week has certainly been an active one, with the Local Government Association Corporate Peer Challenge and the discussion of our MTFS at Cabinet, among several other key activities. 

The Peer Challenge is effectively our 5 yearly inspection, although the team and the LGA do not use the “I” word; that said, it is a hugely important event, and it is the key point at which external assessors look at the overall health of the organisation.  Ours was led by Councillor Colin Noble of Suffolk County Council and Nathan Elvery, Chief Executive of West Sussex County Council.  We couldn’t have asked for a more accomplished and capable team, and they really got under the bonnet of SCC during their 4 days.  I found it an excellent experience, although definitely not a relaxing one.

We will have to wait for the final report in a few weeks’ time, but the debrief on Thursday afternoon gave us an overall clean bill of health.  They were very complimentary about our people, both members and officers, and highlighted the cohesion and morale in the organisation.  They fed back that we all grasp the financial challenge, and that there is a real will to tackle it.  Nathan was particularly taken by his session with the Wider Leadership Team and the Operational Management Team, as was Colin from his sessions with Cabinet and members.  They also commented on the strength of our external relationships. 

There were some really useful observations which we’ll take on board in the coming weeks.  Our performance and financial reporting is difficult for outsiders to grasp at the first attempt, and we will look at simplifying that, as we will at the length and complexity of our Cabinet reports, which took some time for them to understand.  We also need to get on with the Children’s System transformation and the Workforce Strategy; the team liked them and felt that we should press ahead.  I agree entirely.

Lastly, on a more personal note, we have been making some videos about the mentoring scheme for our Looked After Children.  My interview with Ryan, a looked-after child who has just started at the Defence Sixth Form College is on the intranet if you are interested.  The scheme is open to all officers and members, and allows us to give something back to these children in terms of mentoring.  As I say probably too often on the video, it’s probably the single most rewarding thing that I’ve done in this job.

The Medium Term Financial Strategy

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Most of you are aware that we published our Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) last week. It will be discussed and recommended for approval at Cabinet tomorrow, after which the hard work begins to implement it.

The figures are sobering. We have to take £35M out of our operating costs next year – that’s a bit over 7% across the business. We’ve been at this for a long time – £240M removed from costs over the past 9 years. But as we all know, it gets harder every year as the savings become increasingly hard to find. On top of that, at the same time as we’re finding savings, demand for social care is rising; SCC is spending £315M on children and adults this year against £200M a decade ago. It just means that there is less money around for the things that don’t immediately contribute to safety and health.

With the scale of the changes we are proposing, there will be a period following the Cabinet meeting where detailed plans will need to be drawn up so that you have a clear view of what will happen and when.

I know that this is a very difficult process, and that the announcement has caused a great deal of uncertainty. My undertaking to you is that I will be open and honest and tell you what we know as soon as we can.

I would reiterate my thanks to you personally and corporately for a job well done thus far. I’ve been enormously impressed with the commitment and professionalism of officers making what are often difficult and painful decisions as well as the continued passion of colleagues to do what is right for our citizens. I finish by reminding those of you in leadership positions to do everything you can to support your people as we work to implement this programme.

The new John Taylor Free School

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

It is always a delight when a long-planned project comes to fruition, and this is particularly so when it has taken a lot of effort and involved a lot of people.  This week sees the opening of the John Taylor Free School in Burton, the first all-new secondary school in Staffordshire in the past 25 years – we’ve refurbished many and rebuilt some more, but this is the first all new school for a long time.  It fills a well-established need in Burton where there has been a significant uplift in the building of new houses, and therefore a notable increase in the birth rate.  The build phase has lasted 2 years, and incorporates such innovations as a leisure hall that is built alongside the school that can be used by the wider community in evenings and weekends as well as the students.

The project was large in every respect, costing £30M from the County Council and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, and with a capacity for 1550 pupils.   It was designed by Entrust, our education support services joint venture company with Capita, and constructed by Seddon.  Although the construction ran pretty much to plan, the whole project took a long time to come to fruition, with a wide variety of opinions on where the school should be, and what form it should take.  We are delighted that the location is close to one of the larger developments to the west of Burton, and that the John Taylor Multi Academy Trust has taken the leadership of the school, with Sue Plant as the Head Teacher.  Given their strong reputation for running other schools in Staffordshire, we are sure that this sets the school on the right track for success.

Having got back into the stride of secondary school construction, our Cabinet will be shortly considering a paper which proposes a number of new school construction projects to support Staffordshire’s growing population.