As Head of Education I had a very clear and unambiguous role, i.e. I was responsible for everything which came under the banner of education of children and young people from 3-18 years of age. In my new role as Acting Director of Education and Children’s Services I have a much wider remit which includes the oversight of education but also gives me responsibility for the social care agenda for children and families in East Lothian. I’m fortunate to have two outstanding heads of service in the form of Alan Ross, Head of Children’s Services, and Maureen Jobson, Acting Head of Education, both of whom have tremendous experience in their respective fields and can be relied upon to deal with the business of managing our £85 million budget whilst also contributing and shaping our strategic direction.
As Director I also have a major corporate responsibility as a member of the Board of Directors, alongside the other directors and the chief executive. It’s this area that has perhaps the greatest potential for seeing a change in the way that we do things in East Lothian. For example, we have agreed following our recent Managers Conference to revise our corporate plan to consider things in a much more thematic approach than simply from a service perspective. For example, by considering the corporate parenting agenda as a theme we can begin consider how each of the discrete services can work together more effectively to provide a service which has a positive impact on the lives of Looked After and Accommodated Children – as opposed to one where the needs of the individual service took precedence over the needs of the child.
As a Director I also play a key role in the interface with the elected administration through working closely with the convener pf education and children’s services and other senior members of the administration in assisting them to fulfil their democratically elected agenda. The range and number of meetings can be a burden in terms of the time required but this is a necessary outcome of democratic accountability if we are to ensure that local government is properly managed and effectively delivered.
I’m also heavily involved in developing our strategy and practice in relation to the integration of various services to ensure that we work together effectively to meet the needs of young people and families. As the chair of the Chief Officers group which includes senior representatives from education, police, health, the voluntary sector, children’s services and elected members we have begun to see a more connected approach to planning and the use of limited resources. One of the exciting dimensions of this approach is our emerging strategic emphasis on Early Year and Parenting. I have used this concept as a prism through which to reflect upon all aspects of our practice – that is not to say that everything that we do can be explicitly connected to early years or parenting – but that it’s a useful process through which we can begin to align resources and our practice to make substantive , long-term impact on the lives of children who otherwise would be trapped by the generational cycle of disengagement and poor outcomes which can afflict so many families.
In addition to these long term agendas there are of course the wide range of day-to-day issues which can land on my desk as the person with whom the “buck stops” – in many ways these are the bread and butter of my job but there does remain a danger that they can draw you into that cycle of “fixing things” – a phenomenon I recently wrote about – as opposed to considering the underlying issues which often underpin the day-to-day problems. This does require a disciplined approach if I am not to get lost in the detail and keep myself focused upon the bigger picture – which doesn’t always happen. To that extent I think the role of this Learning Log is absolutely crucial as it’s the one of the few times in my working week when I have the freedom to explore ideas, reflect upon my work and consider the “opposite worlds” which might provide a more fruitful outcome than our current practice which can so dominate our lives.
Looking forwards I reckon I also have key role to sustain and support my colleagues who are dealing with issues at a face-to-face level with our customers – our senior leaders in schools and children’s services face innumerable challenges and do so in such positive and professional manner which explains why our respective services are of such a high standard. Nevertheless, such challenges inevitably take their toll which is why it is my intention in the coming year to work with my colleagues at a much closer personal level by regularly visiting them on site, attempting to understand their problems and offering my support both in a practical sense and in a longer-term strategic manner to change the way in which we do things.