A Christmas Fable of Promises and Gold

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a king and his four sons.  The king had come to power through a promise he had made with the elves and fairies of the kingdom to look after their needs and wishes in exchange for him ruling the kingdom.

For many years the kingdom was successful and as his sons became older he gave each of them a task. The first prince was responsible for ensuring that there was sufficient food and firewood. The second prince was responsible for collecting taxes. The third prince was responsible for castles and weapons. The fourth prince was to look after the needs of the elves and fairies.

For many years the system worked well and the king, the princes and the people in the kingdom enjoyed happy lives. But one day the gold which was kept in the biggest castle was stolen and the kingdom was thrown into chaos.

The king called his four sons to a meeting and explained that their reserves were very low and they would all have to reduce their expenditure if the kingdom was to survive. He set each of the sons off to consider their plans and commanded that they return the next day with proposals.

The first prince decided that he would plant cheaper crops, reduce the amount of food given to each member of the kingdom, and increase the cost of food.

The second prince decided to increase income tax, put up taxes on hovels, and reduce the donations made to court beggars.

The third prince decided that they could sell off one of their castles to another kingdom, reduce the size of cannons on the castle walls, and stop the building of a new castle which had been planned for many years.

The fourth prince was stuck. He looked at his job and could think of lots of ways that he could reduce his costs.  For example, he could stop giving each elf a gold coin every day; or he could stop allowing fairies to replace their wings on a weekly basis; he could even take the drastic step of telling the elves and fairies that would no longer have a room of their own in their fairy castle.

But each time he pondered an option he came up against the promise that had been made by his father, the king, to the elves and fairies.

The next day the king called his sons to his court table and asked them to set out their plans.  Each of the first three princes explained in great detail how they would manage their reductions.

On completing the presentations, which had been well received by their father, they turned to the fourth prince.  He began by reminding the others of the promises their father had made to the elves and fairies on his becoming king.  As he continued he could see that his brothers were becoming angrier and angrier as it became obvious that he was saying that there was no way that he could reduce his expenditures if he was to keep the promise their father had made.

The other princes demanded that their brother go away and return the next day with a proper plan for reducing his costs in the same way in which they had done to the approval of their father.

That night the prince had a sleepless night for he had explored every possible avenue to reduce the money spent on the elves and fairies but he kept coming up against the promises his father had made to the elves and fairies on his crowning as king.

The next day they gathered again in the great hall and they waited patiently for their brother to match their proposals.  As he slowly got to his feet he stuttered that he did have a plan.  That plan was to stop giving each elf a gold coin every day and give them instead a silver coin.  He had calculated that this would save the same as his brothers and that it would allow the kingdom to survive.

His brothers were elated – they knew that their brother had been holding back on them and that if they pushed hard enough he would come up with a plan like this.

However, the king was a wise man and did not share his sons’ euphoria. He asked the fourth prince if he had discussed this plan with the elves and fairies.  The prince explained that he had but that they had not accepted the change in the conditions of the promise.  The other princes did not think that was important – surely the elves and fairies understood that if savings were not made that the kingdom would fail and that none of their conditions of the promise would be met in the future.

The king sat quietly and contemplated the dilemma. As he sat the other princes shouted and demanded that the condition be changed.  Eventually the king spoke.  He explained that the promise made to the elves and fairies was one from which there could be no withdrawing. He instructed the princes that the ‘problem’ and the ‘promises’ belonged to each of them equally and that they must work together to solve their challenge.

A year later the kingdom had survived its trial, for the four princes had come to recognise that the problem could not be resolved by working in isolation, or by ignoring commitments they had made to others, but only by working together in sharing the problems each of them faced in an equal manner. And they all lived happily ever after.

Adoption – the rights of the child must take primacy over the rights of the birth parents

There’s no easy way to say this. So I’ll just say it.  Some children need to be permanently removed from their own parents.

For the vast majority of parents who love and cherish their children, the idea of neglecting them, sexually or physically abusing them,  or subjecting them to mental cruelty is so far from our comprehension as to make it unbelievable.  Nevertheless, there are some parents who quite simply have a long term damaging effect upon their children – and the longer the child is exposed to that environment the more lasting the damage.

However, such is our personal and societal commitment to keeping the child with their parents that we do everything possible to make the “family” work that I believe we end up harming the long term well being of children born into such circumstances, as opposed to having the courage to put the interests of the child first and moving towards early adoption for such children – whilst they are still young enough to form a stable and loving attachment with adoptive parents.

Yet the reality of the situation is that all too often the same pattern is played out over and over again with tragic consequences for the children in question. For example, it seems reasonable to give drug abusing parents a chance – so we remove the child but only into a temporary fostering placement – in the hope that we can support the parents, give them supervised access to the child, and on many occasions manage to put the child back with their family under close supervision.  Inevitably the home placement falls down again – so we place them again in temporary  fostering – and so  on and so on. Eventually, when it becomes blatantly apparent that things are not going to work out  and the evidence is sufficient we decide enough is enough – often when the child is around the age of seven – and move for permanency order – thereby permanently removing the child from the care of the birth parents. Yet what is apparent from the evidence is that once children reach the age of seven that there is little likelihood of them being wanted for adoption.  It’s this paradox that so disturbs me. The simple question rings out in my head, “Why don’t we move to permanency earlier?” – especially when we know the long term harm that can be caused by damaging parenting.

The subsequent path for such a child is that they move to foster parents but it is likely that such a child who has not formed strong attachments with an adult will find such a permanence order difficult which then leads to a breakdown with the fostering parents and a subsequent move – or moves. The outcomes for such children are exceptionally negative, most of which can be traced back to our well-intentioned efforts to keep the child and their birth family together.

It’s within this ethical and emotional maelstrom that the social worker lives her or his life.  A social worker assigned to support a vulnerable child has an unenviable task. For it is human nature to seek to adopt an optimistic perspective on the outcomes of our professional work – I’ve written about this before and I find it remarkable that social workers can internalise the dangers of adopting an overly optimistic perspective when dealing with a vulnerable family. Nevertheless, perhaps it’s time for all of us to think again from a system perspective and reconsider our practice in light of what we know will be in the best interests of the child.

For it seems to me that there exists a systemic “rule of optimism” which is based upon people’s intuitive belief that a child’s best place is with its parents. Consequently we project our own values and behaviours upon parenthood and through a misguided sense of empathy believe that we should always err on the side of keeping the child with their parents – regardless of the overwhelming evidence of the long term damage this causes to the child.

Such a systemic perspective would appear to predominate as the view of the Courts and Children’s Hearings. For it can be argued that both of these cornerstones of our justice system make a presumption of giving the rights of the child, and the rights of the birth parents equal value.  In cases where any element of discretion or dubiety is present the social worker requesting a permanency order has to provide a much higher level of proof that the birth parents are damaging the child, than is required to prove that they are not damaging the child.

So what might we do about such a situation? I reckon there are three things which we could do in the short term. Firstly, we should try to find ways in which the evidence we provide to support permanency orders are more robust and compelling. Secondly, we should seek to engage with decision makers such as Sheriffs and Children’s Hearing members about the long term outcomes of children who we fail to take into permanency at an early stage. Thirdly, we should actively and vigorously engage with the current Scottish Government consultation on the Children and Young People’s Bill with a view to ensuring that the rights of the child take primacy over the rights of the birth parents – especially when considering decisions about the long term risks associated with leaving a child with damaging parents.

 

 

Civil Grand Jury

 

My good friend John Connell’s blog is always worth a read and so it was this week when  I came across his post about the Civil Grand Jury system in San Mateo, California.

The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is an independent investigative body created by the California State Constitution. Composed of nineteen citizens, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury serves as a “watchdog for citizens of the county.”

A Civil Grand Jury is charged with a grave responsibility. The Civil Grand Jury serves as an ombudsperson for the citizens of San Mateo County. The jury may receive and investigate complaints by individuals regarding the actions or performances of county or public officials. The attention of the entire county is centered upon an active Civil Grand Jury, and its every act is a matter of public interest. Malevolent and unfaithful public servants are uneasy, while honest citizens and the conscientious public servants are reassured. Therefore, Grand Jury service calls for diligence, impartiality, courage and responsibility.

Empowered by the state judicial system, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury submits meaningful solutions to a wide range of problems. The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is a volunteer, fact finding body with the potential to recommend constructive changes.

John was particularly interested in the Jury’s finding in relation to the question:

Are school districts in San Mateo County utilizing online and virtual classroom programs to expand and supplement the curriculum?

The recommendations made by the Jury in relation to this question are certainly worth reading and go way beyond what an offical might suggest. 

Looking further into the previous Jury Reports I came across the “Performance Review of San Mateo County Education Office” Within the system the Jury can gather evidence, call witnesses and make visits – all which strengthen the validity of the process. 

In Scotland, local authorities were recommended by the Audit Commission’s Report of 1993 to establish audit committees which have evolved in most authorities as Scrutiny Committees, which according to a 2005 report have proliferated but whose “effectiveness is patchy”.

The “audit committee” process in Scotland is dominated by the need to fulfil the requirement to audit of accounts – see  audit committee principles

There are three fundamental principles which define the expression “audit committee principles” and these are that there should be effective mechanisms in place to provide;

  • independent assurance of the adequacy of the risk management framework and the associated control environment within the authority;
  • independent scrutiny of the authority’s financial and nonfinancial performance to the extent that it affects the authority’s exposure to risk and weakens the control environment; and
  • assurance that any issues arising from the process of drawing up, auditing and certifying the authority’s annual accounts are properly dealt with.

None of the various scrutiny systems in Scottish local authorities go anywhere near the scope and range of the Civil Grand Jury.  In most cases the Scottish system is based upon elected members who review and scrutinise the work of their peers. Given the ever growing expectation for public service to be more transparent and to involve citizens in a meaningful manner I wonder if we could develop something akin to the system. I’m not arguing here for the removal of elected member involvement in the scrutiny process but I am intrigued by the potential of a Civil Grand Jury to:

“submit meaningful solutions to a wide range of problems” and “act as a fact finding body with the potential to recommend constructive changes.”

I’m sure there a number of issues that we face in East Lothian which would benefit from a citizen’s perspective upon which policy and practice could be developed.

University Challenge

 

I’ve just had a very positive meeting with some senior colleagues from Queen Margaret University. The new QMU  has just been built in East Lothian and has been named as one of the top 10 modern universities by the Sunday Times Good University GuideIt’s mission statement reads as follows:

To enhance the quality of life and serve communities, through excellence and leadership in vocationally and professionally relevant education, research and consultancy, as a university which is outward looking and committed to innovation, participation and lifelong learning.

In line with that exciting ambition we discussed the possibilities for partnership and soon recognised that the scope was huge and that what we have at present requires greater coordination and strategic direction.

Here are some of the possibilities:

1. Continuing Professional Development for education staff in East Lothian Council through the University’s Centre for Academic Practice and MSc in Prof Ed.

2. Sharing QMU’s  Learning and Teaching strategy to help to develop independent learners by end of S3.

3. Delivery of QMU part-time learning in EL Schools.

4. Creation of virtual and not-so-virtual learning environments for S6 students.

5. Sharing of kit & equipment e.g. chemistry labs.

6. Joint appointments or secondments.

7. Specific projects in areas such as performing arts especially drama, dance, film-making & theatre.

8. Shared utilisation of space in capital projects.

9. Research evidence for ELC meeting single outcome agreement , eg in health.

10. Engaging with the “Curriculum for Excellence” and “More Choices, More Chances” agendas.

We are already planning an exciting conference to be held at the campus scheduled for June 2009 which will involve every new S6 pupil in East Lothian but this just goes to show the incredible potential which exists for partnership events which will benefit both the university and the community of East Lothian.

 Our next step is to organise a high level strategic meeting to examine other partnership opportunities across the Council, beyond education, and to select a small number of initiatives to take forwards in a productive and coherent manner.

 Other suggestions are very welcome.

Developing my role

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.

Reconfiguring services – meeting the challenge

We held a very successful “Corporate Parenting” Conference today at the Marine Hotel, North Berwick. .

Adam Ingram MSP , Minister for Children and Early Years gave a  well informed and committed keynote address and emphasised the need for us to collectively address the needs of Looked After and Accommodated Children and to focus upon the improving outcomes for such children, namely:

  • Raising Attainment
  • Improved Leaver Destinations
  • Reducing offending
  • Improved Health

In the follow up questions Adam was asked a question about the need to reconfigure services and his vision for the future.  He alluded to an extensive vision but focused upon Early Years support and intervention encouraging us to reprioritise around this point if we are to make a difference to chidren’s lives.

In recent discussions with colleagues from many different fields I’ve found a similar willingness to engage with this agenda – although it remains to be seen if we can begin to reprioritise budgets to this area. Having said that we had a very useful example last week when we were able to redirect some work towards early years.  In a meeting with Diane Littlejohn we were discussing our parenting strategy and Diane was telling us about the transition work she is doing in one of our clusters to help all parents make the transition from being the parents of a child to the parent of a teenager (which any of us who have been parents will tell you is quite an adjustment). Nevertheless, we were able to connect the conversation to a recent meeting we had about a desperate need to support parents of very vulnerable young children to help the child adjust from home to nursery and nursery to primary school.

The emerging proposal was that we would be better directing Diane’s expertise to this age group with a view to making a long term impact – as opposed to trying to intervene in a situation which might be beyond help.  Now I know the danger here is that we have a “lost generation” but if we are serious about making a difference we need to move from “trying to fix” to “trying to prevent”.  As I’m finding out the consequences of reprioritising funding from previous areas of emphasis to other areas can cause significant distress and concern amongst those who perceive themselves to be losing out in this adjustment.

I reckon the solution/challenge here is to engage with all interest groups to describe what want to do, why we are doing it and involve them in the solution – without this dialogue the system can begin to break down with single issue groups only focusing upon their own needs and challenging the wider agenda which is to advocate for the needs of all children.

It’s this agenda which I’m finding professionally challenging but the potential rewards for taking this approach seems to me to be too good to miss.

Engaging with our communities – the role of social media

 

We held a meeting last week where we explored the potential of weblogs to assist the community planning process – based on the edubuzz model -although not necessarily using the same platform.

Community Planning is a process which helps public agencies to work together with the community to plan and deliver better services which make a real difference to people’s lives.

The aims of Community Planning in Scotland are:

1. making sure people and communities are genuinely engaged in the decisions made on public services which affect them; allied to

2. a commitment from organisations to work together, not apart, in providing better public services.

There are two further key principles in addition to the two main aims outlined above:

3. Community Planning as the key over-arching partnership framework helping to co-ordinate other initiatives and partnerships and where necessary acting to rationalise and simplify a cluttered landscape;

4. the ability of Community Planning to improve the connection between national priorities and those at regional, local and neighbourhood levels.

As we discussed the potential of weblogs it became apparent that this might just be a vehicle which could be of some real use.  If we could encourage key figures and other members of a local community to keep a weblog where they would reflect upon local issues and stimulate a dialogue within a community, the likelihood of planners and public services to take account of these opinions would be greatly enhanced. The old ways of questionnaires, focus groups, community conferences, canvassing do not enable a substantive, two way, on-going dialogue to take place where ideas can be shaped and developed over a period of time.

I know how I am being influenced by being able to read the weblogs of teachers, parents and children – surely this has some possibility for community engagement?

So how might such a scheme work? Let’s take a community like Tranent.  If we established an area where the weblogs of of the community could be accessed and new members could participate we would begin to build up a very rich picture of the strengths, opportunities and needs within the community.  Officers and elected members could engage with this dialogue and perhaps even have their own weblogs to make the decision making process even more transparent and interactive. 

I know some people might feel very threatened by such a suggestion, as it appears to almost encourage anarchy by handing over the “airwaves” to the public – yet surely that is what community planning is about? – a transparent enagagement with the local community to the point where people eventually (it would take some time) begin to believe that they do have a voice and that it is listened to. Even more importantly those who do make the decisions can explain the thought process and reasoning behind decisions – even those decisions which are unpopular (see example).

Last observations:

  • A councillor recently described how no one had attended any of their surgeries in the last four weeks. 
  • Another councillor described how few people had attended their surgeries over a three year period. 
  • East Lothian Council have started to hold some council meetings in the evening to be more available to the public – very few (less than 10 have attended in any one evening) .

Perhaps it really is time to explore alternative vehicles for community interaction?

Becoming a parent again

 

I’ve become a parent again!!!!

One of the most exciting aspects of my new job is that I intend to take on the role of Education Champion for Looked After and Accommodated Children in East Lothian. The reality of the educational outcomes of this group of children in Scotland is is quite shameful:

  • The attendance of children and young people looked after at home was 84.8%, looked after away from home was 91.5% and for all looked after children and young people was 87.9%; compared to an attendance rate of 93.1% for children and young people who were not looked after.
  • The exclusion rate per 1000 pupils for children and young people looked after at home was 323, for looked after away from home was 354 and for all looked after children and young people was 339; compared to 53 for those who were not looked after. 
  • 4.1% of children not looked after left school with no qualifications; this figure increased to 24% where the young person was looked after and accommodated and 41.9% when looked after at home.

It is the responsibility of the local authority to take on the role of Corporate Parent – or as Adam Ingram described it:

 “In some ways it’s like having the best bits of being a ‘pushy parent’: ensuring each individual child is having their own needs addressed and truly being looked after. Authorities and agencies can never fully replace a parent, but they can turn around the experiences of children from challenging backgrounds by asking ‘What would I want for my own child?’

I’d like to be that pushy parent and to be joined in that role by every single person who works for East Lothian Council.

When  I was a student I worked in a Secure Children’s Home. It was a seminal experience for me and I remember thinking that these kids didn’t have chance.  Perhaps I’m now in a position to try to do something about it?

Here are some further details about Looked After and Accommodated Children:

Scotland’s looked after children and young people live in a wide variety of home settings, broadly speaking they fall into the following groups:

  • At home with their birth parent(s)
  • With friends and relatives of their family
  • In foster care
  • In a residential unit/children’s unit
  • In a residential school
  • In secure accommodation

The living environment does appear to have a direct bearing on the educational outcomes of Scotland’s looked after children and young people. Based on the information gathered for the Children’s Social Work Statistics and Scottish Executive National Statistics Publications in relation to educational outcomes, when compared to other looked after children and young people:

  • Children and young people who are looked after at home with their parents do least well, as a group, in terms of attendance and achievement when compared to other groups of looked after children and young people.
  • Children and young people who are looked after and accommodated in foster care do best, as a group, in terms of attendance and achievement when compared to other groups of looked after children and young people.
  • Children and young people who are looked after and accommodated in residential units do least well, as a group, when compared to other groups of looked after and accommodated children and young people.

As at 31st March 2006, there were 12,966 looked after children and young people in Scotland. Of this group:

  • 56% were looked after at home by their parents or with other family members or friends and 44% were looked after and accommodated in foster care, residential or secure settings;
  • Almost 53% of Scotland’s looked after children and young people are aged under 12 years;
  • Just over 64% of children and young people looked after in foster care are aged under 12 years;
  • Almost 91% of children and young people looked after and accommodated in a non-secure local authority residential home or unit are aged 12 years or over; and,
  • Over 90% of children and young people looked after and accommodated in residential schools are of secondary school age or older.

25%  of the prison population were Looked After and Accommodated Children – this figure rises to 50% of the prison population under 25!!!

Local Outcome Agreements

 

We are about to enter a brave new world in relation to local governn ment funding with the introduction of Local Outcome Agreements (LOAs). An LOA changes the way in which money is released to Local Authorities by the Scottish Government and has the potential to radically shift the way in which we do our business.

Up to this point in time the focus has been on inputs to the system and linking money to particular national initiatives. For example in education we would receive money for developments such as Healthy Eating, or Study Support.  This money was “ring-fenced” i.e. it had to be spent in these areas and as long as it went to that budget heading the government were happy (within reason).

The idea behind Local Outcome Agreements is that funding is less tightly connected to particular initiatives leaving the local authority with more flexibility to meet local needs and circumstances. What will be specified will be the outcome that the authority agree to focus upon, e.g to raise the academic attainment for the lowest attaining 20% –  how this is achieved will be up the authority with less interference from national governement – or so the theory goes.

The following is essentially a worked example. An LOA includes three elements – Outcomes; Outputs and Baselines. The examples included:

outcomes such as ‘a reduction in the number of crimes committed by ..% from x to y
by 2003/04’;

outputs such as ‘deployment of .. neighbourhood wardens in A, B and C’ and

baseline ‘The number of crimes committed in 2006 was x in AA community. The
target is to reduce the number of crimes by 5% to x-5% in AA by 2007/08. Source:
police/local crime surveys’.

The report sets out the following advantages and disadvantages of Local Outcome Agreements:

ADVANTAGES
• Local ownership – priorities are set by partners and communities to reflect local
issues within a broad national framework.
• The shift in policy focus to outcomes and impacts – the LOA format makes partners
think about impact rather than just delivery and challenges them to consider what
approach to delivery is the most appropriate.
• Flexibility – the emphasis on outcomes rather than outputs allows partners flexibility
in programme delivery – a positive feature, particularly from the standpoint of
community involvement as the services and projects are not pre-determined.
• Clarity – LOAs provide a clear statement of priorities and aims.
• Accountability – there is a transparency about LOA partners and what they aim to
achieve. This allows the LOA to act as a reference document for the public and other
agencies.
• Partnership – the general view was that the process of drawing up a LOA had helped
to engage community planning partners.
• Evidence – emphasis on outcomes means that LOAs have the potential to provide inbuilt
monitoring and evaluation and thus provide an evidence base for future policy
development.
DISADVANTAGES
• The challenge of programme design – designing a programme with appropriate
performance indicators, in consultation with local people, is challenging.
• Consultation issues – for some Pathfinders the level of community consultation
involved in LOAs was excessive while for others not enough time had been allowed.
• Time limited – despite the greater flexibility of payment through Revenue Support
Grant (RSG), LOAs are still constrained by the difficulties of a time limited programme e.g. the difficulty of attracting and retaining staff for a temporary initiative.
• Conflict – for a few Pathfinders the use of LOAs led to a deterioration of their
relationship with the Executive. Other Councils felt that the Executive had been
flexible and understanding.

Education perhaps faces the greatest challenge in this new system as we had a large number of ring-fenced funding streams whcih went directly to support educational services in the authority. These funds will no longer be protected and it will be up to local authorities to prioritise where their money is spent – which of course means that there would be no guarantee that what previously came to education will necessarily come to them in the future.

On the up side we can have more flexibility to focus on outcomes as opposed to having to “do” things a certain way.  It would seem logical that this model is cascaded out to schools , where the school development plan would form a a Local Outcome Agreement with the authority with schools being much more at liberty to decide how they achieve that outcome. Of course the challenge would remain to try to keep some consistency between schools, although I think I would be happy enough to see consistency between schools wiythin a particular cluster.

The concern for schools will be the ability to becnhmark between authorties will become nigh impossible as they each identify separate agreements with the government based on local needs.

We’ll be getting more information over the next few weeks and I will endeavour to update this log as means of trying to make sense of it for myself.

A brave new world indeed!

 

Public Service

It’s accepted practice to give anyone who works for local authorities abuse and criticism.

The picture of petty bureaucrats and people who are not good enough to get jobs in the “real world” is rarely challenged.

When I met recently with David Spilsbury, our Head of Corporate Finance, to discuss issues relating to the education budget I asked him why he did his job – given the amount of stick it generates.  David’s answer was disarmingly simple and sincere – he is committed to the notion of public service. I think this is actually more common than people might imagine and runs through the core of the majority of people with whom I work, and with whom I come into contact during my day-to-day work.

David agreed to come out to a school with me today to look at how his work in managing the council’s finances is translated into public service at the sharp end. We both really enjoyed our time at Preston Lodge and I hope it helped him to understand the challenges we face in education whilst we were also able to gain an insight into the many competing demands for a limited council budget.

I will certainly challenge anyone in the future who casually lobs a criticism the way of our finance colleagues without trying to see the bigger picture.