Use scorecards to prove your point

Mark Rogers, Chief Executive of Solihull and Chair of the SOLACE Children’s and Education Network posts on the importance of sector-led improvement over a top-down target driven appraoch.

This is an apposite week in which to be writing about sector led improvement in children’s services. Partly, because the Children’s Improvement Board (CIB) is overseeing an accelerated roll out of the Towards Excellence For Children programme that is driving peer challenge and peer review in every Council’s children’s services. But also because last Friday we saw the Department for Education exhibit a worrying reversion to type in the publication of its Adoption Scorecards.

To give some brief context, across the country Councils are steeping up to the plate and demonstrating that they intend to own and drive their own improvement – from within and in partnership with each other, allying this to a genuine commitment to being held to account for their performance by the communities they serve. This approach is flourishing in the light of the Coalition Government’s, and notably CLG’s, relaxation of the top down, target driven, field force dominated, inspect-us-till-it-hurts approach that so diverted Councils in the past from fully concentrating on the real job of improving outcomes and reducing inequalities locally.

And those with children’s services responsibilities have been incentivised by the new mood music. As a result, we are at the leading edge in driving sector led improvement forwards through a unique and committed partnership between SOLACE, the LGA and ADCS which, operating nationally and regionally in the form of Children’s Improvement Boards, has mobilised the leadership of chief executives, children’s directors, leaders and lead members to sign up to, and engage in a “mutual aid” programme to support universal and sustainable effectiveness.

We know that we have had to persuade sceptics, both within the local government family and at the Department for Education. We have also sought to influence the development by Ofsted of its inspection frameworks, helping it to identify synergies with, and reinforce the importance of, the sector led programme. Hardly plain sailing, but all well and good we thought. And, therefore, it was all the more disconcerting to find that, when it comes to improving adoption outcomes – an agenda that Councils absolutely share in common with Ministers – there is to be such an unnecessarily interventionist approach.

What Councils will particularly fail to comprehend, especially when there is so much contrary evidence from the previous 10 years, is why the Department believes that a return to league tables (that allow a resurrection of the “name, shame and blame” game) will motivate Councils to do better – and, crucially, encourage prospective adopters to come forward. Local government is not arbitrarily opposed to scorecards; but what it favours most is outcome-based data and considered, evidence-led policy with a focus on “customer” outcomes.

And remember, in case you think we’re a lone voice, it is only a year ago that Professor Munro’s Government-commissioned child protection report reminded us all that, first and foremost, it is valuing and sharing learning, and not apportioning blame, that drives the most rapid and sustainable improvements in practice and, critically, promotes openness, transparency and a willingness to admit weaknesses and tackle them.

So, let’s take these scorecards as a learning opportunity – one which further galvanises local government to perfect the art of sector led improvement and, consequently, shows Government that, in future, it does not need to do things this way.

First published in the LGC on 17 May 2012 – www.lgcplus.com

These, and other challenges facing local public services will be the focus of discussions at the SOLACE Summit in Coventry on 16-18th October. More information and details of how to book are available here.

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