Category Archives: Education

Change for the better: David Martin’s reflections on SOLACE Scotland Conference 2012

Change for the Better

Held three weeks after the Scottish local government elections, this year’s SOLACE (Scotland) Conference – Change for the Better – took place against a radically different political landscape: 30% of Elected Members were elected to office for the first time and there have been numerous changes of administrations across the country, with some interesting coalitions formed. But while the landscape may be different, many of the challenges remain the same, and this year’s conference therefore explored what local government can and should be doing to build a better Scotland.

Local authorities were challenged, in particular, to raise the bar in promoting economic growth. Peter Grant of the Entrepreneurial Exchange called for the public sector to become a champion for business, to listen to business and to ensure that rules are business friendly.  George Black, Chief Executive of Glasgow City Council, asked whether local authorities were being strategic enough in their approach to jobs and the economy: should, for example, local authorities be looking to target the pension funds they hold for local investment? Likewise, given the projected rise in demand for social care, shouldn’t SOLACE take the lead in developing a national strategy for training the future social care workforce?

Delegates were also challenged to raise the bar by Sir Harry Burns, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, who asked ‘Why don’t we aim to close young offenders’ institutions?’ Challenging the preconceived notion that Scotland is an inherently sick nation, he outlined the connection between the loss of employment that Scotland suffered in the 1970s and the emergence of its poor health record. A comprehensible, manageable environment is essential for good health, he argued, because if individuals do not feel they are in control of the world around them, they experience chronic stress. To improve health outcomes, the challenge is therefore to give people control over their lives and to increase social connectedness in communities that are alienated. The correct public sector approach, he argued, is to co-produce.

But what should local authorities do to help people become more connected?One key theme that emerged was the importance of Chief Executives creating an organisational culture in which staff feel genuinely empowered to do different things and to do things differently. Senior managers must create an environment in which staff are supported and equipped with the skills they need, and are not reluctant to try new things for fear of failure.

While delegates were reminded of the important and often innovative work that local government does every day in building a better Scotland, it is clear that more remains to be done.To raise the bar, local authorities need to think more strategically,engage better with business and make better use of evidence-based practice. More importantly, though, it is not enough for local government to take action in isolation. Imposing initiatives on communities is not the way forward. Rather, it is for councils and partner organisations to work with communities, to enable them to produce their own solutions. Only in this way can Scottish local authorities and communities change together for the better.

David Martin

Chair, SOLACE (Scotland)

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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Filling the Gap: The Championing Role of English Councils in Education – SOLACE Call to Action

The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) has formally entered the debate around the future role of Councils in education. Filling the Gap is a call to action issued primarily to Chief Executives and Senior Managers within local government with two key aspirations:

  • Firstly, to ensure that through strong local government leadership, Councils remain committed to the pursuit of educational excellence to secure the best outcomes for communities; and
  • Secondly, to encourage Councils’ visible and proactive leadership in shaping the policy and implementation landscapes.

Through the paper, SOLACE seeks to contribute to the clarification of Councils’ championing role by proposing that:

  • Championing the vulnerable means enabling the voice of the child and young person to be heard, and complementing this with Council’s own local brand of vigorous and proactive advocacy, speaking up for those who would otherwise not be heard.
  • Championing parents and families means empowering them to support and challenge their school to improve continuously.
  • Championing educational excellence means creating the environment for others to succeed.

The Paper explores a range of ideas and opportunities for Councils to fulfil these overarching championing roles but insists that it remains up to individual Councils, in partnership with their schools and communities, to work out this call to action within their local areas.

Despite this localist thrust, SOLACE acknowledges that in some specific areas local-national collaboration is necessary to prevent school autonomy unintentionally resulting in fragmentation, and to achieve consistency and sustainability in the pursuit and achievement of excellence. Filling the Gap, therefore, also calls on the Government to:

  • Agree that there should be voluntary, local “cooperation and intervention” protocols between all schools and their Councils;
  • Work with SOLACE, Academy Sponsors and relevant others to progress a national agreement between Government and Councils about the process of intervention in underperforming or failing schools, including Free Schools and Academies;
  • Work with SOLACE to explore the feasibility of establishing a formal system for developing Governing Body Clerks as competent and recognised professional advisors.

SOLACE invites you to engage with the ideas presented in Filing the Gap and calls on Councils to promote and pursue the key elements that make most sense in their local areas.

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