By Lee-Ann Fenge, Deputy Director National Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work
It is difficult to under-estimate the importance of effective leadership and leadership style within children’s services. Children’s services represent complex areas of practice including child protection and looked after children, and services are being delivered against a backdrop of increasing fiscal restraint and budget cuts. The recruitment and retention of a skilled workforce is an on-going challenge and as a result leaders need to be able to effectively deliver innovative responses to provide services which achieve better outcomes for children and their families.
Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) inspect and regulate services that care for children and young people, but worryingly recent inspection figures revealed there were more “inadequate” than “good” children’s services in English local authorities. This is worrying for both local authorities and those receiving support from them.
Staff from the National Centre of Post-Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University, have been working in partnership with one local authority to develop a robust approach to leadership in order to enhance service delivery in children’s services. Cheshire West and Chester have committed to deliver an Aspiring Team Leader programme and an Aspiring Practice Lead programme as part of a sustainable workforce development approach. Kate Howe, from the NCPQSW, has worked with them to deliver a bespoke Masters level Leadership unit, providing added depth to the programme.
This commitment to workforce development and leadership has proved very positive for Cheshire West and Chester who were recently awarded ‘good’ in their Ofsted inspection, whilst leadership, management and governance were deemed as ‘outstanding’.
‘This outstanding leadership has resulted in good-quality services that respond to the needs of children and families quickly and effectively’ (Ofsted, 2016:2).
Cheshire West and Chester have embraced a culture of leadership and coaching as a central plank to improve services for children and their families, taking on board recommendations from Ofsted’s report into effective leadership (2015).
Ofsted suggest that it is possible to overcome some of the challenges of contemporary children’s services through innovation and robust succession planning. This includes approaches to workforce development which value ‘growing your own’, and an importance on learning and development alongside protected budgets and caseloads (Ofsted, 2015). Cheshire West and Chester’s approach to leadership appears to acknowledge these key areas and their recent Ofsted Inspection highlighted the importance of their partnership with Bournemouth University.
‘The authority is active in trying to retain staff through a staff development policy including aspiring senior practice leads and aspiring team managers’ courses, and is currently developing an aspiring senior manager course, all in conjunction with Bournemouth University’ (Ofsted, 2016: 33).
The value added of working alongside a university concerns not only the content of the learning, but also the critical role of assessment of learning. By designing clear assessment strategies based on reflective practice, it is possible to evaluate the effectiveness of learning on staff thinking and practice, and ultimately support a culture of change within the organisation.
Ofsted (2015) Joining the dots… Effective leadership of children’s services, Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/424193/Joining_the_dots__effective_leadership_of_childrens_services.pdf
Ofsted (2016) Inspection of services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers And Review of the effectiveness of the Local Safeguarding Children Board – Cheshire West and Chester http://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/local-authorities/cheshire-west-and-chester