Posted by:29 May, 2012
From a ‘zero’ rating to ‘performing excellently’ Oldham Council’s children’s services have transformed dramatically over the last decade. Michael Jameson, director of children’s services for Oldham Council, pictured, explains how they did it.
Oldham’s Children’s Services have undergone a radical transformation – from being rated ‘adequate’ to ‘performing excellently’ – in just a few years. Our services are now effective and widely praised, receiving national recognition and playing a key role in the Local Authority’s recent LGC award for most Improved Council.
This journey – from the ‘adequate’ baseline of 2008 to the excellent standard provided now – speaks volumes of the dedication of Council staff and partner organisations to deliver continuous improvement against a backdrop of serious financial constraint.
The situation on my arrival in Oldham three years ago reflected the rating at the time, with many areas requiring serious improvement. While pockets of good practice existed, the service was marred with weak relations between organisations, a lack of visible leadership and no clear direction. Education standards were poor and external intervention to support us in this regard was a distinct possibility. The preventative agenda was underdeveloped, with inconsistent delivery.
A lack of pace
Locally, great play was made of moving from zero rating (2002) to adequate 2008, but as a parent as well as the Director of Children Services (DCS) I considered the lack of pace from my own children’s perspective. Children starting school in 2002 were still only getting an average offer from services at the end of their primary school experience several years later.
The challenge of improving the outcomes was potentially compounded by the timing of a major transformation of the BSF Academy programme and with an authority which had a £20 million pound gap and a weak corporate assessment.
On starting as the DCS I sought to embed several key qualities and practices at the core of the service. While these built on emerging corporate developments and centred on the Council’s ‘people and place’ ethos they were founded on an ambition for every child in Oldham to succeed.
The first change was to encourage partnership working at every level. Through improved communication, decisions were taken earlier and were more effective in their outcome. This new approach also began to change the character of services across the Borough, with better relationships and understanding between organisations providing support for young people – leading to better results and increased expectations.
Clear direction and accountable leadership were a central component in improving the service. By ensuring that senior management’s intentions and goals were widely understood there was a greater sense of ownership at all levels of the organisation. We also worked hard to incorporate the opinions and experiences of staff and service users into policy decisions, especially within the multi-agency partnerships. Not only did this reinvigorate relations with schools, it also meant that all parties were brought on side wherever possible. Stakeholders knew what changes were happening and why – as well as feeling enabled to influence how the changes took place.
We also incorporated a shift towards greater prevention through working with neighbourhoods and efforts to build on safeguarding successes beyond the child-protection ‘footprint’. This helped services attune to what was needed in different communities, and meant that through a more long term strategic approach previous gains were not lost through lack of continuity.
Most important of all was the involvement of children in helping to decide this direction. Through bringing young people in on meetings better communication was achieved – meaning better outcomes for all. For instance, by working closely with the Youth Council, the senior management of Children’s Services got much valued input into decisions about budgets and young people’s priorities. At a time of 25% reduction in children’s budgets – not including loss of funds through grants – this was invaluable. By starting with the beneficiary, children’s perspectives on services and their evolution became a central tenet of their delivery.
While internally we have been aware that the service has been improving in leaps and bounds as it happened, external recognition has followed suit with the Ofsted annual performance assessments. Our rating of ‘performing excellently’ in 2010 and 2011 helped us keep our drive for improvement.
A recent Ofsted inspection of out Safeguarding and Looked After Children gave a glowing assessment – the same Safeguarding service that received a ‘zero’ rating in 2002 – with many features considered ‘outstanding’ and putting us among some of the best in the country. This has also been the case with several national awards, and most proudly for me as DCS recognition for our engagement with young people.
It is the evidence underneath the Ofsted rating which gives the most satisfaction. It is the accounts from young people and their families how their lives – and their aspirations – have improved. We have changed people’s lives for the better – and in doing so made Oldham a better place to be on the whole.
Michael Jameson, director of children’s services, Oldham Council
Anyone interested in more information about Oldham Council’s transformation please contact Chris Mitchell, media & communications officer, Oldham Council on 0161 770 4707 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Share your scheme
Does your council have an example of best practice you can share with your counterparts in other local authorities?
Get in contact now and tell me about them
From The Little Things
LGC’s blog series from local councils on the schemes that make a real difference to their community. Best practice examples from councils for councils.