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Call for 'concrete' peer-review plan

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Councils have a two-week window to convince schools secretary Michael Gove the sector is capable of tackling failing children’s services departments.

Local government officials have been working with the Department for Education to develop a new system of peer-review and challenge as part of changes to the assessment landscape. But LGC understands Mr Gove wants concrete proposals for how it would deal with future Haringey and Doncaster-type situations.

Funding for the new regime needs to be decided by the end of the financial year.

Rob Whiteman, managing director of Local Government Improvement & Development, said he was confident such a system would be approved and insisted there would be “a degree of challenge in relation to services for vulnerable people”.

Mark Rogers, chief executive at Solihull MBC and children’s services lead at the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, said a system where councils grouped together to provide peer review and support would highlight areas where more intensive help was needed.

“There are good examples of where the sector has shown itself to be capable of driving improvement itself,” he said. “But we need to provide a plan that shows how we’re capable of doing it every single time.”

Christine Davies, director of the Centre for Excellence & Outcomes for Children and Young People’s Services, said the alternative to self-regulation was a return centrally-driven programmes such as field forces.

“There is a need for improvement support and we’ve got to get it up and running and moving forward,” she said. “If we don’t do that there will be a vacuum.”

Marion Davis, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said members preferred a system of sector-led improvement, as opposed to centrally designed and delivered support.

“We believe that the skills required to secure continuous improvement of outcomes for all children rest within the sector and are keen to make use of this expertise for the benefit of all local authorities and partners working with children,” she said.

“The system must be more robust, less burdensome and more flexible than what has gone before, while offering value for money, and this is the challenge we are working towards with colleagues in Solace and the Local Government Group.

A Department for Education spokesman said sector-led support was ministers’ preferred direction of travel, but indicated that the issue was when and how intervention would take place.

“Ministers wish to see a decisive shift in accountability for service improvement away from central government towards being driven by local authorities themselves, with peer to peer improvement support where needed,” he said.

“However, Ministers will act to secure improvement where there is evidence of significant or long standing failure, or where there is evidence that a local authority has been unable to do so.”

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