Concern has been expressed that the government’s favoured model for sector-led children’s services improvement is placing too much burden on directors of children’s services but marginalising chief executives.
The partners in practice scheme sees strongly performing councils selected to be given funding to support departments deemed by Ofsted to be facing difficulty.
Speaking at last week’s Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers summit, Local Government Association chief executive Mark Lloyd said his organisation, Solace and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services sought to get the government to consider other approaches.
“We are finding it almost impossible to shift the approach away from partners in practice,” he said.
“Chiefs typically spend way less time on children’s services than on health. The key is how we get our senior officers engaged on children’s services.” He urged the Department for Education to “shift the approach away” from excessive reliance on DCS.
The current system was “relying on a small number of councils” to offer assistance when many councils had the capability to help others improve, he said.
Speaking to LGC, Mr Lloyd added: “Partners in practice is part of the solution, it’s not the whole solution.”
His viewpoint was endorsed by Wakefield MBC chief executive Merran McRae who expressed fear high performing councils might lack the capacity to support others through the partners in practice model. She was also worried a system in which departments were labelled as either giving support or needing support could accelerate “polarisation” in service quality.
Ms McRae said the shortage in DCSs was related to the bad coverage they received when services suffered difficulties and they were forced out of jobs. This led to a “football manager syndrome”, in which DCSs often held their posts only for short periods of time.
Mr Lloyd said LGA modelling indicated that at the end of this decade children’s services budgets faced a £2bn shortfall, a figure that was likely to be an underestimate due to continually growing demand.