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Extra peer review funds for children's services

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The Department for Education has committed an extra £8.5m to a new early years social mobility peer review programme with the Local Government Association.

The money will be specifically used to ensure councils work together to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children.

A further £5m will be used to trial projects in the north-east to improve children’s communication skills at home before they begin school.

Responding to the announcement, Roy Perry (Con), vice chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “We are very pleased that the government has announced funding for a new LGA peer review programme of sector-led support which will share and promote good practice and knowledge across councils.

“Councils are absolutely determined to make sure that children get the best start in life. This is why we need to close ‘the word gap’ in the early years, by focussing on key early language and literacy skills, so that all children can begin school ready to thrive.”

This comes after cuts to early intervention services, resulting from financial pressures on children’s services, have made social services’ interventions “more reactive”, the Education Policy Institute said in a report published yesterday.

Appearing before Commons’ science and technology committee today, children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said the extra funds, also announced yesterday, showed there is a “commitment” to gather evidence about “what is working well and then scale that up”.

Also appearing before the committee, mental health and inequalities minister Jackie Doyle-Price said she preferred “a localised approach” to improving early intervention services. But she added: “Equally we do realise there is a massive variable in the quality of local leadership.”

While Ms Doyle-Price said it is the government’s job to set “clear expectations” about the expected quality of local services and “use tools where that’s not happening”, she added: “We will get better results by empowering local authorities.”

Empowering workforce through good leadership was a recurring theme throughout the session. Mr Zahawi recounted a story about how Doncaster MBC turned its children’s services around while retaining 70% of the workforce in post when it was rated inadequate by Ofsted. He said it was a result of staff being given confidence in their ability to do their jobs and the knowledge that the heads of service were going to be around for a long time to oversee the transformation.

“Much of this [turning services around] is about really good, stable leadership,” he said.

Later in the session Mr Zahawi was asked if local authorities are gathering enough data to make informed decisions about how to best run services. “I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said.

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