Variance has dominated much of the children’s services narrative for too long now – it’s time to move the debate on to value.
At IMPOWER, we believe that the national debate on high needs has overly focussed on funding rather than looking more comprehensively at value, resources and children’s needs. We all want the best possible outcomes for children, not just a blank cheque. But to achieve this, the sector needs to be clear about what ‘good’ looks like and how that should be measured. We are therefore delighted that The MJ has published our Top 10 ranking of councils in relation to high needs, as well as an article from me setting out the purpose of the list.
We want our list to be the starting point for a much-needed debate; by sharing our Top 10 ranking, we hope to spark interest, challenge and ideas. It’s clear that despite the more than £6 billion invested last year, some parent groups are unhappy at the services that their children with high needs are receiving, and schools and frontline workers are fighting for resources. The system is not working well enough, and we should ask what value the £6 billion has brought, question where the system can change, and learn from the best councils.
What does ‘good’ look like?
Our approach to delivering positive and sustainable change is to start by asking ‘what does good looks like in high needs?’. Too often, schools and frontline workers are understandably firefighting rather than setting an ambition and then putting in place the resources needed to achieve it. High needs can be lost in the mix of issues that schools and Departments of Children’s Services are managing every day. By assessing council performance in high needs, we are deliberately redrawing the boundaries and focussing on one area.
This is different from Ofsted and CQC which together look across all of children’s services. By definition, therefore, our Top 10 does not align with Ofsted/CQC reporting as we are assessing different outcomes. The ranking reflects IMPOWER’s view of ‘good’: using publicly available data and the IMPOWER INDEX (our benchmarking tool for evaluating councils), we have selected and weighted a set of indicators that best reflect high needs performance. We use overall performance data rather than looking at individual case reviews.
Opinions will differ on how to measure performance in this area, and some people might take issue that our Top 10 does not align with their personal experience or with Ofsted. Of course, we stand by our analysis, but we do want to encourage a debate so that councils and schools can explain where spend is focused and what impact and outcomes it is delivering across the board and for individuals. It is in their best interests to be able to articulate clearly how additional national funding would make a difference for children, and to demonstrate how they are putting inclusion at the heart of what they do.