Social workers, teachers and other professionals working in children’s services should be encouraged to take more risks and learn openly from mistakes, according to a report published today by Demos, the think-tank for everyday democracy, and GatenbySanderson, the leading public sector recruitment and development consultancy.
The report will be launched by the Schools Minister Jacqui Smith MP on Wednesday 7th December at MillbankPrimary School in London.
The Leadership Imperative: Reforming children’s services from the ground up argues that a culture of risk aversion could obscure the professional judgement of workers in children’s services and neglect the needs of children. The report is based on in-depth interviews with local authority Directors of Children’s Services (DCS).
“An excessive focus on risk aversion could be taking power away from front line professionals and failing to put the needs of children first”, say the report’s authors, Hannah Lownsbrough and Duncan O’Leary. “For the Every Child Matters reforms to succeed on the ground, we need to trust children’s professionals. Leaders in children’s services must help to create safe environments in which professionals can take the kind of risks that can improve services for children and learn openly from mistakes.”
As one Director of Children’s Services interviewed for the research said: “There are risks associated with being so worried about bad things that might happen that we get separated from our core purpose as professionals, which is to give children a good and happy childhood that sets them up to move into adult life on a good foundation.”
The report proposes steps to foster a culture of ‘owning up’ in children’s services, in which professionals learn by openly discussing operational shortcomings. It argues that children’s services departments should learn directly from the success of Critical Incident Reporting in the NHS. It also points to the US Army’s use of After Action Review meetings, where officers of all ranks assess the successes and failures after every mission. A similar approach could be used by children’s professionals in situations where support for a child has been inadequate or after a particularly ‘near miss’.
The report proposes that local authorities be given much greater control over the advice they receive from central government. Local authorities should have the power to commission advice from central government and other sources. Councils should also be given the ‘right to recall’ central government inspection teams, to gather strategic advice after inspection reports have been published.
Schools should also be afforded the ‘right to recall’, providing the opportunity for a strategy day after the official Ofsted report has been published. Inspectors should be explicitly charged with transferring excellent practice between schools. Every Ofsted inspection team should include at least one person who has spent 60 days working in a school.
Notes to editors
- The Leadership Imperative will be launched by the Schools Minister Jacqui Smith MP on Wednesday 7th December, 5-7 pm. For further information abut the launch event, or to attend, please email email@example.com
- The Leadership Imperative: Reforming children’s services from the ground up, written by Hannah Lownsbrough and Duncan O’Leary, is published by Demos and GatenbySanderson on 7th December 2005. Copies can be downloaded from www.demos.co.uk/publications/leadershipimperative or ordered from Central Books on 020 8986 5488.
- Hannah Lownsbrough is a researcher at Demos. Her previous publications include Include Me In: How life skills help homeless people back into work (2005). Duncan O’Leary is a researcher at Demos. His previous publications include A Fair Go: Public Value and Diversity in Education (2004).
- Demos is the think tank for everyday democracy. It has a long running interest in education, childhood development and local governance. Recent Demos publications include Start with People: How Community organisations put citizens in the driving seat (2005) and About Learning: The report of the Learning Working Group (DfES, 2005).
- GatenbySanderson is a leading public sector recruitment and development consultancy which has worked extensively in the children's services.