Lucy spoke today at the Local Government Association’s Children and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth talking about Labour’s approach to achieving excellence in partnership with local government.
Achieving excellence in partnership – Speech to the Local Government Association National Children and Adult Services Conference 2015
It’s great to be here with you today as Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary.
Coming from Manchester I know the value of strategic, strong, successful local government. Councillors and civic leaders are pioneering new ways of working during a time of austerity. Greater Manchester is in the vanguard of the devolution revolution and as one of the cities MPs I am a strong supporter of its powerful potential. But it isn’t a substitute to adequate resources.
It is my pleasure to engage with you all and the LGA as the champion for localism.
Challenges facing local government
I know from my own area that local government is facing an unprecedented squeeze on resources, even as government is devolving power and responsibility.
These spending cuts are neither fair nor good economics. Not fair because the most deprived parts of England have seen the largest falls in resources.
Knowsley and Liverpool have seen income per resident fall by around £400 since 2011 despite being among the 10 most deprived areas in terms of health and disability. In contrast Wokingham has seen a cut per-head of less than £3 in an area with the least social deprivation.
I hear calls for fairer funding formulas but this can’t be at the expense of the poorest areas in the country and on the backs of some of the most in need.
The facts remain for example that someone born in my constituency is likely to live seven years less than someone born in Dorset – a fact that should frankly shame us all.
The cuts are not always good economics either: stripping back early years provision or social care, ultimately costs the country more in the long-run.
Investing in children
Of course Labour supports balancing the books but we are also clear this shouldn’t be done on the backs of the poor or at the sake of our children’s futures.
Early intervention, prevention, innovation and collaboration should be our watchwords. All the evidence shows that intervening early saves money as well as giving children and young people the best opportunity for success.
Investment in early years, education and further education is also critical to a strong and productive economy. It more than pays for itself over the medium term.
Cutting budgets in education and children’s services is madness and bad economics.
The value of education
Let’s turn now to education more specifically. Coming from a family of teachers and social workers, I know the value of public service and the impact good public servants can have.
I appreciate and celebrate the effort and commitment people working with children make every day to help pupils go the extra mile to succeed; to support parents to be better and give their child the best possible start in life; to work with young people to equip them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be the best they can in our modern, digital world.
Local authorities – as partners – have a key role to play in tackling the root causes of low attainment and low aspiration in their area; in reducing inequality and creating a productive economy.
Structures only part of the standards debate
However, while place-based solutions are transforming services in local communities the government seems determined that schools can remain outside this devolution revolution.
To Ministers, the name above the door of a school matters more than the teaching that goes on in the classroom. The views of the Secretary of State matters more than local leaders, parents and communities.
The government see academisation as the panacea for school improvement. The Education and Adoption Bill going through Parliament further centralises powers in the hands of the Secretary of State cutting parental choice out of the system as well as further fragmenting the system and focusing only on maintained schools when we know there are lots of failing academies and academy chains.
Labour’s sponsored academy programme did a huge amount to transform a small number of failing schools in disadvantaged areas - and brought much needed investment, support and innovation. It’s a legacy we are proud of.
But it was never about turning all schools into academies. There is no evidence that academisation, in and of itself, leads to school improvement. It is about many ingredients, not least leadership and teaching.
The balance in my view, between local accountability and central control, has gone completely the opposite way. It’s a balance that needs redressing.
So that’s why I’m clear - we will ensure there is strong local oversight and accountability of all schools regardless of whether they’re an academy or a free school.
Under Labour, local authorities will be able to ensure sufficient places and fair admissions, and have the ability to intervene in any school that is failing. I want to encourage collaboration in communities of schools and for all schools to work with their local communities to drive up standards.
But I also want to stress to you this is not about going back to an era when poor performing local education authorities failed children and when LEA’s had a monopoly over schools and their services. Far from it.
Let’s keep the freedoms schools now enjoy which are driving up standards and bringing innovation and new partnerships. But let’s ensure local people have the ability and capacity to intervene, raise concerns, ensure sufficient places and bring all schools into the community and collaborate. .
It is a pragmatic approach to the schools landscape we will inherit in 2020 when nearly all secondary schools will be academies, where there will be 500 free schools and a large number of primary schools will have become academies too.
Devolution Revolution must reach schools
Schools are not islands – they shouldn’t be divorced from other local agencies working to better communities, raise aspirations and narrow the inequalities in our society.
In London, the success of the London Challenge in turning around failing schools and improving education outcomes has had remarkable results. I know Liverpool is embarking on a Liverpool Challenge to improve schools there and I want to see more of this type of partnership working across the country so that local areas can work together to build capacity, challenge and support to improve education outcomes.
The Troubled Families programme is another good example of multi-agency working – although I’d like to see this expanded to target early years interventions.
In Greater Manchester the combined authority will use new powers to tackle the deep root causes of low attainment. That schools are outside this devolution is just wrongheaded.
Greater Manchester are in the vanguard of joining up across the Combined Authority children’s services.
The pioneering Early Help scheme in the city is a multi-agency referral system that is being used to flag where families are struggling so they can be offered support.
In the past most of the families using the Early Help service would have gone under the radar – or they would have been passed to an over-stretched social services team who would have took one look at the case and said the threshold wasn’t high enough for them to intervene.
Now responsibility for identifying and supporting struggling families is the preserve of all agencies, not just the local authority – so we have police, Sure Start, social services, health, schools and other agencies all working together in a joint mission to provide the early help families needs so that problems don’t spiral putting pressure on social services and late, more costly intervention.
The lower threshold for support means that we are seeing genuine early intervention. There is an onus on all agencies to work together and the scheme is already achieving results.
Schools don’t have to be a part of this system but in Manchester because of the history of close partnership working and collaboration they are.
I want to see more of this devolution of powers so that we can foster innovation and tackle the root causes of disadvantage locally, with skilled professionals who know their patch being the focus and the locus of decision-making rather than civil servants in Whitehall.
Pressures on our education system
You’re all aware of the big challenges facing education – you work day in day out to better the lives of children and young people in your areas.
That’s why more local oversight matters so much. Good local leaders with their fingers on the pulse can develop a strategic oversight and take action early.
Yet the government’s fixation on school structures means they’ve taken their eye off the ball on crucial issues affecting the classroom.
We are facing a chronic shortage of teachers with many at breaking point; more teachers left the profession that joined this year and teacher recruitment is falling year on year.
We have a places crisis in many areas with the rising birth rate putting enormous pressure on primary places and now secondary. I know local areas are struggling with this yet government are failing to give councils the tools they need to solve this problem. Councils should have the power to ensure sufficient places in their area through having the ability to expand any good or outstanding school in their area to meet demand.
The attainment gap is widening between disadvantaged pupils and their peers – we need a whole system focus on tackling this problem.
Post 16 education is facing a cliff edge ahead of the Spending Review – cuts of 40 per-cent would decimate sixth form colleges and FE institutions across the country. This is something we will robustly challenge. All the evidence tells us that countries which invest in 16-19 education achieve higher wage, more productive economies.
On childcare, the government’s 30 hour promise will be a challenge to deliver in many areas, particularly given the low level of funding and the government’s review. Delays to the expansion will mean that some parents who were relying on help will never receive it.
Sure Start is increasingly under threat with services hollowed out and opening hours reduced. I would urge you to protect children centre budgets and think strategically about how Sure Start fits into the early intervention services you may have in your local area. A number of areas are pioneering joined up multi agency working in the early years with Sure Start a key part of this. It makes no sense to cut these early intervention services and so I hope local areas innovate, working with health visitors and other agencies to secure these services for the future.
Of course there are many other areas we could talk about today – adoption, the state of fostering and kinship care, child protection and social work.
But I don’t want to stand here and talk at you for the whole of my session – I want to listen to your feedback; to work in partnership with you to develop a plan for 2020 so that we can genuinely join up services and see the step change we need to give every child the best start whilst raising standards and closing the attainment gap
We must be ambitious in our drive to deliver for children and families.
We must challenge and champion devolution so that you have the tools that you need to make a difference for your communities.
Because only through a relationship of partnership and trust can we achieve excellence for children and families.