How you work together matters

4th December 2009 at 00:00
Aberdeen and south Ayshire

Since local government reorganisation in 1996, education services have climbed into bed with social work or children's services (East Ayrshire, Edinburgh), with culture, leisure and sport (Highland), and even with housing (Argyll and Bute, East Dunbartonshire).

A few have stayed single (Dundee, Fife, Midlothian), while some have entered into departmental marriages, only to divorce (Glasgow). For others, looming budgetary crises are forcing them into shotgun marriages.

In the future, there may be cross-boundary partnerships involving friends and neighbours, if the Arbuthnott report recommendations on how eight Clyde Valley authorities can share services are implemented (TESS last week).

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, observes that, while some authorities have restructured according to localities (Aberdeen) and others by service (Stirling was the first to link education with the children's part of social work), the driver for many is financial.

But is there evidence that integrated services have produced better outcomes - in child protection, for instance?

"Having read different child-protection inspection reports, there is no evidence to suggest that integrated departments naturally do better," Mr Stodter says. "It is how you work together that matters."

Amid an unprecedented squeeze on education spending, he suspects that those education departments which have remained standalone have been better protected. "As soon as you put education and social work together, there is always budgetary pressure in terms of demand-led issues. Much of social work's budget is demand-led, whereas in education, the culture is to stick to the budget," he says.

Elizabeth Buie

Aberdeen

There is fresh optimism in Aberdeen's schools after the authority ditched a hugely-unpopular management structure, which split the city into three "neighbourhoods" and left it without an education director.

HMIE was unimpressed in 2007 with the radical Aberdeen Futures project: it found education leadership to be "weak". Reverting to a more traditional structure was one of chief executive Sue Bruce's first priorities after the former education director in East Dunbartonshire took up her post last December.

That led to the recent arrival of an education, culture and sport director, former chief inspector of education Annette Bruton. She said head-teachers appreciated the renewed focus on learning and teaching, which would give fresh impetus to Curriculum for Excellence.

John Stodter was the city's learning and leisure director as it became clear Aberdeen Futures was going "too far, too fast". He turned down the chance of a new role and left the council in 2006, believing the responsibilities of the new directors' posts were beyond anyone's abilities. Other senior officials shared that view and left, removing a huge amount of experience.

Now the general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (but making his comments in a personal capacity), Mr Stodter backed the move to a less "convoluted" management structure, which would help restore public confidence badly battered by the scale of the financial crisis which has hit the council.

Schools had been getting "mixed messages" from strategists and operational managers, said Grant Bruce, the Educational Institute of Scotland's Aberdeen secretary. One of the worst-affected areas was additional support needs.

"Three people were controlling a budget that should have been controlled by one person - that's why we are in the financial mess we're in now," he said.

Mr Bruce stressed that swift progress had been made in reintroducing a more conventional structure, with clearer directives coming from the top.

Harlaw Academy headteacher John Murray said Aberdeen Futures had had the "very sound" aim of getting different parts of the local authority to work more closely together. But he failed to see the sense in dispensing with an education director: "It was difficult to know who was deciding what and who was accountable."

Mr Murray has been feeling "a lot more optimistic" since Mrs Bruton's arrival.

Henry Hepburn

South Ayrshire

In south Ayrshire, education sits alongside social work, housing, criminal justice, culture, leisure, sport and community development - just about everything except roads and environmental services.

Harry Garland, executive director of children and community, leads this giant grouping of "public-facing" services. The focus, he says, is to "break down the barriers that professionals and agencies have built up and look at the outcomes in a wider sense. The ethos is that structures, procedures and systems are not the backbone of the delivery of outcomes but the methodology.

"We are trying to alter behaviour and thinking, so a head will not just be thinking of his or her responsibility for attainment but go back further - to how he or she can ensure pupils coming through schools have the best opportunities in life."

By doing cross-sector problem-solving and sharing information about what each sector does, it is more likely everyone will have the same direction of travel, he believes.

"Change management" is vital in South Ayrshire, which received a scathing Audit Scotland report in April for its poor management, serious financial situation and lack of a culture of continuous improvement.

Mr Garland knows that change management, including driving up school attainment, takes time. Pupil performance is improving, he says, but there are still significant numbers of under-achieving pupils.

Another plan is to find jobs for post-probationers in the wider field of work with children and young people which do not require certain statutory qualifications.

He feels the new structure has allowed the council to improve its service for looked-after children. It has reduced the number of out-of-authority placements and replaced them with supervised care arrangements in the home or community.

Allan Rattray, head of Girvan Academy, is on-message in describing the impact of the integrated service as extending his role from head to "senior manager of a school with a greater responsibility for strategic working across different departments and sectors in the community as well. Schools have to take Getting It Right for Every Child as the key driver, and make that the umbrella which will deliver CfE."

Elizabeth Buie.

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