Tim Loughton to the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People's Services
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Tim Loughton speaks to the C4EO about improving public services for children, young people and families, and promotes sharing examples of good practice as a means to driving up standards.
Thank you, Sir Paul. And thank you Christine for inviting me to speak to you today.
C4EO is doing some really interesting and important work, which complements a lot of thinking in Government Departments across Whitehall, particularly in these financially challenging times. So I think this is a very good opportunity to talk about that approach, what we can learn from each other, and how to put those lessons into practice.
But first it might be useful to put the current situation in context, and say something about the challenges facing all of us in the coming months and years.
[Outline of the financial situation - how we got here, need for financial restraint, etc.]
Last week the Chancellor’s emergency budget set out the tough but fair measures that we need to take to tackle the country’s budget deficit and bring spending back under control, in I think a measured and realistic way.
The scale of the fiscal challenge is huge, and that does mean there will be very real and unavoidable challenges - and the Department for Education is not immune from them.
Many families will face the challenge of hardship.
There will be a strain not just on resources, but on relationships too. As pressure on families increases, so too will the pressure on children.
One child in five in this country is currently living in poverty, and two million children live in poor housing.
And we know about the links between economic recession and the effects on mental health in the family and, increasingly, in children.
As they look to us, and to you, for support in these difficult times, we have to ensure that our services offer them what they need in the best possible way.
That’s why the coalition government has put the principles of freedom, fairness and responsibility at the heart of our decision-making and our policies.
We have already announced that we will protect spending on schools, Sure Start and 16-19 funding, while also announcing the introduction of a pupil premium that will allow us to tackle educational inequality by ensuring that additional money is provided to those who teach the most disadvantaged children. And we will refocus Sure Start on meeting the needs of the most disadvantaged families.
But there’s no doubt the landscape has changed, and when we’re thinking about how to provide public services in future - whether that’s childcare places, safeguarding vulnerable children, or school IT projects - we need to look first and foremost at quality outcomes as well as value for money, and do all we can to make sure that we get the maximum bang for our buck.
That means looking at outcomes rather than, for example, throughput.
Because in the past I would contend, too much of what passed for evaluation of any particular process or project was often not much more than a measurement of quantity - how many young people were signed up for this or that particular scheme, for instance - rather than a thoughtful analysis of what each individual may or may not have gained from the project. Did it have a life-changing impact for them? How did it improve their life chances?
So we have to be smarter, we have to think about how children have actually benefited (or not) from our policies and investment; about the timeliness of interventions, and whether departments and agencies have done as much cross-cutting work as they can.
In the coming years, all of our interventions must be targeted on the people who will benefit most, and provided in the way that will help them best.
So I am really switched on to good practice. Where is it? And how do we learn from it?
How do we discover the best models for public services in times like these?
At the heart of the new government’s approach is a determination to move away from a top-down, prescriptive approach, and to devolve more power and freedom to parents and professionals.
Parents have the primary responsibility for raising children, and our policies should always recognise that. But even the best parents need support from time to time.
So we need to make sure they have access to the professionals - whether state-provided or from the voluntary sector - who are experts in their respective fields.
They are the people we need to trust, and it’s their experience we need to share.
Thousands of them are already doing excellent work, and formerly as an opposition front-bencher, and in the first month in my new job, I have visited some great examples of local schemes that are really making a difference.
There are successful projects in every part of the country. In Kent, for example, an Early Talk programme has been set up in Ashford, at low cost, to help children with speech and language difficulties to develop their communications skills early on. It’s a multi-agency approach, and it has resulted in over 90 per cent of those children making good progress in a mainstream primary school when in the past they would have needed specialist language provision. Poor speech development is often at the heart of poor learning, and the earlier it is detected and dealt with, the better a child’s chance of keeping up both educationally and socially.
And Kensington & Chelsea’s ‘Virtual School’, with its focus on attendance and attainment, is improving the educational outcomes of looked after children and young people in the borough, and making real reductions in the number who are not in education, employment or training (NEET).
Or there’s Tower Hamlets’ ‘Parents as Partners in Early Learning’ scheme, where a system for sharing information between parents, teachers and others involved with the child’s learning has resulted in a significant increase in children’s communication and personal skills.
So there’s plenty of good practice going on out there. But there’s no point having a brilliant idea and not telling anyone about it. That’s why C4EO’s work on improvement is so important. It allows local authorities to use the best evidence and research to improve local practice and drive up standards.
Because knowledge is power - power to do good - but only if you share it.
Travelling about the country, I have been struck by the number of times I’ve heard about a scheme or initiative that’s achieving excellent results in addressing a problem in one authority - but which is completely unheard of in the neighbouring area.
We need to be smarter about using and disseminating good practice, and in future I see an important role for government in facilitating best practice. For instance, my ministerial colleague Sarah Teather and I are looking at organising an event that gets together local authority lead members and directors to look at best practice, and discuss what might be transferable from one area to another. It needs input from both local authority elected members and officers, and I’d be interested to hear your views on how we take that forward.
It won’t be a case of funding all the good schemes we hear about. What we will be doing is helping appropriate voluntary sector organisations to become part of the solution, by making it easier for them to work with statutory agencies.
The Government believes that families are the building blocks of society. We believe that in order to build strong communities, we need to nurture and support families of all kinds.
That doesn’t mean we think it’s Government’s business to lecture families about how to live their lives. That can be counter-productive. What we need to do is provide them with an environment in which they can thrive.
That is why we are setting up a new Childhood and Families Task Force, to look at areas like parental leave and flexible working, the support we give children in the event of family breakdown, and how to help children avoid the pressures forcing them to grow up too quickly.
The Task Force will be chaired by the Prime Minister, and again Sarah Teather will be playing a crucial role as our departmental representative.
In recent years, services that take a ‘whole family’ approach to helping families with multiple problems have grown rapidly, and here again there is a great deal of excellent local practice we can learn from.
In Westminster, for example, the Westminster Family Recovery project is addressing the needs and behaviours of the families who place most demands on the local authority’s public services - as well as having a high impact on the communities around them. By working intensively over a period of around a year with these families, the project aims to bring about long term inter-generational changes in behaviour. It’s an approach that is already delivering good results: for example, 50 per cent of children in families who have been part of the project for six months or more have shown an improvement in their school attendance.
From a financial and effectiveness perspective, it has to make sense to concentrate a holistic solution on those families whose problems are taking up a disproportionate amount of professional time and resources.
And in Suffolk, agencies are also doing excellent work in identifying and working with their ‘high demand’ and ‘high cost’ families. They have also carried out some intensive work looking at the needs of Young Carers. They are another neglected army of dedicated volunteers, and I went to their annual get-together at Fairthorne Manor last weekend.
If we are serious about addressing the problems facing us, and doing it with scarcer resources, then it’s essential we adopt new ways, smarter ways, of thinking and working.
But one very old way of working - the ‘stitch in time saves nine’ principle - can also stand us in good stead. Early Intervention is a key component of providing effective, and cost-effective, services.
At just 22 months, a poor child’s skills already lag behind those of a child of the same age from a better-off home. That disadvantage - if it is not tackled - will remain throughout life, with huge implications for choice of career, the limiting of opportunity, and even reduced life expectancy. A child born into one of England’s poorest neighbourhoods today will die (if nothing changes) seven years before one born into the richest.
The stitch in time approach saves lives - sometimes literally.
It often saves money too.
For instance, it’s been estimated that a reduction of just one per cent in the number of offences committed by children and young people has the potential to generate savings for households and individuals of around £45 million a year.
That’s why projects such as Action 4 Children’s Intensive Fostering are so interesting, concentrating the expertise of highly trained and motivated foster carers on teenagers on the cusp of the youth justice system.
I am well aware of C4EO’s invaluable work on Early Intervention and cost-effectiveness, and we will study it closely as part of the work that we are currently carrying out on cost-effectiveness within the department.
Incidentally, it seems to me that Early Intervention provides another argument against the reform of public services being driven by central government. If the solution to a problem has to wait until someone in Whitehall makes a decision, the chance for getting in early and sorting out trouble at its root is likely to have passed.
And to encourage further that local approach, and to drive home the cost-effectiveness message, we will be investigating ways in which we can ensure that providers are paid partly by the results they achieve. That seems only right.
Disparity of local authority outcomes - why are some LAs so much more successful than others?
I believe that it’s only by sharing knowledge and expertise that we will be able to tackle the scandalous disparity of local authority outcomes.
Why are some local authorities, with no more resources and with similar populations, so much more successful than others at improving outcomes for young people?
Nottingham, Leicester and Haringey are all in the top 20 most deprived local authorities, but have all seen improvements in reducing both youth crime and teenage pregnancy recently. These local authorities have seen falls of between 15.9 per cent and 21.5 per cent in the rate of teenage pregnancies, compared to the average decrease nationally of 0.2 per cent, where overall figures remain stubbornly high.
They have also seen falls of between 18 per cent and 62 per cent in youth crime. Stoke-on-Trent - also in that top-20 most deprived category - managed to achieve a fall in its youth crime rate of over 70 per cent between 2006-7 and 2008-9.
What can explain those statistics? And why aren’t those results being replicated across the country? In large part it must be because less-good authorities are failing to learn from the best.
And in a strange way, there’s an encouraging message there. It means there are authorities out there doing really great work. It means we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Using good practice developed in one area to help other areas improve their services is a cost-effective way of helping all children and families to achieve good outcomes.
I’d like to give a plug here for the C4EO website. A good case study can be like gold dust, and C4EO’s rigorous process of validation means that the case studies on your website are a fantastic resource for others seeking to provide better services for their own communities, and great scope for peer mentoring between authorities, ADCs and LGAs.
All of us, whether in government or the voluntary sector, whether large organisations or individuals, need to work together to tackle the difficulties facing our country.
That is what the Big Society is all about, and we shall be hearing a lot more about that. It’s all about empowering the sector, local communities and individuals to take the lead, to pool and share their expertise.
And I believe that far from being helpless in the face of global processes, we actually have the solutions in our own hands. We have the resources in our local hospitals and schools and community groups to make this a better country.
By identifying programmes and organisations that can actually deliver the results we want to see, and using an empirical approach rather than one that is ideologically driven, we can create a pattern for working more intelligently in future.
In that spirit, over the summer we will be looking at how the Government can best support improvement in children’s services without stifling the very real innovation that’s at the heart of the best local authorities and their children’s services partners.
I know C4EO and many of you here today will be monitoring our progress, and giving us the benefit of your experience. I look forward to working with you and hearing your views.