In a week where public sector job cuts, pay freezes and pension changes has reached the tipping point of proposed strike action, Michael Gove seemingly ramped up the pressure on the poorest achieving primary and secondary schools. Yet beyond the headline grabbing threats to turn such schools into Academy status was an altogether different speech on educational reform, from which I found immediate resonance to the Residential Child Care Sector. There were two main focal points to deliver better schools: recognising the role, qualities and vision of leadership within the school and how schools can work together to share and develop best practice.
As a registered manager of a children’s home it is hardly surprising that I stand firm behind the mantra ‘a home is only as good as its manager’. I believe that understanding such rhetoric is a vital to fulfil my position of responsibility, particularly with regard to the leadership elements of our role. We set the tone, underpin the culture, share the vision, and continually drive the standards and practice to do the best we can for the children in our care. We are a role model for staff and children alike. The qualities we strive for from our staff teams we need ourselves in abundance – relationship skills, presence, personal drive, positive outlook, stickability and transparency. Often these aspects of registered manager’s role are disregarded or lost in our managerialist culture of systems establishment, monitoring, controlling risk, directing staff and measuring outcomes. I’m sure the latter focus strongly in the majority of our job descriptions and certainly did in my professional training.
Thankfully, the tide may be turning. Ofsted’s recently released ‘Outstanding Children’s Homes’ publication echoes the view expressed by Michael Gove of the importance of leadership, recognising the majority of the characteristics and qualities of good leaders that I outlined above. More importantly, potentially, it shares Gove’s second point for sector development and places the role of the leader at the heart of this. Its first recommendation is to ‘consider systematic ways in which the experience and skills of leaders in consistently outstanding children’s homes could be used to improve standards across the residential care sector.’ On the back of this is a challenge to find new ways to share best practice across the sector. I see this as a call to arms for passionate leaders; to realise that our responsibilities are not exclusive to the homes we manager or the organisations we work for. In times of increasing financial pressure, insecurity and vulnerability we need to work together to show the true value of residential child care and elevate its status. Also we need to help other’s to do the same – managers and staff teams alike. Yet when Mr Gove spoke from his platform at the National College for School Leadership I couldn’t help but think where is our platform? It’s time we started building.
Group Organiser of the North West Residential Child Care Forum on the Residential Child Care Network.
Outstanding Children’s Homes, Ofsted, 2011 available at www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/100228