Improving Safeguarding at Pembrokeshire County Council

In the latest blog from the All Wales Continuous Improvement Community Awards, Jake Morgan describes the change management process at Pembrokeshire County Council as they reacted to critical Estyn, Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales (CSSIW) and Wales Audit Office reports.

Pembrokeshire County Council / Cyngor Sir PenfroIn August 2011 a joint report published by CSSIW and Estyn found that the Council failed to properly protect and safeguard children and young people in its education services.

At the same time and on a broader level, WAO had identified numerous failings in the corporate governance of the Council, failures were of such scale and significance that there was a risk the Council was failing to comply with its statutory duties. They noted “there has been a systemic corporate failure to respond sufficiently to safeguarding issues.”

In December 2012, Pembrokeshire County Council was placed in special measures following an Estyn inspection which found that both the Council’s education services for children and young people and its prospects for improvement were unsatisfactory.

Following the critical joint report in 2011 the authority began the process of change with the support and intervention of a Welsh Government appointed Ministerial Board. While some good progress was made it would be fair to say that this progress was often slow due to some deep-seated cultural and structural barriers to change. It was recognised that the pace of change was not sufficient given the level of challenges facing the authority.

In the summer of 2012 the authority appointed a new Director for Children and Schools and he was tasked with leading the change process and increasing the pace at which changes were made.

Central to this was merging the education service and the children’s social care service under one directorate and this measure was targeted at tackling historical issues which existed because the services responsible for delivering services to children and young people sat in different directorates with different ways of working (for example, the lack of integrated services or joined-up working was a major contributing factor to the authority’s safeguarding failings).

Following Estyn’s December 2012 report the authority moved rapidly to create the momentum needed for radical change. Some of these interventions are highlighted below:

The Director made difficult and sensitive decisions to rebuild and refresh his leadership team and began the process of establishing an entirely new senior management structure across the merged directorate by making external appointments to key posts and removing existing barriers to change.

The authority developed collaborative arrangements with Carmarthenshire by agreeing to merge school improvement services through an extension of existing regional working arrangements. This included a joint appointment of a Head of School Effectiveness to lead the school Improvement service across both authorities. The shared arrangements have created mutual benefits for both authorities creating critical mass and greater capacity across the region.

The Director has led the development and roll-out corporately of a cross-cutting quality assurance framework for safeguarding that encompasses schools, children’s services and human resources.

A representative head-teachers group has been developed (originally established by the ministerial board) to influence and test the ongoing impact of change and to be a catalyst within the authority to improve peer challenge and build schools own capacity.

The operation of overview and scrutiny committees was overhauled and a key joint Committee across Safeguarding and Children & Families focussed on the Estyn Inspection report and demonstrated public acceptance of the challenges faced.

Underpinning the change programme was the Pembrokeshire Post-Inspection Action Plan (PIAP) which the authority was required to produce and implement in response to the 7 recommendations made by Estyn in its report.

The development of the PIAP was led by the Director with the engagement of a broad cross section of elected Members, governors and schools and the positive contribution made by the wide range of stakeholders in the development of the Plan has resulted in a common vision and clear shared sense of purpose, building consensus for fundamental change.

The PIAP is a comprehensive plan that reflects the significant shortfalls in performance identified by Estyn and became the overarching framework for change not only across education and children’s services but also at a broader corporate level and the county as a whole.

Following the highly critical reports received in 2011 Pembrokeshire instigated a programme of rapid improvement and change under the strong leadership of the Director of Children’s Services. Significant improvements were made in a number of key areas and Pembrokeshire is now leading the way sharing the best practice it has developed with other Local Authorities.

Pembrokeshire is now out of special measures in making that decision, Estyn said that following the 2012 inspection, the Council had acted ‘quickly and decisively’ to plan for change which resulted in significant improvement. The Estyn report continues: ‘The Chief Executive, Leader and senior officers took difficult and sensitive decisions to remove barriers to progress in order to bring about the necessary improvement.’

In response to the good news the leader noted ‘The result is a more dynamic, transparent and outward-looking local Authority. This is just not my opinion but is also the view shared by the inspectors.’

‘We remain committed to doing everything that can reasonably be expected to keep children in our County safe. Today’s decision by the inspectors formally acknowledges that they have confidence in our services.’

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