School’s out for the summer

Jovian Smalley, Engagement Manager, Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

The sunny days may not have appeared on schedule, but the playgrounds are most definitely empty, the classrooms are silent and teachers are (perhaps) starting a period of well-earned rest. Meanwhile for parents across the country, the arrival of school holidays means searching for, and delivering a steady stream of entertaining, inspiring and, hopefully, educational activities.

Since the school bell rang for the end of term, my eldest niece has been exploring the birth of the railways at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, learning how to cook fish pie, and generally having a whale of a time, before she attends a brand new secondary school in September. Her current primary school is in the same area as her new school, so they will have taken her name off the admissions register and passed her details to the local authority. There are fifteen reasons her name could be taken off the admissions register, yet up until now, the school would have only needed to tell the authority about five of these (so if any of the other ten occurred, they would have taken the name off of the register but not passed this information to the authority).

That’s a huge information sharing loophole which has allowed children to go missing from education. Thankfully though, the government is closing this loophole over the summer holidays, following extensive consultation with local authorities, schools and other educational bodies.

This is a good start to improve information sharing, but there are still more opportunities for sharing information about children both in the early years and at school that would support their childhood well-being, educational attainment and life chances. For example, a pupil’s persistent absence from school isn’t just an important criterion for intervention by the local Troubled Families team, it’s also a key factor for children-in-need teams, which means the school sharing information more regularly when children are missing from education.

Regular information sharing between early years teams, health visitors, and practitioners is vital for a whole range of 0 – 5 services, including obesity testing, parental engagement with Children’s Centre services and the integrated two-year-old check. This is all part of the recently launched Start Well strategy in Greater Manchester (GM).

These issues are all of great interest to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and its partners across GM, who as part of the wider devolution of health and social care powers, have engaged the Centre to support the implementation of a new, transformational approach to information sharing. This new approach is embodied in the introduction of a new, GM-wide data sharing authority: GM-Connect.

GM-Connect is a key enabler for Greater Manchester’s devolution and reform programmes. Its role is to champion, co-ordinate, facilitate and deliver pan-GM information sharing – a job regarded by Tony Lloyd, interim Mayor of Greater Manchester as “…essential to successfully transforming public services in Greater Manchester and ensuring they are better integrated.”

GM-Connect will fulfil this role by acting as an “information broker”, connecting up silos of information held by public services across the ten boroughs, making it possible to better understand the current and future needs of the population of Greater Manchester.

This approach will support resident-centred reform, where local people’s needs are identified sooner, and more accurately, so that decisions about appropriate interventions are made based on a holistic understanding of those needs. Swift information sharing helps practitioners understanding the bigger picture of vulnerable families’ needs, and intervene more effectively, as we concluded in our recent safeguarding report for the Department for Education.

What all that means is that by harnessing the power of information sharing, GM-Connect will be able to support more efficient services and improved outcomes for the residents of Greater Manchester. It’s a very exciting vision that starts with the principle that the duty to share is as important as the duty to protect – because appropriate sharing helps protect vulnerable people.

And because it starts with what the needs of residents are, rather than those of the services, it puts people very firmly at the heart of their own needs assessments and interventions.

All of which is great news for kids across the region like my niece, and great news for the schools they’ll be heading back to this September.

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