A Man Called Donato……… A Silverback Gorilla………………And The Walthamstow High Street Karaoke!


As I didn’t get a blog post out for the start of last week to look ahead I thought I’d at least update you with a look back at the week just gone as well as a look ahead to the one to come! So if you feel the need to read this all the way to the end of this blog post maybe do it in instalments!

Most mornings when I come through Victoria I meet Donato who sells The Big Issue from his pitch by WH Smith in the station. He’s now 70 years old, originally from Turin and a friendly, polite, lovely guy. I try and stop for him two or three times a week. This morning he proudly thrust the magazine into my hand because he’s featured in it. And he was doubly proud because it’s the 25th anniversary edition of the magazine. So if you can, both this week and in the weeks to follow, please spare a few quid for Donato and anybody else selling the Big Issue. Because as you can read for yourself if you buy this weeks edition, it really can make a difference to people who just need a bit of help.


We had a pretty full agenda for Forum last Monday night. With the DSG under considerable financial pressure as funding restrictions increasingly impact on schools and education, several papers related to how we try and address this problem. I won’t cover all the reports here but the key things I think you might need to know or be interested in.The Forum took one last opportunity to review the draft Service Level Agreement for Targeted Youth Service work aimed at preventing school exclusions. There are a few changes to make as a result in: clarifying the need to liaise with schools and Limes College; reporting arrangements for performance and the referral and tracking arrangements through VPP. I don’t see any of the final changes as problematic or lengthy and so I expect the final SLA to go to all schools as scheduled next week.Another key paper was a set of proposals for savings to the DSG. We’d prepared these in conjunction with the Formula Review Group of the Forum and the proposals that are agreed for consultation are options on: changing base budget to all schools; changing funding arrangements for ‘growth’ in pupil number; revising the top up provision into the PRU’s; revising the top up for Special Educational Needs; and changing capacity levels for supporting pupils with ASD, Speech and Language Needs and Education as an Additional Language. We will now draft the different options up into a consultation document that we will send to all schools and staff in due course.Connected to the above, Schools Forum also considered a detailed set of proposals for adjusting the way in which we determine the top up rates for pupils with SEN who are educated in Special Schools or in mainstream schools with Specialist Bases. Again we will be consulting schools and others on these changes.All of the consultation feedback on the things above, as well as further budget reports on the current position within the DSG, will go through Formula Review Group and then back to Schools Forum in December


Apart from being the lyric to one of David Bowie’s best tracks IMHO, it’s also rather appropriate as there’s a lot of these around at the moment! So I thought I’d just summarise what’s happening as best I can.
I’ve advised education staff at briefings that I hope to recruit three Headteachers, working together for 2.5 days a week each, to provide line management support between my departure and the new Managing Director joining the spin out company. I expect this MD appointment in January and I hope to confirm on the Headteacher support arrangements later this week.
We have long listed the 10 applicants for the Ops Director role in the spin out down to a shortlist of 5. We will be reviewing those further before interviews in the first week of November. Our plan is that William will continue until he is able to do a handover to the new OD.
Outside of the education services, Jackie will be moving to replace Jean Kelly one of Richards’ Heads of Service. Jackie will then run FSCP and the services Jackie currently leads ( Early Help, Children’s Centres, Families Matter and Family Support) will also move to report in to Richard.
Tolis is currently considering options for the senior education role within the LA and I will let you know what those arrangements are as soon as possible.
The Council has agreed to my request to leave as soon as is practical and so my last day with Sutton will be Friday November 11th – so only a few more of these blogs/War and Peace missives to endure!!!!!
The DfE released revised statutory guidance on this over the summer. It lands at a time when we have made changes to the way in which we will manage the support and oversight for Children Missing Education from here on, following staff changes last academic year. The provision to CME will now be managed through our school attendance service and so Gill Harp is working along with Peter Gasparelli from Admissions on revising the guidance for schools, briefing heads and teachers, putting interim data collection arrangements in place and working out the resource needs for meeting the revised LA duty on CME in the future.
As I mentioned in the last blog I went off to the Cheltenham Literature Festival the weekend before last with my beloved!
And as I also mentioned, my suspicions about the extent to which I was really being ‘accompanied’ to see Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks, Mary Beard etc were somewhat confirmed when the journey to Cheltenham was peppered with references to ‘having heard what a great city it was’ and ‘what a great shopping area it has’!!!!
However, very unexpectedly I was actually ‘accompanied’ to Mary Beard’s talk about the Ancient Romans in the early part of Saturday evening.  At least I was ‘accompanied’ if you define that as simply the ‘physical presence’! However if you nuance your definition of ‘accompanied’ to ‘physical presence AND awake'(!!!), then I was most definitely unaccompanied!!!!
Although afterwards I was treated to a literary critique of Mary Beard’s talk about her book ‘SPQR’ as you could apparently ‘hear every word in your sleep’!
And as if Sleeping Beauty’s critique of Mary Beard wasn’t enough, I had the unusual, nay unique experience, of being asked what I was reading by the bloke next to me on the Tube as we sat waiting to depart Walthamstow in the middle of the week.
‘It’s the new poetry collection ‘Loop of Jade’ by Sarah Howe!’ I said eagerly, adding in the hope of sparking the conversation that ….’She won the TS Eliot Prize for it this year!’.
‘Oh!’ said my new neighbour, ‘bit dull for me! I like fishing’.
At which he took out a copy of Angling Times or The Only Way is Fishing or something of that ilk. For the rest of the journey to Victoria we didn’t exchange as much as a glance, never mind a word!
But I know that you’re all DESPERATE to read Loop of Jade so here’s a snippet to entice you!!!!!!!
I watched the shadowplay
of trees
against the blinds one October – 
in the way sometimes
you stare
at a pale face across the bed
so long 
you hardly see it – 
And for those of you now thinking….’I think I’d rather read ‘The Only Way is Fishing’……shame on you!!
At the Panel meet last week, we reviewed a number of cases for possible admission to Limes and also some possible admissions to STARS. At the moment, there are still spaces in both provisions but this isn’t likely to be the case as the academic year progresses. As part of the attempts to reduce the risks for young people we have the new Targeted Youth Service starting and we used the VPP meet to identify a few young people where we will work in conjunction with Limes to try and prevent the risk of exclusion.
As well as the progress in recruiting an OD as mentioned above we had a further two staff briefings as part of the TUPE consultation last week. We are following this with a further two briefings this week and a separate meeting with Trade Union colleagues supporting those affected by the changes.
As well as discussing line management arrangements when William and I met with team managers this week, we also discussed the work being done on branding and marketing (where a small group of staff are starting to develop ideas and options, supported by an external provider, that we can share with Directors and School Shareholders in due course) and we gave an update on the draft documentation being developed such as the contract between the Council and the company and the draft shareholder agreements (which were sent to school shareholders last week)
Last week the Exec Heads from across People’s met with the various Lead Members for Children’s and Adults to talk through the savings programme and the link between the savings and the Council’s outcomes and ambitions as set out in the Council Commissioning Plan.  For our services the focus is of course on the final stages of the changes to education and youth services and the early preparation for making sure early help from both us and our partners is supporting the wider transformation programme for our social care services
This week I will be meeting with Finance to review the division’s budget position as at Month 6 and updating the year end projections. We have been able to make some in-roads into cost pressures in the last couple of months but with continued rising costs for CIN and for SEN within the DSG, I expect those pressures to continue to be challenging in the months ahead
Most mornings I drive into Walthamstow Underground station and I listen to the news on Radio 4. But on the way home I need the soothe of either XFM Radio or a CD. Last week I left the car park and got to the main lights by Walthamstow High Street. It was a warmish end to the day so I had the window down and was lustily, if tunelessly, singing along to Radiohead. As I sat at the lights track 9, House of Cards came up. I joined in from the off, belting out the first line ‘I don’t want to be your lover………I just want to be your friend’ and then realised the car next to me at the lights also had the window down. There was an older couple and the lady in the passenger seat looked at me, smiled, and said ‘Probably just as well love, as my husband’s here!’  At that they drove off turning right – I went straight on and didn’t sing another word all the way home!
And to set the scene, here’s House of Cards ( and for what it’s worth it is my absolute favourite Radiohead song – try it you might be pleasantly surprised!!)
And anyway the video is seriously clever as it was filmed without the use of cameras!!!!

Kieran and I met with our colleague from DfE, who will be the main link on academy conversions into the future.
We have seen a slow but ongoing transition to academy status in Sutton, so for example recently we saw Tweeddale Primary become part of the Greenshaw Trust and Cheam Fields Primary become part of the Leo Trust. In the months ahead we expect to see Brookfield Primary and Stanley Park High complete the process on converting from LA maintained to Academy status.
For those of you involved in school improvement and SEN/Inclusion, you’ll be well aware of Sutton’s Local Offer site which we developed in conjunction with parents and young people.  It’s currently hosted separately from the Council website but the company who host it have intimated that they now need to upgrade it. We are therefore taking the opportunity to review and consider our options for the future provision of the Local Offer site and Rosemary Brennan and I are meeting colleagues from IT this week to look at the scope for change. meantime though if you are interested in taking a look the current Local Offer site you can find it here. 
I went straight to Denmark Road on Friday, where several of education services are now based, as I had a briefing with staff first thing . As I had stuff to catch up on I went in early getting to Denmark Road just after 7:30. Alas the back door of the building was locked and I couldn’t get in. I went to the front and though I could get in to reception area the doors to the offices were locked. I guessed they were on a timer and my pass wouldn’t work till 8. Two minutes later a member of EHR staff came in and went on through as his pass worked. I followed him. My pass didn’t work. I sat back down to wait when another EHR staff member came in and went through. I followed. My pass still wouldn’t work. I began to mutter darkly about IT, EHR bias and the world in general after it happened twice more. But on the fifth go it all worked fine when I suddenly realised I’d spent the last twenty minutes trying to get into the building with my Oyster Card!!!!!
This week sees the next meeting of the Early Help Strategy Board, which provides the governance, oversight and co-ordination to the work that we and our partners do on early help. Among the papers are reports on: the Early Help Dashboard (which tracks progress in implementing the new revised Early Help Strategy); an update on the Social Care Transformation Programme and the links with Early Help; an update on Early Help Training Programme; Family Group Conference Arrangement changes; and an update on the recently launched Early Help Assessment Tool
Later this week, Tolis will chair the next meeting of the Children’s Transformation Programme Board and on the same day the Sutton Disability Partnership Board meet, which will include taking some feedback from us on SEN issues and on tracking the sufficiency of childcare for children with disabilities across the borough
At the weekend I flew out of London for a city somewhere else – but for reasons that will now become clear I don’t intend to name it to protect its anonymity and because you’ll never be able to guess where it was. So having flown to this not-to-be-named city I checked into the hotel. I got my key and headed off to my room on the second floor when at the foot of the stairs I saw the following notice – parked on a table and written in large red letters.
It was certainly the most unusual and unique welcome I’ve ever had in a hotel (if not quite the ‘friendliest’ perhaps!!!!!)
Alas you are unlikely to experience this level of hospitality for yourself as of course you have NO IDEA WHERE IT IS AND NO CHANCE OF WORKING IT OUT FOR YOURSELVES!!
As you know from Insight, the Council are embarking on the development of a new Sutton Plan which will become the key driver for both the Council and all of its partners. Through Insight I know that you’ll have been sent details of how you might get involved in those conversations.
In addition, on Wednesday of this week members and Council officers are coming together to talk more with representatives of partner agencies. The focus of the session is on exploring the future, working with partners to set out the shared ambitions and aims for the people who will live and work in Sutton now and in the future. While I’m not going to be attending the session itself I will definitely catch up with my colleagues who are going to be there and in due course I will update you where i can on the key messages and thinking from the session on Wednesday.
…………………………………………………………… And that’s a witty Liverpudlian’s witty daughter!
I’m sure you read of the Silver-back Gorilla at London Zoo last which must have been a pretty scary ordeal for those involved. And while the women in my life did have sympathy for those people it was also too good a chance to miss. They think I’m ever-so-slightly ‘alpha-male’ so just after the news broke my partner texted to say ‘Just heard about silver-back mayhem and what a relief when found out it was London Zoo and not Sutton!’ and this was soon followed by the younger half of my very own version of Morecambe and Wise who sent me the text that said ‘Stop misbehaving and get back in your cage and play nicely’.
And as if ruining the personality part of my self-esteem wasn’t enough – when I got home my entreaties that the personality comparison between me and gorillas was a bit unfair, I then met the riposte that it wasn’t all a personality comparison – the fact that I was so short my knuckles scrape on the ground too was used to add stature injury to personality insult!!




That blog headline comes from a quote from Ingrid Bergman. She described a kiss like this:

“A kiss is a lovely trick, designed by nature, to stop speech when words become superfluous!”

It’s beautiful and romantic but sometimes kissing can be more dangerous than you might think. Last Friday my partner dropped me off at the Tube station. She gave me a kiss – and why wouldn’t she as I am a handsome man!!!!!!!!! Anyway, I went out to Victoria on the Tube through Oxford Circus. The Tube was rammed. When I got to Victoria I bought a coffee – and the young woman serving me said ‘Interesting choice of lip colour!’……………………………………………….

And you know you get that moment when your mind just…….. you just suddenly know!!! She confirmed that I was rather overtly lipstick smeared!!!!  She gave me tissues and it took me a good 5 mins you wipe off the residue of what I was later told was ‘Fuschia Rose’.  Now Fuschia Rose is lovely and on my partner, who is beautiful, Fuschia Rose is a perfect adornment. On me however Fuschia Rose looked like a bit like Jack Nicholson did when he was playing the Joker in the Batman films.

When you get to my age you don’t have much street cred left  – but you have none whatsover if you try to go through London in the rush hour smeared with Fuschia Rose!

And for all you truly romantic members of staff feel, free to use that Ingrid Bergman line with your partners and pretend you’ve just become a hopeless romantic!!


If you haven ‘t yet done it I’d encourage you to do the Council Staff Survey, commissioned from BMG to ensure its fully confidential and independent. It doesn’t take long to do and the questions are all pretty straightforward and clear. There is still time to make your views known. While there’s always a query about what difference one person’s voice can make, I would still encourage you to add your voice to that of others – partly because in order to decide on next steps, it will be better if the views represent as wide a cross section of staff as possible.

When we were working on the SEN place projections for things like Free School bids which included Specialist bases and considering the scope for some place reductions in a couple of schools, Kieran and I discussed the potential for a wider overarching SEN Commissioning Strategy. We think it would be beneficial for both the management of SEN commissioning and a helpful addition to the approach to Pupil Place Planning. As a result Kieran and Colin Pates have been working up an initial draft and I will review that this week. Once we have something closer to a final draft we’ll share with others for comment and feedback

Sue Holmes from Finance will be joining me in meeting the Heads and Governors on this School Forum task group. The focus of the meeting will be on finalising the options for DSG Savings consultations which will need to be approved at the full Forum next week before being sent to schools and services for comment and response. At this meeting Sue and I will be presenting both the factual info and our own views about the scale of savings needed and securing a balanced range of options to make the necessary cost reductions.

We are having slightly more frequent meetings with Trade Union colleagues at the moment simply because we have a lot going on. As well as the formal consultations around Targeted Youth and Education Service Spin Out I met last week with the Teaching Unions and this week am meeting with the representatives of recognised Trade Unions across the Council more generally.

Strange as it may seem I actually think I might miss Google and Modern Desktop a bit now that I’ve got used to it. Talking to colleagues I get the sense that while we might not be at the forefront of modern technology, the way we use IT in Sutton is better than it is in several other boroughs! At Digital Programme Board this week we’ll be looking at next steps with the Digital Strategy which is largely centred on future use of Google Apps, developing a My Account provision for residents to manage their business/interaction with the Council and the work of the Digital Ambassadors who are looking at how we transform ways of working for staff and residents through IT.
Then later in the week I will be meeting the Digital Ambassadors from Children’s Services who are currently involved in that above-mentioned project work with colleagues from across the Council. Our ambassadors are Kelly in Integrated Services Young Children, Louise in Integrated Services Young People and Oonagh in QA/Commissioning

I’m going to the Cheltenham Literature Festival next weekend. I’m going to sessions with authors like Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks and Eimear McBride over the two days of the festival. Going to a Literature Festival is not unusual for me. What IS unusual this time is that my partner has decided to come with me!!!! Usually the book stuff is something she tolerates with mild amusement on a good day. Last night she asked me about the details and in particular where we’re staying. I explained I’d rented a house right in the middle of Cheltenham. ‘Is it near enough to the shopping centre to walk there?’ she asked! And the penny dropped – I’m might not be going to Cheltenham on my own but I’m going to the Book Festival unaccompanied!!!

In the brutal war in our house between books and shoes, the shoes win every time!


This is Helen’s last week with the Council having been here as PA to different officers for almost 19 years. She’s off to be a PA at Institute for Cancer Research now and I’d like to wish her well on behalf of all of us. We’re a pretty busy part of the Council and our business is both varied and complexed and Helen has done a great job getting her head round the complexities and intricacies of what we do since she moved to work for me from her previous job as PA to the Director of Adults Services.
Helen will be replaced by Kirstie Roartie. As with the current arrangements, Kirstie will work for both Nick the Head of Adults and I.

The government are making a number of changes to funding 2, 3 and 4 year old childcare arrangements, including new administration arrangements. Later this week I will be meeting with colleagues in both Early Years and Corporate Performance to consider what needs to be done and by when to ensure we are fully compliant.

Got my next one to one with Tolis this week. We’ll be focusing in the main on the transition arrangements for me moving on and on the detailed handover that will be needed. We are also going to be looking at the appointment of leaders and Directors to the Education spin out and the staffing structure and organisational arrangements for the Targeted Youth service post-consultation with staff.

I’ve also got one to one meets this week with Jackie and William and I’m also meeting up with Sheila about our future Learning Support Service.

I’ve been in Scotland quite a bit in the last few weeks visiting my parents. When I was up a few weeks ago there was an ad in the local paper which was titled Job Vacancy. It was a local Garden Centre advertising for a Father Christmas to man their Christmas Grotto! As well as stating that they were looking for somebody who would be available throughout December, the ad also contained the following classic lines:

‘ability to get on with children desirable ( but not essential!!! It’s still a no-nonsense world in Glasgow!!) and that the job had ‘excellent career opportunities’!!!!

So if the successful candidate does well at that Garden Centre, I think you should all get ready to host a Glaswegian on your roof on December 24th!!!!!!!!!


………………………………………………….. As you now know through Tolis and the subsequent note I sent on Friday, I’ve decided to leave my post in Sutton for a new job. I know from feedback that this has created anxiety, uncertainty and concern for some of you as it comes at a time of significant change in several services. As I mentioned above, the transition arrangements are still to be finalised and when they are I will write to all of you more fully. In the meantime I will also being working on handover arrangements with the Heads of Services, as well as with the management team in the Advisory and Inspection Service. However if you have any specific queries relating to you and what it might mean for the services you work in, then please don’t hesitate to contact me.