Monday, 18 January 2010

Start of a social movement?...

I like this. Not because it is a particularly good joke (I am more of a Clare in the Community girl myself) but because it shows the issue has arrived. Well, at least that the issue has left the station.

The Communication Trust has, as a core strategic objective, the development of social movement to claim communication as a right. Social movement is a grand term, much written upon (Google Tily to get a sense of the theory). But in essence a social movement is a major vehicle for ordinary people's participation in public politics. For recent examples ‘think green’ or ‘drop the debt’. Ordinary people mobilised, often by the third sector, to take action and become ‘we’ rather than ‘they’. When communication skills becomes the ‘third pint in the pub’ issue; when Jeremy Kyle invites parents of children with SLCN onto his show; when 10 000 turn up outside Westminster with ‘communicate by right’ banners then we will know we are getting there. Bad comic strips jokes are a good start.

Seeing communication as the 21st century life skill, and knowing as we do how many children do not have the skills or support that they need, how could we want anything less than a movement to make change. Social movement brings policy change and funding and changes attitudes. And we need all three – now. The National Year should help give us a push but the work of the Trust, Trust members and now the Champion have certainly created the media interest that will help form the basis of such of the movement that we aspire to.

Not all of this media coverage has been helpful. Little upset to find out that my desire for materials things (handbags in my case) and working motherhood is apparently the reason for my daughter’s challenges with phonics (thank you Guardian - really the Guardian??!!). And SLTs as elocutionists for the middle classes? (Evening Standard – slightly less surprise there). But some has been wonderful. The recent Times and Independent pieces really outline well the challenges some children face. And the emerging debate is one to be captured and developed (read for example the Observer piece in defence of computer games).

So. A good start. Let’s keep up the momentum. And if my view of emerging the issue is an Eastenders character with specific language impairment falling in love with their speech and language therapist (yes I know it is unprofessional but it is Eastenders right) then what is yours?

Monday, 4 January 2010

New Year's Resolution

I love New Year. A chance to make lots of new promises to be a better and improved person. I have been told that, apparently, resolving to buy myself one new handbag a month is not an appropriate resolution so have settled instead for another gym membership (this time one that I intend to use because I have also been told that buying a gym membership in January and only going once in September is, apparently, a very expensive way to do one step class).

More importantly two resolutions that might actually matter.
1) To blog weekly and not require my team to beat me over head to write something
2) To champion the third sector as a significant force for change in children’s lives

In my defence 1 has sometimes not happened because I have been busy doing 2.

Some of you have commented on the recent Third Sector debate that I took part in which looked at whether, given the recession, the sector should be more professional (implicit in this that we should be more like corporate institutions like, say, banks).

This reminded me of a recent ceremony I attended at a top rated London business school where the Dean expressed his pleasure that the students who were studying for their Masters in Voluntary Sector management had so many opportunities to learn about ‘real life’ (seriously that is what he said) from fellow post graduates undertaking study in banking, finance and corporate administration who, after all, have the expertise and business skills that charities so desperately need (seriously he said that too!).

It is also true that some charities could do with say, more support with commercial skills or with finance and legal matters. But, hey, is that not true of some corporate and public sector bodies too (or did I misunderstand the stories that dominated the press in 2009?).

The third sector is professional. We are complicit sometimes in defining professional in terms that private, and sometimes public sector, bodies value e.g. slick branding; reducing costs; increasing profit; efficiencies, market domination, staff with letters after their name etc. Not that these things do not matter to charities (indeed as anyone who has run a successful charity on a shoe string and no cash flow knows points 2 and 3 are core skills for any successful charity CEO). But when we define professionalism it should be in terms of our outcomes for our beneficiaries. It should be about our effectiveness and our values.

The Communication Trust's membership is full of organisations bursting with clever, able professionals delivering excellent services to some of the most vulnerable children and young people in society. Trust members employ some of the most qualified and experienced speech and language therapists and specialist teachers in the country (putting to rest another common misconception that the third sector has limited expertise – a regular challenge from public sector unions in recent months).

Trust members drove the campaigning that led to the Bercow Review and the Better Communication Action Plan. The third sector can lobby for improved public sector services and for more resources to flow to local provision in a way that front line public sector staff will always be challenged to (as one PCT employed SLT told me recently – “we know that the provision is not good enough post-11 but if we say so we criticise our employer but if you say it they might not cut posts”).

Trust members run outstanding (OFSTED says so) non maintained special schools. Thousands of parents get their first, and sometimes only, advice, information and support from voluntary organisations.

And, for so many children with the most severe and complex speech, language and communication needs it is often Trust members who provide the vital lifeline when working through the maze of public sector provision. This often draws on the experiences and expertise of, often voluntary and ‘unqualified’, parents who have been there themselves (which makes a lie of the common myth that professional only means paid staff and that expert can only mean a degree).

Are the third sector better than corporate providers? Yes sometimes. Are we better than public sector provision? Yes sometimes. Could we learn from both the corporate and public sector? Yes and we should strive to do so.

Celebrating the strengths, expertise and professionalism of the third sector should not be seen as putting down corporate and public sector colleagues. No sector, private, public or third, has the monopoly on good work or effective outcomes and it will take collaboration to get the best possible results for children and their families.

I believe that the third sector has something special to give so for 2010 I resolve to be the sector’s biggest cheerleader.

Something slightly easier to do than a weekly trip to the gym.