Q1. What is a Peer Review Challenge?
It’s a process whereby a council invites a group of peers who have been recruited for their expertise, and some from the local government association (LGA) to spend time looking at their services and addressing some ‘key lines of enquiry’, i.e. the things the council would like to improve.
The process involves engaging with a wide range of people connected with the council and the findings are delivered immediately.
It is not an inspection, and the ethos is very much one of probing and challenging rather than checking up on or measuring against targets.
Q2. What were the ‘key lines of enquiry’ (KLOE)?
In the Liverpool challenge one of these was related to the mismatch between their below average
Good Level of Development (GLD) outcomes at the end of reception year, and the fact that the majority of their childcare provision is rated good or higher by Ofsted.
They also wanted to know how to strengthen their whole-systems approach to improving the communication, speech and language of EY children, including identification, assessment and intervention
Q3. Was there much preparation?
Yes- on both sides.
The council and partners completed the Early Intervention Foundation’s ‘Speech, Language and Communication in the Early Years maturity matrix’. This is designed to support a system-wide approach to improving outcomes for children in the early years, with a focus on speech, language and communication skills.
They also put together a timetable for the peers, making sure we met with people from across the whole spectrum of children’s services in order to gather a range of different viewpoints, and so we could test out and either debunk or triangulate themes and messages we were hearing.
For the peers there was a lot of reading: we needed to be familiar with the context and background of Liverpool’ children’s services - how they had got to where they are now, their challenges, hopes and aspirations for the children in the city. Also, how they compared on a range of indicators to the other ‘core cities’ in the UK.
Q4. Sounds like a lot of hard work- was it?
Yes it was!
The team, most of whom had never met before, had to be able to work together within a tight timescale to gather and synthesise information in relation to the KLOE and any other emerging issues.
Two or 3 peers would meet, e.g. a group of midwives, health visitors or speech and language therapists, (and we’d have a few) with key theories and questions we wanted to test out, as well as wanting to hear from that group themselves about what they felt the challenges and possible solutions were.
We’d then return to the council offices to share what we’d learned and consider how this shaped our thinking. We were constantly on the move between various sites in the city, and meeting rooms in the amazing Cunard building – which houses Liverpool City council.
Daily feedback was given to the senior leadership team – because the review works on the basis of ‘no surprises’ in the final report.
We started early – usually planning our day’s work over breakfast in the hotel; and finished late- returning to the hotel for a quick change and then out to dinner about 8.00- where inevitably there was more work talk.
Q5. Was it a good experience and did you learn anything yourself?
Yes it was and yes I did!
I met some extremely knowledgeable people – both within the team of peers, and in Liverpool itself.
I learned a lot from watching how the other peers asked searching, but non-threatening questions to gather information from some people who were a little tense about the ‘review’ process.
I was pleased to learn that I do have quite a lot to offer such a process, due to my many years’ experience in being a clinician, and in managing speech and language and other children’s services.
I learned not to overlook the role of any practitioner in the wider children’s workforce.
Without exception the people I met in Liverpool were 100% committed to their roles and to improving the speech, language and communication of children- which ultimately leads to improving their life chances.
And finally: I made some good friends within the peer review group. We may have only been together for 4 days, but it was a very intensive process and we had some great laughs along the way too.
Q6. Would you do it again?
Yes- I am already signed up to do another review in March 2020