Northamptonshire Children's Services to lose another director as questions raised around consistency

The departure has stirred fresh fears that standards may once again slip

By Max Pearson
Friday, 12th November 2021, 10:20 am
One Angel Square.
One Angel Square.

Northamptonshire Children's Services are set to lose another director at the start of next year, which has caused questions to be raised around consistency.

Cathi Hadley, who currently serves as director of Children's Services for West and North Northamptonshire councils, is due to leave her role in February of next year so that she can be closer to home.

Northamptonshire County Council - now West and North Northamptonshire Councils - was placed under this directorship as part of a 'direction' by the Department for Education (DFE) back in 2019.

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This followed a series of damning OFSTED reports that labelled the previous children's service provisions 'inadequate'. It saw the children's services, previously run by the now-defunct Northamptonshire County Council, shift to an independent board joint owned by the newly formed North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council.

With a single director taking children's services into the unitary authorities, it was hoped that a more consistent standard of care could be delivered for both areas.

When asked about the change in leadership, a spokesperson for West Northamptonshire Council said: "We were sorry to learn that our current director of children’s services has decided to leave the county and the role to work closer to home. Cathi has been a huge support in helping set up the Children’s Trust, ensuring that it continues with its positive direction of travel.

"Our focus continues to be on working together to improve services and children’s outcomes. Cathi has played a key role in holding the trust to account but also in improving our relationships and plans with schools, which are also vital for all children in West Northants get the best start in life.

"Cathi’s departure does provide us with an opportunity to consider how we want to oversee the trust arrangements and build on her work in education and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) improvement plans.

"We are looking at the options and discussing the best way forward with both North Northants and the DFE, to ensure that we get the right focus and the right outcomes for our children."

Councillor Fiona Baker, cabinet member for children, families and education, added: “We’re sorry to see Cathi go, though we would all like to wish her every success in the new role. On a personal note, we’ve worked very closely during her time in Northamptonshire, which I’ve enjoyed immensely.

“We would like to thank Cathi for the fantastic work she’s done over the last two years to turn our children’s services around. I look forward to securing new leadership arrangements in West Northants so we can build on her achievements.”

Others have taken the departure less favourably, saying that, while they are happy for Ms Hadley, the loss has introduced fresh uncertainty for a service which, historically, has frequently underperformed.

Councillor Emma Roberts, deputy Labour Group leader and shadow lead for people's services said: “The loss of consistency at director level poses a real threat to the progress that has been made. Just as we were being led to believe some consistency of service provision was being maintained we hear this news.

"Our Shadow team has requested our next director briefing focuses on how we create a dedicated focus for West Northants. Staff retention within teams is still a clear issue and is a focus for the council’s People Scrutiny Committee.

"What we need is a dedicated West Northants approach. So whether that's a director dedicated solely for West Northants, I don't know."

Councilor Danielle Stone, added: “I have been a county councillor and unitary councillor since 2013 and all that time we have had failing children’s services. It is time now for the councils to think again about how to look after the interests of our children and of our schools.

"We cannot go on letting them down. We need a dedicated focus for West Northants. For our schools and our children. That is what unitary was supposed to be all about. Now is the time to have the courage of our convictions and do it."

Cathi Hadley's successor will be will be subject to cabinet and council approval.