In this scenario, England is a country where technology is key to lifting young people’s aspirations of what is possible.

scene from this world.

Extract from The President of the ADCS, inaugural speech, June 2035

Building on the Association's important research in 2019, the Government’s seminal report of 2022 ‘England, a country that works for every child’ set out a bold vision for the sector, written from a whole-systems perspective to sit alongside the NHS long-term plan to 2030.

At that time, the government pledged £2 billion to meet the funding shortfall in children’s services with a further commitment of £4 billion to local authorities, up to 2035, to specifically support professionals to work together more effectively when working with children and young people. A decade on, what difference has that investment made? How are we getting on? What would our report card say?

The vision and strategy document ‘England, a country that works for every child’ was based on realigning children's services in a number of progressive ways. Several key principles guided the journey:

  • moving from cost to value
  • from process to outcomes
  • from exclusion to inclusion
  • from reaction to prevention
  • from risk to trust and permission

The Government’s clarity of vision and investment in children’s services, coupled with strong, collaborative leadership and management, has enabled the sector to develop new ways of working that connects professionals, allows systems to talk to each other, and encourages collaborative practice.

There is always room for improvement but I would say our report card would read ‘surpassed expectations’.

Jessica Wilson, President ADCS

Key characteristics of this world

networks, integrated, smart, intelligence-led, effective workforce planning, well organised, service-led, technology driven, public health driven, competitive, good leadership with effective management, individualised learning

Today in 2035

Communities reap the benefit of the huge levels of additional money that was injected into the sector during the 2020s. In part, this funding was used to support a national drive to reinvent, re-energize and reimagine community development work, fit for the 2030s.

With a raft of ‘Inclusion as Prevention’ (IaP) projects around the country the evidence is clear that involving and including young people in decisions about their own lives reduces the likelihood of them entering the youth and criminal justice system.

A large amount of the 2020s investment was spent providing additional support for children within mainstream schools, ensuring that resources were available to include every child - regardless of ability or needs - within a mainstream school.

The Department for Education’s ‘Every Child is an Individual’ report of 2025 was far-reaching in shaping educational reform around an inclusion agenda. Literally tens of thousands of people answered the call to work in schools with children in a variety of roles, meeting shortages in the educational sector and increasing the value, prestige and salaries of people working in school-related roles. The report also encouraged a cultural shift in schools, with a greater emphasis on pupil engagement in school decision-making. Two notable outcomes of pupil engagement were the re-design of schools to be fully accessible and conducive to their mental and physical health, and a reform of the curriculum, signifying a move from summative assessment (exams) to continuous, formative assessment (ongoing learning).

With every child receiving a tailored education experience, an overall reduction in stigma has been reported by young people, who may have otherwise faced discrimination. This cultural change, initiated by the systems-wide change to the sector, has meant that nearly all children now attend some form of education setting and every young person is now being guided into the world of work or further/higher education by caring adults - some of whom are professionals, and some of whom are volunteers.

Health colleagues work very closely with children's services and educational institutions through smart data systems, and that intelligence is used to tackle negative behaviours at an early stage, and through ‘inclusion as prevention’ measures.

Sustained public health campaigns to change the eating and drinking habits of young people (and their families), particularly in areas of deprivation, have shown great results. Children report being happier, with higher levels of physical and emotional wellbeing and lower reported rates of stress and mental ill-health.

Today in 2035, any professional or volunteer working with children and young people has, as part of their training, the expectation that the system is:

  • Child-focused - it ensures any child or young person – and their family – is at the centre of decision-making about the support available to them.
  • Based on an understanding of the wellbeing of a child in their current situation. It takes into consideration the wider influences on a child or young person and their developmental needs when thinking about their wellbeing so that the right support can be offered.
  • Based on tackling needs early - it aims to ensure needs are identified as early as possible to avoid bigger concerns or problems developing.
  • Focused on prevention - so that children and young people (and their families) stay well and understand how to be healthy and happy, thereby reducing physical and mental ill-health and avoiding potentially damaging behaviours.
  • Underpinned by joined-up working - it is about children, young people, parents, and the services they need - all working together in a coordinated way to meet the specific needs of the individual and improve their overall wellbeing.

The children’s professional workforce has worked hard to ensure all children and young people receive the right help, at the right time, from the right people. This has led to young people growing up feeling loved, safe and respected so that they can realise their full potential. Our system ensures children who need it get extra help, and it means families work in partnership with those who can support them through strong, trust-based relationships, such as teachers, doctors, social workers and nurses.

Children with disabilities or special education needs are provided with tailored support and the tools to integrate into mainstream education. More staff have been employed to specifically support children with additional support needs, while all teachers undergo extensive, ongoing training in how to support children of different needs, challenges and abilities. Schools now have the time, resources, training and motivation to ensure that the individual needs of every child are met. School buildings and spaces have been redesigned through a ‘disability lens’, including wheelchair- and crutches-friendly access to all rooms and spaces, and ‘calm rooms’ for those children who need regular mental health breaks.

Children and young people who have other equalities characteristics - based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or religion - have their rights respected and their needs accounted for. The children’s workforce of professionals are better able to anticipate and identify any potential problems, barriers or discrimination that children with equalities characteristics may face at school, at home or in the community. As children’s services are fully integrated with other services - such as health education - they are able to work together effectively to minimise any negative consequences of discrimination (such as homophobia, racism, ableism, sexism, xenophobia) and support the wellbeing and resilience of children in dealing with these issues. A government drive to ensure policy coherence around inter-sectional equalities issues has further resulted in positive outcomes for children and young people.

The higher education sector has expanded its ‘widening participation’ portfolio, which has now become a statutory requirement of state-funded universities, and has seen increasing numbers of young people from disadvantaged and less-privileged backgrounds entering university. Tuition fees were scrapped in 2028, in response to spiralling levels of student debt, which further opened the doors of universities to families with less income. With the further education sector proving to be less nimble in coping with the demands of the market and many colleges closed, however the network of vocational learning centres that replaced them in 2025 is continuing to perform well a decade on.

Young people entering the labour market are better-prepared, better-supported, more confident, and more qualified to embark on successful careers of their choosing. As children’s services operate in a holistic way, this has encouraged joined-up working between schools, further/higher education institutions and employment agencies - encouraging a more seamless transition and blurring of the lines between education to employment. There are always people at every step mentoring children and young people along their post-education pathway.

In the labour market generally, there has been a curtailment of working practices that led to job insecurity in recent years, including the abolition of zero-hours contracts. More and more school-leavers and graduates are able to directly enter permanent employment. Technology has had an important impact on the labour market, which most children and young people are prepared for through their education and learning experiences. The government has also introduced a Social Insurance Scheme to support workers into new jobs affected by AI - so parents (with benefits to their families) are re-trained within the labour market.

Today, in part through government funding, young people leaving home are fully supported to move into social housing, enhancing their independence and confidence. Homelessness has rapidly fallen in recent years. As the Chief Executive of Shelter said last month, when opening a new complex of low-cost housing for former homeless people, “the private housing market bubble has finally burst as new, low-cost housing is introduced to the market, and housing becomes more affordable for all with smart design.”

Technology continues to enable transformation in many areas of life. Virtual personal assistants for older people, voice-activated technology, wearable technology, personal development apps all play their part. Families can access more services online. Augmented reality and AI have also made children’s and young people’s learning experiences in schools, colleges, universities more interactive and accessible.

Despite many years of professionals saying it could not be done, the children’s workforce of today benefits from years of investment into data-sharing systems, to enable them to integrate data from different service providers, to create comprehensive datasets on individuals and families, enabling them to create accurate needs assessments.

Computer-driven systems work with big data and algorithms to make predictions about where needs may emerge, and what the effects of different interventions might be.

Finally, in 2027, 5G broadband was extended to every household in England, which has enabled children’s services to use digital technology more effectively, and it has also empowered families from all backgrounds to connect, learn, and work more effectively and flexibly. The unintended negative consequences of technology (potential for exclusion, inaccessibility, ethical issues) have thus been mitigated.

Regional devolution has effectively transferred power to a level ‘closer to the people’ and regional assemblies have provided a new layer of democracy for people to participate. Regional devolution allows politicians and policy-makers to respond more effectively to the needs of regional populations and economies.

Over the years, regional executives have accumulated more and more powers from local authorities, especially in the areas of health, education and housing. Some people have welcomed this, saying that it allows for the standardisation of services across local communities. However, others have criticised the regional concentration of powers as disempowering local communities and creating the potential for a ‘race to the bottom’ mentality of reducing tax rates and de-regulating business.

Local communities themselves are ‘surviving but not thriving’ as the Chair of the Citizens Advice Bureau pointed out in their Annual Report this year. Regional assemblies have taken over many powers that councils used to exercise, and do not engage as extensively with community groups as the councils used to. Local community and voluntary groups therefore have less voice in decision-making over local issues. This has been partly offset by the efforts of national and regionally devolved services to include community organisations in ‘joined-up’ approaches to children’s services, such as creating stronger links between schools and communities. Third sector and community organisations have also benefited from a change in public procurement practices, which has created more opportunities for collaborative commissioning and reduced the competitive drive for funding.

How we got here

  • 2019

    General election

  • 2020

    Brexit the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

  • 2020

    UK immediately begins negotiating EEA/EFTA membership; following this, England experiences a period of political and financial stability. International investment returns to England and many EU companies move their HQ back to England, creating jobs, increasing business activity and growing GDP.

  • 2021

    An ambitious Ten Year Plan is announced by the government for social care (similar to, and strongly aligned with, the NHS ten year plan for 2020 - 2030).

  • 2021

    £6bn funding package announced to support plans to reshape schools and children’s services; £4bn funding package announced to reform Universal Credit and expand benefits; £3bn invested into the creation of affordable, social housing.

  • 2021

    National Social Work education review, aligned with health training.

  • 2024

    General election; the incumbent Government wins.

  • 2025

    Devolution referenda are held across England; there is significant public and party support for the creation of assemblies at the regional level.

  • 2025

    Introduction of Social Insurance System to help transition workers to retrain and access new jobs.

  • 2026

    The National Minimum Wage is increased 2026 - Regional assemblies created and elections held. The dominant narrative by political parties during the referendum campaign was the desire to concentrate power and resources at the regional level (which also, however, meant disempowering the local level).

  • 2027

    5G broadband to every household in England.

  • 2028

    University tuition fees are scrapped.

  • 2028

    Regional disparities start to emerge and critics of regional devolution argue that the regional assemblies have led to greater inequalities between regions in England - and in particular, a widening of the gap between the North and South.

  • 2029

    General election - a minority Government is formed, with many former regional-level politicians standing for election.

  • 2031

    Regional elections (high number of independent candidates win seats).

  • 2032

    Region legislatures take over responsibility for local authority spending, leading to accusations of ‘regional centralisation’ by councils. Regional spokespeople respond by saying it is necessary to standardise services across the regions and reduce local disparities.

  • 2034

    General election, a Government is formed.

Living in this world

“Right class, I hope that’s all clear. Any questions about the homework?” Mr Jennings taps his fingers on the desk and glances around at his sixth-form class.

I’m sitting in the front row, next to the door, where there’s a bit more space for me to move my wheelchair. I raise a trembling hand, and Mr Jennings turns to me.

“Yes, Jennifer?”

“Sorry, Sir, it’s not about the homework actually,” I say, feeling my cheeks flush as twenty pairs of eyes swivel to me. “I was just wondering if you knew when the results were due in?”

I can feel a change in the atmosphere behind me, as my classmates perk up and listen.

Just the thought of the assessment results produces an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. But I promised myself I’d ask him for more information. My whole life hinges on the outcome – whether I can go to college, if I can become a lawyer – which has always been my dream, whether or not I can live independently.

They’ve been assessing my class the whole year, and I’m worried. I’ve had to miss a lot of schoolwork due to the six operations on my spine, and I haven’t entirely caught up.

“They were due last week, weren’t they?” I add as a prompt.

Mr Jennings blinks in surprise. “Well, I probably shouldn’t be telling you this…” He lowers his voice conspiratorially, “But the word on the street is that you’ll be hearing in the next day or so.”

The sick feeling in my stomach turns into full-blown nausea. I take some deep breaths, trying to remember what my therapist told me about ways to reduce anxiety. God, what if the results are lying on the doormat at home, waiting for me? What if Mum or Dad have accidentally thrown them away, in one of their recycling blitzes? I suck in air, forcing the breath through my windpipe.

Then I hear a voice, whispering, “don’t worry about it, Jen, remember that your achievements don’t define you.”

It’s a familiar statement – one of the school mottos, along with other mottos like you’ve got this and your life is your own. Practiced optimism for normal kids that means little to me.

I snort under my breath.

I know who said it; I don’t need to look round. It’s Robbie, my Class Buddy, earnestly carrying out his role of making sure I’m handling school life okay. In fact, he’s probably somehow ordered the results to be delivered straight to my door, along with a bottle of Gaviscon to aid my dodgy stomach.

I lean back in my wheelchair, preparing to impart a witty riposte about how failure very much defines you, when a loud ‘brrrrng’ – the school bell – announces the end of class.

As is my custom, I sit back and wait for the post-bell scrummage to die down – boys and girls scraping back chairs, plucking their bags off the ground, jostling each other as they move towards the door. Then I patiently manoeuvre my wheelchair round the desk and exit the classroom.

“Jennifer, how are you?”

Oh, drat.

Ms Collett, my Social Worker, is waiting for me in the corridor with Robbie at her side. I wasn’t expecting her today. It feels a bit like an ambush. Well, of the genteel, civilised kind.

“Fine, thanks,” I say, before deftly navigating my wheelchair around them.

The corridor is packed with teens rushing past me at break-neck speed, trying to get out the door to milk the last few hours of afternoon sunshine. I pause to avoid tripping a girl up with my wheels.

Wrong move.

Ms Collett catches up and grabs the wheelchair handles.

“Sooooo,” she says, pushing me along at a slower pace, “I hear it’s a big day for you…”

“Oh, really?” I reply, raising an eyebrow. “Why’s that?”

I fiddle with the zip on my schoolbag, which is refusing to shut. I sigh and turn it sideways, trying to lengthen out the material so the zipper-teeth can slide together.

She stops the wheelchair and leans over. “Because I have your results.”

I drop the bag on her foot.

“Hey, that’s heavy! How many libraries do you have stuffed in here?” she says, smiling and looping the bag over the handles of my chair.

“Oh I’m so sorry!” I say, my cheeks blushing again.

“No worries – my fault. I didn’t mean to startle you. I’d been planning on sharing the news when we got back to your house, but Robbie told me you’d been sounding stressed today, so...”

“Aaah, Robbie,” I say, “So that’s what you two were in cahoots about.” I peer behind Ms Collett, and sure enough, there’s Robbie walking a few steps behind. He grins and waves.

“See you tomorrow!” he calls, before heading up the stairs to his music class.

“So, do you want to pop into one of the Calm Rooms? I can bring them up on my smart-device for you,” says Ms Collett, delving into her bag to pull out a small black box.

I glance over at the nearest Calm Room, just beside the main exit. A boy pushes open the door and walks in, momentarily letting the gentle blue light from the room escape into the corridor.

“Erm, I think I’d prefer to get a bit of air,” I reply.

“Righty-ho,” she says, pushing the box back into her bag.

“Go Chair!” I say in a loud voice. The wheelchair’s voice-activation and motion-sensor tools kick into gear, and it moves me towards the middle of the corridor before heading towards the main door.

I exit the door using the mechanised ramp, which the wheelchair automatically signals to start extending down the steps. The rays of sunshine are warm against my skin, and I inhale deeply, smelling the herbs from the school’s eco-garden.

When we reach the ground, I call out “left, halt” and the wheelchair glides over to the school-railings before coming to a smooth stop. There are motion sensors all over the school to help me.

“So, here we are,” says Ms Collett, “let me pull the results up for you.”

I glance round, panic setting in. There are only a few students trickling out the gates now so we’re unlikely to be overheard. But I don’t know if I’m ready for this yet.

“Oh wait, I almost forgot!” says Ms Collett, grabbing her smartphone out of her pocket. “Let me call up your parents, so they can share the moment.”

I groan. This makes it even worse. “Do we really have to?” I ask, though I know it’s pointless. Ms Collett speaks to my Mum and Dad every day, and they’ll be determined to be present.

I wait as Ms Collett taps the phone and hands it over to me. My parents’ faces instantly appear in two square boxes, side-by-side. I can tell they’re both in their offices downtown – there are rows of screens covering the walls behind them, showing charts and documents.

“Hello sweetheart, so what’s the news then?” says my Dad, all nonchalantly.

“I don’t know,” I mumble. “I haven’t heard yet.”

“Don’t worry dear, we’ll be proud of you no matter what!” says Mum, a smile on her face.

Ms Collett goes back to tapping the monitor on her little black box and smiles. I’d love to take it as a good sign but I refuse to increase my expectations. Then she bites her lip and says, “oh.” See?

I’m beginning to lose patience.

“Please just tell me what it says,” I say, exasperated. “I can handle it.”

But she ignores me. “Let me just put this into the system to check the algorithm. I want to verify what this data means for your future,” she murmurs, tapping some more.

I thump my head against my hand, remembering all too late that I’m holding the phone in the other hand, giving my parents a lovely view of my forehead.

“Ah-ha!” pronounces Ms Collett. She turns to look at me, her eyes filled with excitement.

My stomach twists in a knot.

“Look at this,” she says, and hands the black box over to me.

It takes me a moment to try and figure out what all the numbers and words on the display mean. I’m not used to reading statistics, let alone all these big data predictions. Thankfully, though, there’s a word flashing in green at the end of a long line of numbers.

It’s such a simple word, even I can understand it.


I let out a yelp and drop the box, tears springing to my eyes. I can hear Mum and Dad saying something in the background, but I can’t make out the words. My mind has gone fuzzy.

Ms Collett leans over and grabs the phone, quietly fielding their questions for me. Giving me time.

My head is spinning so hard, I’ve lost track of my surroundings. But it doesn’t matter. Wave upon wave of relief, shock, happiness, joy, crashes over me as I say to myself,

“You’re going to do it. Your life is your own. You’ve got this.”