Ofsted launches new single inspection framework for children's services

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Ofsted has published a new single inspection framework for inspecting local authority children's services.


The framework, which comes into effect in November, means that there will be one inspection for child protection, services for looked-after children and care leavers, and local authority fostering and adoption services.

Two other frameworks published today for inspecting voluntary adoption agencies and independent fostering services take immediate effect.

The inspection is universal and will be conducted in all local authorities in England in a three-year cycle.

Services that are less than good will be judged as ‘requires improvement’.

Ofsted said the key test would be the extent to which children’s experiences are prioritised and the effectiveness of the help, protection and care they receive.

Inspectors will make three key judgements in the single inspection:

  • the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection;
  • the experiences and progress of children looked after and achieving permanent homes and families for them;
  • leadership, management and governance.

    If a local authority is judged ‘inadequate’ in any of these three areas, it will automatically be judged ‘inadequate’ overall.

    Ofsted’s new national director for social care, Debbie Jones, said, ‘While I understand the pressures and recognise the social care landscape is changing, I believe this new framework has children and young people and the quality of professional practice at its heart.

    ‘It is our ambition to establish "good" as the new minimum and for this to become the agreed standard for all services for children and young people. It is right to introduce the harder test asking what difference we are all making and I am impressed with the extent to which the new framework sets this out.'

    However, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE), while backing a single inspection framework, said it doubted Oftsed’s ability to deliver it and criticised the move to a single inspection grade.

    Mark Rogers, chief executive of SOLACE, said, ‘Only good is good enough when it comes to delivery of children’s services. Excellence must be the ambition when it comes to the outcomes for children and young people. Unfortunately, Ofsted’s efforts to deliver a quality independent single inspection framework fall short of expectations and still require improvement.  

    ‘SOLACE has successfully argued that a single inspection framework is needed to recognise the complexity of the local system for protecting and caring for children and young people. However, it is hard to see how justice is done to this complexity when the performance of other agencies remains out of scope.

    ‘The publication of a simplistic single grade to describe the performance of a sophisticated multi-agency system will not enhance public understanding, improvement or accountability.'

    He added that the he was concerned about whether Ofsted's workforce was ready to deliver the new inspection framework routinely to a high standard.

    'Feedback from the two pilots was only recently concluded and SOLACE is very concerned that this will leave insufficient time for the learning to filter through. Inspection practice and consistency will suffer as a consequence. To deploy this inspection framework at this time will be like driving using only the rear view mirror,’ he added.

    Meanwhile, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services critcised the use of graded judgements in the place of ‘narrative judgements’, which it said were used effectively in Coroners’ Courts, and would allow Ofsted to describe its findings in detail, including the strengths and weaknesses of the system.

    Andrew Webb, president of the ADCS, said, ‘Every director of children services wants to ensure a safe and high quality service is provided by all partners to protect and support children, young people and their families. The universal nature of the Single Inspection Framework is welcomed but we fundamentally disagree with the use of graded judgments. Graded judgments can, and do, hide a multitude of strengths and weaknesses, and there is no certainty that two local authorities with the same judgments are providing the same quality of service and achieving the same outcomes for children in their area.

    'The complex, multi-agency, nature of safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children would be better suited to a narrative approach to judgments.'

    He added that this ‘combined with a requirement for the local authority to produce an "action plan" detailing how improvement will be achieved, would ensure the public can see a remedy for improvement alongside a diagnosis of the problems.’

    ‘We hope Ofsted, when working with other inspectorates to develop the planned multi agency, multi-inspectorate framework for April 2015, will consider the use of narrative judgments as a more constructive way to ensure that sustained improvements are made.’

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