The Commission for Social Care Inspection’s response to the
government’s proposals for its merger with Ofsted is a strongly
worded document, with relevance far beyond inspection and
regulation. It should be required reading for anyone who assumes
the benefits of the new structures for children’s services, both
nationally and locally, will automatically outweigh the
disadvantages. They won’t, unless those who hold that the needs and
rights of the most vulnerable, and sometimes difficult, children
should be paramount can retain sufficient influence.
The document asks a useful question: who is the customer? In
context, the CSCI argues that Ofsted’s customers are parents,
whereas the CSCI strives to deliver primarily for children. It’s
reasonable to take this question out of context, because it
encapsulates the cultural differences between education and social
For most teachers and support staff, of course, the school’s
primary purpose is to benefit children, who do not exercise choice,
not parents – who sometimes do. But education policy has parental
choice as its compass, and parents are encouraged to judge schools
on aggregated achievement statistics before their own children have
experienced whether the teachers will help them achieve their
potential as individuals.
Moreover, affluent parents are true customers, whom the state
sector as a whole strives to retain.
In this sense, by contrast, social care has no customers. Few
children or parents choose to use it. In the past, appalling
scandals have shown how vulnerable these non-customers can be in a
system that does not put their rights at its centre. Nowadays,
although progress is still needed, the institutions of social care
– as the CSCI shows – have acknowledged that the best possible
outcomes for individual children are the only measure that
That culture must now penetrate the new children’s services from
government to classroom. And the new joint inspectorate must be
tasked with ensuring that it does.
Otherwise the schools that no one chooses may find common cause
with social care, but popular schools and policy-makers will see
little need to do so.