Ofsted is planning to quiz thousands of social workers every year about frontline working conditions as part of a new regime of unannounced visits assessing child protection arrangements.
Professionals’ views on whether the support provided by managers facilitates sound practice could become a key strand of a new inspection system for safeguarding, due to be launched in England next year, the inspectorate’s head said today.
Addressing the children, schools and families committee in the House of Commons, Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said the watchdog was considering a range of mechanisms in the wake of the Baby P case to allow staff to voice concerns.
A confidential whistleblowers’ hotline would help professionals raise the alarm about shortcomings in children’s services, while the questionnaires could be sent to social workers ahead of annual unannounced visits to local authorities.
The latter proposal is designed to improve assessments of supervision and caseload allocation, which were highlighted as poor in an emergency joint area review last month of safeguarding arrangements in Haringey, north London, sparked by the Baby P case.
These issues were not picked up in an annual performance assessment of Haringey by Ofsted in 2007, which rated the council as “good”.
Picking up issues
Gilbert told the MPs that the questionnaires would pick up issues not recorded under existing systems.
“In the Haringey case, [social workers] got allocated families, so it wouldn’t be featuring that four children were part of their workload. They would have told us those things in a questionnaire,” Gilbert said.
The surveys would have to be carried out in a way that avoided alerting councils that a “no-notice” visit was imminent, she added.
New inspection regime
Local authorities and partner agencies face three-yearly inspections of services for child protection and looked-after children under the new regime, which will form part of the comprehensive area assessment system for performance managing councils and their partners.
Ofsted plans to hold snap safeguarding visits for councils in intervening years, and could bring forward the three-yearly inspection if concerns are identified.
Ofsted is considering responses to a consultation on the draft framework, which recently closed.
Backing from Balls
Although children’s secretary Ed Balls has yet to endorse the detail of Ofsted’s proposals, he included annual safeguarding checks in a list of measures designed to strengthen child protection procedures in England last week, following the Baby P case.
Gilbert added that two recommendations in the recent joint area review of Haringey, that all council members should undergo criminal records checks and safeguarding training, should be rolled out nationwide.
Watch a video of the session at parliamentlive.tvChildren, schools and families committee