Children’s services in England face a “heavyweight” process of announced inspections under the new Ofsted regime but the exercise is fair and transparent.
That was the message from a council leader in Staffordshire, one of the first two areas to receive an announced inspection of safeguarding and looked-after children’s services as part of a three-year cycle which began this summer.
Focus on safeguarding and children in care
Agencies received two weeks’ notice for the inspection, which lasted two weeks and focused on the joint contribution made by local partners.
A team of five inspectors – four from Ofsted and one health inspector from the Care Quality Commission – conducted a survey of more than 600 social care staff, 500 looked-after children and 20 third sector organisations in Staffordshire. They reviewed 80 case files and held more than 80 meetings with children, family members and professionals.
“Intense and rigorous”
Staffordshire Council’s lead member for children and young people, Ian Parry, described the experience as “heavyweight” and “intense and rigorous”.
Parry said: “When we received notification of the inspection, very few of us appreciated the scale of the task to come.
“It was clear from day one that the bar had been raised significantly.” He added that the process focused on outcomes for children and young people and was “very open”, with opportunities for regular dialogue between staff and inspectors.
Council queries wording
Staffordshire was rated ‘adequate for overall effectiveness of both safeguarding and looked-after children, while its capacity to improve was rated as ‘good’.
However, Staffordshire Council has asked Ofsted to consider changing the ‘adequate’ grading category to ‘satisfactory’. A spokesperson explained: “The word ‘satisfactory’ is reassuring for service users but the word ‘adequate’ plants doubts.”
At present, the four-point scale has the following categories: ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘adequate’ and ‘inadequate’.
Ofsted urged to clarify scope of meetings
The council has also asked inspectors to clarify the focus of meetings to ensure that the right people attend and are given time to prepare.
Devon is the only other area to receive an announced inspection so far, receiving ‘adequate’ ratings for overall effectiveness and capacity to improve.
Ofsted has also introduced a controversial system of unannounced, annual inspections of contact, referral and assessment arrangements in local authorities.
Last month Ofsted agreed to drop the term ‘serious concerns’ from unannounced inspection reports, replacing it with ‘areas for priority action’.
This followed objections raised by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, who argued that it could lead residents and service users to believe that a council’s safeguarding system was failing when it was not.
So far 14 councils have received unannounced inspections: Northampton, Calderdale, Cambridgeshire, East Sussex, North Yorkshire, Sandwell, Swindon, Warrington, Wolverhampton, Buckinghamshire, Blackpool, Hillingdon, Redbridge and Bromley.
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