‘I want to change perceptions of Ofsted’ – John Goldup

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Former social services director John Goldup hopes that his background will help him turn around perceptions of Ofsted as being too education-oriented. He spoke to Judy Cooper

It’s fair to say that over the past two years Ofsted and social care have gone from forming a tentative new relationship to now seeking marriage counselling.

Rifts are deepening with the Association for Directors of Children’s Services and local authorities over unannounced inspections and the criteria used to mark safeguarding services as inadequate. Relations with the ADCS fell to an all-time low in October with numerous allegations that Ofsted’s inspection regime was actually working to undermine public confidence in children’s services.

However, John Goldup’s appointment to the new role of director of development for social care at Ofsted could mark a new beginning.

The 59-year-old former director of adult social services in Tower Hamlets, who spent most of his career in children’s services, admits that the lack of senior managers leading in Ofsted’s social care activities in the past has been a problem. It has created a “powerful perception” (he denies there is any truth to it) that the watchdog is too education-oriented without any real understanding of social care and its pressures.

“These perceptions can be very powerful and that is what my appointment is to address,” he says.

The married father of two points out, however, that Ofsted’s experience in inspecting education can be put to good use in social care, with this week’s annual report from the chief inspector a case in point.

For the first time Ofsted has not only highlighted the failures of social care services across the country but also, as it does in education, used the knowledge coming out of “outstanding” children’s services to help drive improvement.

This will hopefully please the Local Government Association, which has been calling for more guidance from the watchdog on how to improve services. Goldup agrees that “ultimately, inspection has to be about improvement because if we are not helping people to make things better for looked-after children then it’s been a huge waste of public money”. Here, he adds a note of caution: “This is not some kind of a turnaround. We’re not suddenly going to become soft and cuddly and everyone’s friend. We are an inspectorate; we report on the evidence in an objective way.”

Fear of inspection

Ofsted’s ability to help councils improve is necessarily limited. But Goldup says fear of inspection plays its own role. “We know this from our work in schools, from the evidence in social care we’ve gathered over the last two years and I know it myself, from when I was a director of adult services.”

What Ofsted can do more of is pulling together its accumulated knowledge of best practice to help councils learn, he says. “Although it’s very difficult to provide quality services for children and young people in deprived areas, it’s not an excuse for failure. Other areas have overcome those challenges to provide fantastic services.”

Goldup’s remit is to see how Ofsted itself and its inspection processes can improve and develop. He says he is keen to investigate the ADCS’s concerns around unannounced inspections. But while he is open to the idea of making adjustments to the inspection process over the next six months, before it is formally evaluated in the summer, he also confesses he is bemused by the current furore.

“There have been some very high-profile attacks on the inspection process being bureaucratic and overly focused on process. Clearly we need to do more to engage in a dialogue on those issues. But I have to say that this is not what is being said to us on the ground and that’s puzzling to me.”

Unannounced inspections were introduced earlier this year when Ofsted moved to make inspections of safeguarding stronger in the light of the Baby P case, and the ensuing report on child protection conducted by Lord Laming.

Goldup says that as far as he’s concerned they actually represent a seismic shift in how Ofsted conducts its inspections.

“The new inspections are absolutely focused on frontline practice. We are observing frontline workers in the duty room in real time. It’s true that every inspection will have to look at case files and case notes. But whereas in the past we would have taken those files into a little room and come out with our findings, now we are sitting down with frontline staff and getting context to those files.”

Tough but fair process

He says of the 50 or so unannounced inspections that have already taken place since June, those directors and social workers involved have all agreed that it was a tough but fair process. “They’ve also said it told them things they needed to know but hadn’t known,” he says.

“So there does seem to be a gap between things being said on platforms and things being said to us during inspections, which is an issue. Obviously these feelings have come from somewhere. I’d like to understand better the evidence on which they are based.”

Goldup wants to move forward on the issue and says he is keen to talk to the ADCS and individual directors of children’s services. “I hope that the ADCS would agree that having organisations shouting over a divide at each other is not going to help children in need and is not where we should be putting our energies.

“I hope that as we move forward we can reclaim that common ground again while still having healthy debate and dialogue.”

However, the area of inspection that does need to be improved, he says, is that for providers such as fostering and adoption agencies and children’s homes. Although Ofsted has to ensure a basic minimum compliance is in place, Goldup wants future inspections to emphasise outcomes.

“I want to focus on issues around quality and compliance. It won’t be an easy thing to do because this is a highly regulated area but it’s one of my priorities for the next year. At the moment the government is consulting on national minimum standards that should be in place by April 2011 so we will be aligning our development work and framework to fit in with that timeframe.”

Restraint issues

He is also prepared to tackle the thorny issue that has grown up around the forcible restraint of children and young people. Children’s homes, in particular, have claimed there is inconsistency among inspectors on the issue, which has created an unlevel playing field.

“I have heard that,” Goldup agrees, “and I know that sometimes there is a feeling the judgements of inspectors are not wholly realistic. There is also a view that the legal framework and guidance from the government is not perhaps as clear as it needs to be.

“It’s not Ofsted’s job to issue guidance on behalf of the government. Our role is to highlight inappropriate use of restraint and to also show that there are other methods. This can be seen in the best children’s homes which don’t use forcible restraint. But I know that it is a very challenging area for staff on the frontline in those homes.”

While his words will be encouraging to many in social care, Goldup is the first to agree that Ofsted “must be prepared to be judged by what we do, not just what we say”.

Goldup on:

Unannounced inspections: “There does seem to be a gap between things being said on platforms and things being said to us during inspections, which is an issue”.

Improvement: “Inspection has to be about improvement because if we are not helping people to make things better for looked-after children then it’s been a huge waste of public money.”

Forcible restraint: “It’s not Ofsted’s job to issue guidance on behalf of the government. Our role is to highlight inappropriate use of restraint and show that there are other skills and methods.”

Goldup’s CV

● Joined Ofsted as director of development, social care in September 2009.

● Spent six years as director of adult social services in Tower Hamlets.

● Spent five years teaching social work and social policy to diploma students.

● Worked in and managed children’s services in a variety of councils from 1971.

 Read more on the row between ADCS and Ofsted

Ofsted: gap between children in care and peers widens

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