Who are the customers?

    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
    care.
    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
    matters.

    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.

     

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