Roger Shippam, Ofsted’s new director of children’s services has defended the forthcoming tougher inspection regime, denying it is a knee-jerk reaction to the Baby P case.
In his first interview with Community Care, Roger Shippam says Ofsted had wanted more inspectors on the ground for “a long time” before the news broke of the 17-month-old’s death last year.
The former maths teacher took over the leadership of the children’s directorate in January following the sudden departure of his predecessor, Michael Hart.
Ofsted denied the resignation of Hart, who also had an education background, was linked to attacks on the inspectorate following the Baby P case. Questions were raised over Ofsted’s capacity after it emerged that Haringey’s annual performance assessment (APA) had rated its children’s services as good.
But Shippam admits that the APA process, a desk-based assessment relying on data supplied by councils, was not objective enough. “It didn’t allow us to put inspectors on the ground and burrow down”, he says, “We were not in a position to check the data”.
In response to these concerns, Shippam will oversee the most radical reform to children’s social care inspection since Ofsted assumed the role: a system of unannounced annual inspections for local authorities.
From 1 June, the two-day safeguarding checks will replace the annual performance assessment, under which Ofsted awarded the Haringey Council a three-star “good” rating in the same year Baby Peter died while on the child protection register.
Under the comprehensive area assessment, there will also be full inspections every three years of council services and partner agencies concerned with safeguarding children and looked-after children’s services.
Shippam says: “We felt for a long time that we need to see things as they are and the unannounced inspection regime would allow us to do that.”
The original proposals for the new regime attracted strong criticism from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, who argued it would not lift the burden of assessment from councils.
Shippam says Ofsted had listened to their concerns and extended the unannounced inspections from one to two days to give inspectors more time to talk to staff.
In response to Lord Laming’s recommendation that all Ofsted inspectors should have the right expertise to inspect child protection and safeguarding services, Ofsted is now recruiting 24 inspectors with a social work qualification, or an expectation that they will gain a qualification while in post. This will be in addition to the existing workforce of 177 social care inspectors.
Laming also stipulated that Ofsted inspectors who investigate child protection should have direct experience of child protection work.
Ministers rejected this recommendation, but Shippam says he will consider the idea. Overall, the new regime will have a greater emphasis on engagement with frontline staff and direct observation of practice, he says.
Seeking Practitioners views
Practitioners will be asked for their views in an annual questionnaire and can also access a new whistleblowing hotline, which has received more than 200 calls since it was launched in April.
Shippam says that as part of the questionnaire social workers would be asked about issues such as practice, caseloads, supervision, training and specific questions about individual cases.
He concludes: “Ofsted’s chief priority in all of this is the welfare and safety of the youngsters concerned. We consider that the inspections we’re planning on doing are exactly the right approach.”