Children’s directors won over by unannounced Ofsted visits

    Unannounced Ofsted inspections trigger lower levels of bureaucracy and stress, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) told MPs this morning.

    “We believe the inspection of safeguarding should be retained, but that it should be done differently, bringing together the unannounced and announced inspection elements,” said Eleanor Schooling, director of children’s services, Islington, for the ADCS when giving evidence to the Education Select Committee.

    The ADCS had previously been critical of unannounced visits.

    “Unannounced inspections have a lower level of bureaucracy and lower levels of stress because authorities don’t spend a long time preparing for them.”

    Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass, agreed.

    “The unannounced inspections are better, partly because they don’t cost as much,” he told the committee. “Announced inspections are just too big. I think we should all be ready for unannounced inspections and I don’t think they should be confined just to poorer performing organisations.”

    A balance between peer review and input from Ofsted would be an ideal future for inspection, MPs were told

    “The people evaluating services have to be inspectorate-minded, and getting existing staff to work to that level in the context of a peer review is quite a task,” said Douglas. “There are some very woolly peer reviews out there that are quite cosy and don’t tell you very much. So the methodology has to be established and agreed.”

    Professor Nick Frost of Leeds Metropolitan University also told the committee that more emphasis on peer review would spread good practice.

    However, concerns were raised that Ofsted inspections did not focus enough on the quality of outcomes for children.

    “There’s an over-emphasis on paperwork and process,” said Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of The Fostering Network. “In foster care we see that most fostering services are actually doing quite well, but that’s in marked contrast to the outcomes for children.”

    This concern extended to Ofsted’s role in approving serious case reviews. Frost, an independent chair who has overseen SCRs, said Ofsted’s role could prohibit learning simply because of the time it took for their approval.

    “I’m not sure why we need Ofsted in this role,” he said. “One review I worked on, we waited six months for the evaluation to come through. We’re supposed to be learning, but instead we were waiting for Ofsted.”

    Schooling agreed and said Ofsted’s approval carried too much weight.

    “When there’s a serious case review, there’s a focus on the way you write the essay and that’s not only a tick-box exercise, but a costly one. The process can exclude learning because the focus on what grade you’re going to get takes away from learning.”

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