Ofsted should be split into two inspectorates, separately overseeing children’s social care and education, to reduce the scope for social care being sidelined, MPs have recommended.
This division would focus and improve inspection in England, the education select committee said in its report on the inspectorate’s role and performance. The report added that a single children’s inspectorate was “too big to function effectively”.
The intervention of the influential committee constitutes the most powerful critique of the extension of Ofsted’s role from education to children’s social care in 2007.
It also comes at a time when many professionals have expressed concern that the government’s focus has shifted away from children’s services to education, with education secretary Michael Gove renaming the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department for Education.
Education committee chairman Graham Stuart said the division of Ofsted’s role would give social care much-needed attention.
“We think that the social care element of Ofsted’s work is not understood by the public and even some within Ofsted get confused as to this role,” Stuart told Community Care.
“So far, we’ve heard from the government on Ofsted’s role in education, but very little on social care. When challenged on this, ministers said that’s because they’re currently carrying out reviews.
“Social care within the Department for Education (DfE) needs a higher profile, as well as within inspection.”
Children’s minister Tim Loughton last month levelled the same accusation at Ofsted, telling the select committee: “The ethos certainly gives the impression of being more schools-focused. Inspecting children’s social care is a far more complicated, complex and discretionary area than inspecting schools. It needs as broad a range of expertise to reflect that and I think there’s more that could be done.”
Two new positions
The committee also proposed the creation of two new positions within the DfE – the chief education officer and chief children’s care officer – to work alongside chief inspectors to ensure government policy is informed by evidence from inspections.
Unannounced inspections were deemed the “preferable model” by the committee, with its report claiming they saved money and time, and reduced stress for practitioners.
The committee also urged Ofsted to bring itself closer to the frontline by ensuring that more practitioners were seconded into its ranks. These secondments could be built into senior local authority and school leaders’ job descriptions, the committee said.
While Ofsted has not rejected the proposed reforms, it has said any changes should be made with caution.
“Any proposal for further reorganisation needs to be very carefully considered and is ultimately a matter for the government,” said Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert, who leaves the job in June. “There are issues about additional costs and a risk of distraction from the core business – namely continuing to deliver high quality, rigorous inspection which helps to drive up standards for children and learners everywhere.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services, however, has said the division of Ofsted would undermine the holistic approach to children that so many professionals had found effective.
“Much of the government policy points towards more, not less, multi-agency working between social care and education services,” said Eleanor Schooling, chair of the ADCS standards, performance and inspection committee, said. “This should be supported by a single inspectorate that examines how well multiagency services are provided and how well professionals are working together.”
Schooling said that while there have been problems with the inspection of children’s social care, there have also been recent improvements and the ADCS did not believe a separate inspectorate would, in and of itself, bring further improvements to the process.
Others have also expressed concern that the social work was being sidelined, by the government as well as by Ofsted. Hilton Dawson, chief executive of BASW – The College of Social Work, told Gove in November that he had “made very plain…since coming into office that you do not see social work as a central priority for the work of the Department for Education”.
* Ofsted to be divided into two separate bodies, one for social care and one for education
* Ofsted to clarify its function: the social care side of the inspectorate to take on a more supportive, service improvement-focused role
* Two new positions to be created within the DfE to work alongside chief inspectors in schools and social care to ensure government policy is informed by evidence from inspections
* Unannounced inspections to become the “norm”, with some exceptions
* Ofsted to ensure that more frontline practitioners are seconded into the inspectorate, with potential adjustments to senior local authority leaders’ job descriptions, accordingly
* Inspection reports to become more “parent friendly”, along with increased efforts to engage parents and young people in the inspection process
* Ofsted to increase transparency about contracts with and performance of the three companies that undertake inspections on Ofsted’s behalf
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Children’s directors won over by unannounced Ofsted visits