‘My job means delivering challenging messages’: A day in the life of an Ofsted inspector

After years of being inspected as a social worker, Pauline Turner explains what it's like to be on the other side of the inspection process. (Pic posed by model.)

I joined Ofsted in May 2010 as a social care inspector after a career in social work. So, it’s been nearly three years that I’ve been the one inspecting, rather than on the receiving end of inspections.

In my previous role I was an adoption service manager and fieldwork service manager at a council in Yorkshire. Before that, my 20-year social work career spanned from managing social work teams to working with children subject to child protection plans, looked-after children and children in need. Needless to say, I’ve experienced a number of inspections during my time.

A typical child protection inspection

When we turn up to inspect services, there can be some surprised faces. But we do try our best to reassure staff. During a child protection inspection, for example, inspectors will first observe practices at the contact, referral and assessment centres because social workers in this area are already familiar with inspections. The inspection team then gradually inspects other areas of children’s services work, which helps staff to settle and adjust to the inspection.

When we carry out a child protection inspection, my team and I look at social work practice; we sit down with social workers and managers to go through a full range of case files. We’re provided with lists of upcoming meetings with children, families and practitioners and select those we’d like to attend. We then have the chance to observe social workers working with children and their families, and also the opportunity to speak to those children and families. Social workers generally respond quite positively to inspections and want to contribute and express where they feel the authority works well and where it needs to improve.

During the inspection I will have various meetings with the director of children’s services to inform them of the findings as it progresses, and will work with my team to reach judgements. After the inspection I write the report, which goes through rigorous quality assurance checks and is shared with the local authority for factual accuracy before it is published.

Communicating difficult messages

I enjoy the opportunity to travel up and down the country seeing the good work local authorities do. It is especially encouraging to see local authorities that are doing well. This is not only because they help to improve children’s lives but, as an inspector, it also helps me in my role to share good practice with other councils who aren’t doing so well.

However, where there is poor management, high turnover of staff, partners not engaged and inadequate quality assurance, it can mean children are not adequately helped and protected. As a lead inspector, my job means delivering these challenging messages that local authorities may find difficult to hear. However, it is my role to find the best way to communicate and engage with senior leaders to effect change so that outcomes for childrens lives can improve.

‘Why I became an inspector’

The best thing about my job is seeing first-hand how inspection actually drives improvement and how, as a result, children are better helped and protected. I’ve been back to places where, due to inspection findings and recommendations, I’ve seen changes in practice. On re-inspection of local authorities that were judged inadequate, I’ve seen the turnaround where managers have taken heed of our recommendations. I have seen efforts made to recruit permanent social workers to ensure children were consistently being supported by the same professionals.

I’ve also seen how children’s views, experiences and wishes are much better taken into account due to inspectors highlighting this as an area for improvement. That’s why I became an inspector – I wanted to use my experience to make a bigger difference in helping to improve children’s lives.

  • Ofsted is currently running a recruitment campaign for senior social care inspectors (deadline for applications 12 noon on Monday 13 May) and social care regulatory inspection managers (deadline12 noon on Monday 29 April).

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