Councils will send Ofsted audits of frontline social work practice under a new inspection regime to be piloted.
The inspectorate said the audits, which will be completed by councils as self-evaluations, will inform the timing and focus of children’s services inspections.
The plans are included in Ofsted’s official response to a consultation on the future of social care inspections published this week.
Ofsted said it had worked with a sector group, including the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Local Government Association and Cafcass, to develop a method of self-evaluation for social work practice that can work for authorities and inspectors.
The consultation found some concerns over the audit proposals. These included a worry that councils could “hide” bad practice from audits, and fears that focusing audits on frontline practice only could mask organisational issues hindering social workers. However, Ofsted decided to trial the move on the basis it would help inspectors understand how effectively councils are evaluating the impact of work with children.
Other changes will see new inspection arrangements for councils rated ‘requires improvement’ or above. These will receive either a ‘standard’ inspection, based on two weeks’ fieldwork, or a ‘short’ inspection, based on one week of fieldwork. Councils rated ‘inadequate’ will continue with the current system of four quarterly monitoring visits, followed by a full re-inspection.
Councils will also get focused visits between inspections. These will look at specific parts of a child’s journey, highlight good practice and check whether quality of service has been maintained, improved or deteriorated.
No ‘single event’ inspections
Eleanor Schooling, Ofsted’s chief inspector for social care, told Community Care the inspectorate was looking to make inspections less of a “single event” so that it could spot any concerns earlier.
“The [single inspection framework] has been fantastic because it has given a really good overview of every single local authority. But what we haven’t been able to do and we will be able to do in the new system is talk to people much earlier, and maybe where something is just starting to go wrong,” she said.
“We will be carrying out focused visits to all local authorities on a regular basis, at least probably once a year. The focused visit is not an overall inspection, it’s a couple of days to look at either areas where we are concerned or areas of good practice.”
Ofsted also said it would consider scrapping the overall effectiveness judgment for children’s services and instead grading only the four practice areas currently inspected.
The watchdog also announced a new common inspection framework for services outside of councils including children’s homes, independent fostering agencies, adoption agencies and residential provision. The framework will come into force in April.