Social worker on inspections: ‘The drive to compliance in the run up to Ofsted visit was striking’

A frontline social worker reflects on the impact of inspections on frontline staff

Photo: mizar_21894/Fotolia

by Andrew Matthews

I am interested in how Ofsted impacts on an organisation during, before and after a monitoring visit and a full inspection, in particular how it potentially shapes an organisation’s direction, focus, and allocation of funds.

I admit I have found myself worried about whether Ofsted’s presence can have a negative impact; does the drive for a positive rating take precedent? Does this in turn have an impact on staff and local authorities? Critically does what Ofsted looks for and measure constitute an accurate representation of what good social work is?

There is a move in the sector to consider how we measure outcomes and Ofsted has rolled out a new framework to measure standards in local authorities.

The new framework sets out a clear change in the process of inspection visits; but what Ofsted does on a visit to a local authority remains more of an unknown.

Ofsted has been in my local authority recently and the feedback was positive, which was a little surprise to staff. It worries me if Ofsted can gain an accurate understanding of what life is like for children in the area from a two-day visit and whether the tools they use to measure this are accurate.

Are the judgements made of local authorities evidence based? How do they draw their conclusions?


The influence and power of an Ofsted rating for me is hugely significant. A poor Ofsted can lead to significant, whole organisation change which may in fact be more harmful to children.

The changes within my organisation and the drive to compliance in the run up to the visit was striking; emails flying round asking for things to be on the system urgently and being sent highlighting an apparent togetherness.

The disconnect between workforce and senior management appeared as an indirect outcome. I know this is only my personal experience, but it was notable.

This massive shift towards change for a short period of time enthused me but also led me to be confused; why all the urgency now to do things better for children and families? Why the lack of consistency?

I do not envy the challenges senior management teams have when thinking about how best to bring about change. There is an ongoing improvement plan in my organisation and I understand the pressure Ofsted can bring.

However, I worry about the narrative of inspection. We all know that in high-need authorities the challenge of austerity and high caseloads is not simply fixed.

New model

A new model may be adopted, or new thresholds introduced, but if the money is not going into prevention then the levels of demand will remain the same.

My point is that at any given time, there may be a rating of ‘good’ but then this may change; will consistent inspection support or hinder? Is the trajectory towards a ‘good’ Ofsted rating, the same as a trajectory to doing the best for children and families? What would be interesting is to consider research into how Ofsted operates; I myself have not come across any.

It may appear that I am against Ofsted. In fact, I think local authorities should not go unchecked. I am more concerned about the relationship between Ofsted ratings, the direction taken by local authorities and the impact this has on the lives of children.

Perhaps I am not appreciating the impact of a ‘good’ Ofsted; does this improve retention and recruitment; secure innovation funding and appease local government? Is there a wider political discourse at play that necessitates Ofsted’s ratings?

True investigation

I am curious to know whether Ofsted really looks into the whys, the deep meanings of what an authority is struggling with or is it all surface-level key performance indicators? Is Ofsted truly investigating what is most important?

An interesting example of this is the move from local authorities to really consider what practice model they want to adopt to best support children and families and facilitate change.

I wonder if Ofsted are invested in this as well. The idea of child safety, and the notion of safety, equating to good is for me the wrong focus and I worry this is the overwhelming focus of Ofsted.

I am not saying safety is not what we are working towards but an organisation of therapeutically and skilfully trained practitioners encouraging real change in families will lead to safety. For me, anyone can come into a family and tell people what to do to keep a child safe, visits can be logged on time, recording can be top-notch, but this is not ‘good’ social work.

Good social work is about the questions being used, the theories being employed, and the discussions and understanding shown to help that person change.

How is Ofsted measuring change, what are they looking at in respect of ‘how’ we are doing social work in local authorities?

That is what is critical; it is important to look at numbers and compliance but the ‘how’, as opposed to when seen and what was seen, is important. There is a real shift towards this in local authorities and Ofsted and the Department of Education need to catch up.

In writing this piece, I have discovered that I am curious to learn more about Ofsted, especially as the impact of a rating is so huge, and I feel it is important that practitioners gain that insight. The practice and decision making of Ofsted in this area should be subject to scrutiny and research.

It is important that local authorities, Ofsted and the Department of Education are all working to the same goal.

Andrew Matthews is a pseudonym. He is a children’s social worker.

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8 Responses to Social worker on inspections: ‘The drive to compliance in the run up to Ofsted visit was striking’

  1. Charlotte March 8, 2018 at 12:00 pm #

    I absolutely agree with the points you make & the issues & questions raised. This would be a fantastic topic for some in depth research.

  2. leisa March 8, 2018 at 1:20 pm #

    Excellent responce

  3. Eboni March 8, 2018 at 1:46 pm #

    Hello my fellow and esteemed colleague in life and social work. I too have had a 28 plus year commitment in front line services as a SW TM IRO Children’s Guardian LADO and began my career as a trainee Probation Officer.

    I read your piece with interest. In my opinion your views are valid indeed but not empirical.

    OFSTED’s role is one of scrutiny and transparency, leadership and team work, accountability and reference, change and outcomes just to name a few aspects of their role.

    OFSTED alone cannot rule and drive change for better outcomes for all the children that come into contact with our Services and in the communities we serve locally regionally nationally and internationally.

    OFSTED is a significant driver in the overall process. OFSTED is another social worker tool, framework and measure and although it has inherent challenges to address it’s aim amongst many is to complement and supplement change for all children.

    There is a well known saying don’t be angry at one of the messengers of change namely OFSTED or CQC or whomever is likely to be allocated this mighty responsibility.

    Working Together is the framework for change and listening to Children and Young People is a crucial factor and removing stigma, dogma, discrination, exploitation, etc is the way forward for our world and for our children’s world.

    Keep up the good work it’s good to talk, share and do in the name of our children’s sakes.

  4. ANONYMOUS March 8, 2018 at 7:07 pm #

    It is not surprising that a Social Worker posing these questions avoids doing this under his own name. The powers of inspectorates whether it be Ofsted, CQC or Q.A,. and the problems in challenging any inaccuracy, are massive and can destroy excellent long-term work when it experiences a short-term crisis,and when it needs insightful support rather than a witch-hunt.

    Over a period of many years, I have witnessed many reports that are ” fair enough” and many that are superficial but mention minimal demands met, but also some “good” ones of inspections that were wrongly signed off on in misplaced trust, as well as a number of unjustifiably negative reports, apparently written to cover shortcomings of the inspections regardless of the realities.

    Workers in this field lay themselves open to much turmoil and grief and deserve inspectors who are fair, insightful and supportive – especially – to look with the provider at ways to improve understanding of the task and of methods of intervention. At the same time , inspectors need to be answerable for their reports and decisions, without providers who feel wronged having to take recourse to the law.

  5. Cass March 9, 2018 at 6:32 pm #

    I want to know how when I emailed ofsted regarding social work misconduct and breach of code of practice I was informed thy do not investigate social services yet this appears

  6. Jayne -disgruntled Liverpool sw March 10, 2018 at 2:07 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more with Andrews comments, prior to Ofsted we are ‘encouraged’ to do overtime at the weekend to get the system updated and any backlog shifted with of course the emphasis being only on what Ofsted will be looking at. There will then be more thorough supervision within which is the pressure to ensure work is up to date with little emphasis on personal supervision which goes out of the window during this period. The unrecorded senior management and social worker meetings when there is the inevitable push and emphasis on making the LA proud, slaps on the back and chorous of how we are valued which is farsical and frankly an insult. We are told if it isn’t on the system it hasn’t been done so you are under pressure of being seen as incompetent and resulting disciplinary action. It is nothing more than bullying which is overlooked if it gets the job done. As social workers we give 100% and more, blood, sweat and many tears to effect positive change for our families but the pressure and bullying especially from senior management leads to people resigning and sgency staff even being reluctant to come. Ofsted need to wake up and actually speak to random social workers not those that have been put forward by management. They may then get a full picture of how social workers are struggling and how discontent they are

  7. Tracey B March 11, 2018 at 8:23 pm #

    We recently had one of these checks. There was the mad rush to fix stats and make sure visits were on time. I would also be curious to learn more about how Ofsted reach certain conclusions.

  8. Jess M March 14, 2018 at 7:28 pm #

    We are currently being inspected and over the past few weeks the pressure has mounted regarding completing stat visits and assessments on time. This has meant that sw are working 70hr per week in an attempt to keep up with recording etc. Last year we underwent a restructure, changing the way we work. Morale is the lowest I ever known and over past year numerous skilled and experienced sw have left the LA. At last inspection we were rated overall as good, I wonder what the outcome of this inspection will be……

  9. Ruksana Chowdhory April 4, 2018 at 11:07 pm #

    Thank you for the article – it was balanced as it can be. It will be interesting to see how Local Authorities fare with the new ILACS regime, which is supposed to focus on social work practice and outcomes for children and families.