Yvette Stanley believes wanting to make a difference for children is in her DNA.
“My mum worked in pre-schools, she was a childminder, and at different points she took into our home members of our extended family,” Stanley, the new national director of social care at Ofsted, explains.
Those early experiences gave her the perspective that doing the best she could for children was vitally important, and this led to a 30-year-career in education and children’s services culminating in her new role, which she began in April.
Before this, Stanley was the director of children’s services (DCS) in Merton for nearly 10 years, culminating in a ‘good’ rating from her future employer last year.
How to improve things
While she “loved” being a DCS, the Ofsted rating prompted her to take stock of her career and consider what to do next.
“Ofsted for me ticks three buttons. It’s still making a difference for children, in particular vulnerable children. It’s about making sure that we’re articulating what really good practice looks like and I’ve always been interested in how you improve things,” Stanley explains.
When asked if she felt she was transferring to the ‘dark side’ by going into inspection Stanley laughs and admits: “I had a few cards with Darth Vader on the front from my staff.”
But it didn’t put her off because she felt strongly the job should go to someone who “respects and values social care”.
“I think its important that the person who sits in this role understands what a DCS has to do, the breadth of what it means in terms of children’s services, and shares their passion,” Stanley says.
Social workers enjoying a dialogue
She joins Ofsted at a key time after the watchdog rolled out a new inspection framework in January, which is meant to be a more proportionate framework offering different tiers of scrutiny based on previous inspections.
Stanley sees only positives in this and says inspections at every tier are now more child-focused, enabling local authorities to develop a deeper relationship with inspectors.
Feedback so far, Stanley says, has shown social workers enjoy having a dialogue with inspectors about cases.
“This feels to frontline staff that it is all about them, so our inspectors spend time sitting alongside frontline social workers talking about individual cases… Fundamentally those conversations are helping us to understand is this a place that is doing its best for children, and how are those social workers supported in doing a really good job,” Stanley explains.
She sees this as part of a wider need to renew the relationship between Ofsted and local authorities, after the last inspection regime “left DCS’s quite tired”.
“In some cases, it didn’t always reflect the positive journey they’d been on, in terms of improvement, people just looked at the graded judgements, and I think the way [the new regime] works, and with the focused visits as well, it gives much more scope for that contribution to the sector’s improvement journey,” she adds.
Stanley says she wants Ofsted to take a larger role in facilitating conversations about social work practice, as she sees practice conversations beginning to make a real difference in children’s services and feels inspection can be more than just “observing what is going on” and can instead “help people make the changes to make stuff better”.
“We’re not going to suggest the practice model or that there is an answer, because social care is rarely about a single answer to a problem. What we will say is these are features that are working well, but when we see some worrying practice that is impacting negatively on children’s safeguarding, we will also shout about that as well,” she says.