Ofsted pleased by ‘transformed culture’ as London borough jumps two grades to ‘good’

Inspectors note 'vastly different' child protection picture at Tower Hamlets council, deemed to not be meeting basic social work standards in 2017

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Photo: EtiAmmos/Fotolia

Inspectors have been impressed on return to a London borough deemed to be failing to comply with “basic social work standards” two years ago.

An early-2017 Ofsted visit to Tower Hamlets led to the council being rated ‘inadequate’, with the inspection report blasting leaders for being unaware that children were being left at risk of harm.

Now the local authority has completed a notable turnaround – flagged up by a positive monitoring visit in the spring – and achieved an across-the-board ‘good’ rating at a full inspection.

Council bosses and elected members had “focused relentlessly” on improving practice in all areas, the new inspection report said, making a “significant and discernible” difference to the support vulnerable children receive.

“The corporate director for children and culture has effectively influenced and collaborated with a range of partners and corporate leaders to transform the non-compliance culture in children’s services to one of collective accountability,” it added.

The shift in attitude had been underpinned by quality assurance systems that were now highly effective rather than unreliable, Ofsted said.

Meanwhile a workforce that in 2017 had been half-agency had been stabilised thanks to a focus on newly-qualified social workers, supported by its social work academy, inspectors added. A council spokesperson said turnover had dropped from 33% in June 2018 to 9% in May 2019.

‘Confident, timely and safe’

The biggest improvements at the East London borough were found in services for children in need of help and protection, which were hammered in 2017 with 25 cases being identified in which children’s needs had not been adequately investigated.

The multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), previously criticised for its inconsistency, was now characterised by a “confident, timely and safe progression of the high volume of daily contacts” thanks to experienced managers.

Big progress had also been made as to the quality of assessments, described as “comprehensive and analytical” by inspectors.

“They demonstrate effective and thoughtful engagement with families and a good understanding of children’s needs,” the report said. “Careful account is taken of family history, and consistently strong efforts are made to understand the impact of parental cultures, religious and belief systems, and the impact of mental illness, poverty and domestic abuse.”

Overall the picture was “vastly different” from that of a couple of years ago, Ofsted concluded.

‘More rigorous’ IROs

Services for children in care and care leavers recorded a more modest improvement from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’, with the work of independent reviewing officers observed to have become more rigorous. Fostering and adoption services also attracted positive comments.

Inspectors did record one or two areas of uneven practice quality, including around children returning home from care.

“Some children benefit from thorough planning and collaborative multi-agency work,” the report said.

“For other children whose plan is to return home, plans are not supported by an up-to-date assessment. Some children experience delay in the revocation of care orders, despite them asking for this to happen.”

But Ofsted acknowledged that Tower Hamlets was aware of the need to improve its integration of work between teams in order to improve consistency.

‘Root and branch change’

Responding to the inspection report, Debbie Jones, Tower Hamlets’ council’s corporate director for children and culture, said the authority had taken a “root and branch approach” to changing the support children and families received.

“It has taken a huge amount of hard graft, commitment and determination,” she said. “We will not be complacent after our ‘good’ rating. In fact, this is another step on our road to outstanding.”

Danny Hassell, the council’s cabinet member for children, schools and young people, said it had now “created the right environment for success, with a culture of high expectations and focus on performance”.

Hassell added: “We are also fortunate to have these services delivered by amazing staff who go the extra mile every day for the children and families of our borough.”

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