Surrey council will not be required to cede control of its children’s services because of improvements following an ‘inadequate’ rating, a report by a government-appointed commissioner has confirmed.
Cabinet papers published last week revealed that the final assessment by Trevor Doughty, the outgoing director of children’s services (DCS) at Cornwall council, had concluded that the foundations for sustained improvement were in place at the South East county. This means there is no prospect of Surrey having to transfer its services to an independent trust.
“The authority has come a long way in a short time in terms of improving services to children, young people and families in Surrey,” Doughty’s report said. “The political support has been consistent and delivered on the promises made when the authority went into intervention.”
Crucially, staffing was competent and stable down to middle-manager level, meaning that improved quality assurance systems could be consistently implemented, Doughty and a team of his managers from Cornwall found.
‘Clear signs of improvement’
Services in Surrey were found to be ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in spring 2018, following a similar verdict four years earlier and leading to Doughty’s appointment by the Department for Education (DfE) to determine whether a transfer to an independent children’s services trust needed to follow.
In 2018, inspectors found children were being left exposed to harm for long periods by “overloaded” social workers, with too little having been done by senior figures to improve failings previously identified.
But by the end of the year, Doughty was sufficiently impressed by the action plan implemented by recently-appointed Surrey director of children’s services Dave Hill that he said in a report that the county should be given a further 12 months to prove itself.
An interim report sent to the DfE in May 2019 confirmed that there had been “rapid and solid progress” at Surrey – an assessment borne out in Doughty’s final summary, completed in December. He found:
- “Clear signs that performance and quality of practice are improving” across services for help and protection.
- Improved morale within early help, which had moved to new premises and was now being overseen by a capable manager.
- That corporate parenting was “developing well with a strong lead from members and the chair of the board”, albeit with further work to do.
- That improving quality assurance systems had been prioritised and that there was a “clear understanding” of why this needed to happen.
A monitoring visit from Ofsted will take place in early April, Surrey’s cabinet report said.
“At this point the service is expected to have greater certainty on whether the Surrey’s children’s services will be ready for a full re-inspection from Ofsted this year,” it said.
Immediate priorities for ongoing work include development of the early help service, further action to stabilise the workforce and improving engagement with children and young people, the cabinet papers said.
The DfE is excepted to publish and sign off Doughty’s conclusions soon.