Council recovers from performance dip to maintain top Ofsted grade

Leeds still ‘outstanding’ after inspectors find authority promptly addressed child protection issues raised in 2021 visit and has maintained high-quality practice

Image of Leeds town hall and skyline
Leeds (image: Rory 89 / Wikimedia Commons

By Rob Preston and Mithran Samuel

A council has recovered from a dip in performance and weathered a spike in referrals to retain its outstanding Ofsted rating.

Inspectors found Leeds council had promptly addressed issues with its child protection services identified in a focused visit last year, in its latest full inspection, carried out in February and March.

The August 2021 visit had found delays in identifying and responding to some children in more complex circumstances, with practice and management oversight not as consistently strong as previously at the front door. Inspectors also identified a lack of analysis on the impact of risks to children in social workers’ assessments.

On the back of that visit, the authority – first rated outstanding in 2018 – vowed to improve, and Ofsted found that this had been the case, in its report on the full inspection, published this week.

Prompt improvements

“An action plan was promptly put in place to address the areas for improvement identified at the last focused visit,” said the latest inspection report, published this week. “This inspection has found that all of these areas have now improved through this planning.”

For example, inspectors found children’s needs were identified promptly, and generally responded to by action to reduce risks, while management oversight at the front door had also improved.

This was despite a “substantial increase in the number of children referred to children’s social care, at a time of increased staff sickness and vacancy levels,” Ofsted’s report said.

“This has driven up social worker caseloads and the complexity of children’s needs and circumstances.”

Social work remains high-quality despite higher caseloads

Ofsted found that leaders acknowledged that caseloads were too high for some staff – including for some newly qualified practitioners – but said that “the quality of core social work practice remains exceptionally high and thorough”, despite this.

Inspectors said Leeds’s restorative practice model was “palpable” throughout the service, with social workers using this approach to get to know and develop enduring relationships with children, and family group conferences being used to harness support from extended family and reduce risks.

However, inspectors found that strategy meetings had not taken place for a small number of children whose needs had escalated, resulting in delays in in progressing child protection enquiries. They also found written plans lacked detail on the support families were receiving to mitigate against harm and risk.

But though Ofsted downgraded the council’s services for children who need help and protection to good,  it upgraded the authority’s services for children in care and care leavers to outstanding from the good rating it received in 2018.

Strong relationships with children

Inspectors found social workers’ relationships with children in care were a strength, making children feel valued and cared for and ensuring plans were informed by their views. Children lived in “safe, secure and settled placements”, only moving when it was safe and following careful planning by social workers.

Life story work was “thoughtfully completed to a very high standard”, in a way that put the child’s emotional needs first, with practice in this area enhanced by the support of Leeds’s therapeutic social work team.

Inspectors also found that personal advisers were ambitious for care leavers, understood their histories, kept in touch with them frequently and were responsive to their individual needs.

Leeds retained the outstanding grade it earned in 2018 for leadership, with social workers receiving “high-quality supervision from experienced managers” and benefiting from a “strong, continual learning culture”, based around the practice model.

Saleem Tariq, Leeds council’s director of children and families, said: “Our commitment and dedication to improving the lives of our children and young people has never faltered, and this rating is a testament to that. The contribution from the whole council, our partners and the whole city is heartening and a great platform for the next stage of our development.

“I’d like to thank our fantastic staff who have worked incredibly hard to ensure our services remain outstanding. We know we continue to face challenges with increased pressures on our services, which is why we’re committed to growing and nurturing our amazing team here in Leeds.”

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