Readers’ Take: should a single word define the quality of social work services?

With the debate over Ofsted's single-word judgments having been reignited and the CQC about to follow suit in adults' services, we look at what social workers think of this way of assessing services

Photo by Community Care

Berkshire headteacher Ruth Perry’s death has reignited an old debate about the appropriateness of Ofsted’s single-word grading system.

Under this, schools, social care providers and local authority children’s services receive an overall grade based on the same scale – outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate.

This has long been opposed by children’s services leaders, with directors and academics criticising Ofsted’s assessment system last year for perpetuating the sector’s retention problems.

Councils’ adults’ social services will soon also be assessed similarly, from September this year, by the Care Quality Commission, which has been instructed to issue single-word ratings by the Department of Health and Social Care, despite many directors favouring a ‘narrative’ judgment instead.

Your verdict on single-word judgments

But how do social workers feel about single-word judgments of services?

A Community Care poll, which drew 473 votes, found that the vast majority are opposed, with 83% saying Ofsted and CQC assessments of children’s and adults’ services should not follow a single-word grading system.

Only 13% agreed with the status quo and the rest (3%) were undecided.


‘Not fit for purpose’

Comments from readers were generally fairly negative about the current approach to inspection in children’s services.

One, dk, echoed social work academic David Wilkins in questioning whether it was achieving its purpose of improving services.

“If the single word rating system is not helping local authorities to improve their services, it is not fit for purpose,” they said. “I would not expect a team manager to maintain a failing philosophical position on raising a team’s standards, or a social worker to maintain a failing philosophical position on a care plan that was not working.”

“The current system by Ofsted is not suitable,” said another reader. “Indeed, if applied same grading system to them, Ofsted would be inadequate!”

A children’s social worker, under the pseudonym ‘frustrated’, added that inspections caused only “upheaval and chaos that usually does not benefit anyone”.

“While at times they may be close to getting an outcome correct, their analysis of the cause can be alarmingly wrong,” they added.

Inspectors ‘need to talk to staff without managers present’

Vanessa elaborated on this point, saying the key issue was not the single-word grading but “the process Ofsted is using to satisfy the information they gather for the inspection”.

The inspectors need to sit with staff and enquire about what cases staff are working on. Ask workers anonymously what their experience is. Meet the social workers without the managers being present to allow people to feel able to talk without fear of reprisals.

“Once Ofsted starts to spend more time with the workers on the floor, as opposed to the managers and leaders, then they will get a proper feel of the organisation.”

Another reader also suggested a way forward for Ofsted’s inspection regime.

“I believe the way forward would be a resident or frequently visiting Ofsted inspector, who would help to identify problems and solve them. A model of regular, frequent assessment and review, which is far less adversarial.”

What do you think of Ofsted’s assessments of children’s services and that planned by the CQC for adults’ services? Give us your opinion in the comments below!

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