Child protection and looked-after children's services will be deemed ‘inadequate’ even if just part of their work is failing, under plans unveiled by Ofsted to toughen up inspections.
Changes to come into force in November
The tougher regime is revealed in a consultation document for joint child protection and looked-after children's services inspections. It states that Ofsted will give its most damning judgement for overall effectiveness of ‘inadequate’ if councils are found to be ‘inadequate’ in any one of three areas assessed.
These are: the experiences and progress of children in need of protection; the experiences of looked-after children including adoption and support for care leaver services; and the leadership, management and governance of the service.
The consultation document states: “To be judged ‘inadequate’ in any key area means that children and young people are not protected or their welfare is not being promoted.”
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has expressed concerns about how judgements under this new regime will be portrayed in the media.
“It does seem unfair for those working in areas of the service that are performing well to be given this label because one area is underperforming", said BASW professional officer for England Nushra Mansuri.
"All that will be reported in the media will be the overall label - the good performance going on will not get recognised.”
If approved, the plans will come into force in November. In addition, the judgement of ‘adequate’ would be scrapped and replaced with ‘requires improvement.’
'Good’ will be the benchmark that all services will need to meet, says Ofsted. The consultation document adds: “We are convinced it is right to emphasise that each child should receive a service from authorities that are good or better and any that are not yet ‘good’ will by definition ‘require improvement’.”
Ofsted is also seeking views on whether the judgements of ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’ are appropriate for judging local safeguarding children’s boards (LSCBs).
Eleanor Schooling, chair of the Association of Directors of Children's Services' Standards, Performance and Inspection Policy Committee, said: "While we welcome the added focus on the child's journey identified in the new framework we have a number of concerns and believe more work needs to be done to make the grade criteria more helpful.
"Local authorities need more than a long, potentially highly aspirational, list of descriptors to assess whether or not a service is good.
"There has to be a more precise and definitive definition of what 'good' looks like to avoid a superficial tick box approach if we are to be confident that all children have access to high-quality provision and support."
Its review comes ahead of expected plans by the Department for Education to introduce legislation allowing Ofsted to inspect the effectiveness of LSCBs.
Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: “This new single inspection will mean Ofsted can inspect the whole system that helps, protects and looks after children. I want those same children to have good lives when they leave the care of the state.”
The decision to bring in joint inspections of looked-after children and child protection services was announced in April, just as plans for multi-agency child protection inspections were shelved following results from pilot sites.
These inspections had been earmarked to come into force this month and would have involved the Care Quality Commission (CQC), Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. They were a key recommendation of the Munro review of child protection.
The consultation closes on 12 July.