Regional road to improvement

Derren Hayes and Andrew Ramsay
Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Amid rising interest in self-assessment, a new tool will help councils identify areas needing improvement.

New Ofsted regime will place more emphasis on self-evaluation by social care leaders. Picture: JackF/Adobe Stock
New Ofsted regime will place more emphasis on self-evaluation by social care leaders. Picture: JackF/Adobe Stock

Recognition among policymakers that collaborative working by children's leaders can play a key role in the drive to improve standards across children's services has been growing recently.

In July, children's minister Robert Goodwill announced that the Department for Education is in the early stages of developing a comprehensive improvement system for struggling children's services departments. This will build on work it started alongside the Local Government Association (LGA) and Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) last year to develop an "early warning system" to identify authorities where standards are slipping.

Speaking at the association's recent annual conference, ADCS president Alison Michalska said the work could see the creation of "regional improvement alliances" that could "take us closer than we've ever been to a sector-led, self-improving system in children's services".

A significant factor in the creation of a more sector-led approach to service improvement is the launch in January 2018 of the new Ofsted inspection regime, which places greater emphasis on self-evaluation by social care leaders.

In light of these developments, the Yorkshire and Humber regional branch of ADCS has built a self-evaluation tool for children's social care thanks to £10,000 worth of funding for "data expert" consultancy support gained through the LGA's Transparency programme.

Andrew Ramsay and Graham Mozley from Calderdale Council put the bid together on behalf of the 15 authorities in the region.

Here, Ramsay outlines how they developed the tool, its features and what benefits it will bring when launched this month:

The development of our self-assessment tool was truly collaborative and transparent: we had frequent and meaningful engagement from the regions' directors of children's services (DCS), assistant directors for safeguarding and the performance and information management group.

Planning work began in January and we aimed to have a working model ready for use in Yorkshire and Humber from October, with a finalised model available from February 2018. It was vital that all 15 authorities in the region had a social care self-evaluation ready in time for the new Ofsted inspection framework.

Contact was made early on with key people at Ofsted to ensure they were aware of the model and its contents. They have been kept up to date as we have progressed through the tool's development.

Given a key concept of the tool was to be able to layer information to allow an authority to build the self-evaluation picture of its social care front door, we needed to answer several key questions:

What do you know about the quality and outcomes of front door services?

  • Where improvement is needed, can you demonstrate this is understood, detailed and monitored?
  • How do you prove this?
  • How does the front door fit as a priority within wider children's and young people's services? This provides the wider context needed for the annual conversation, another key new Ofsted management component.

Crucially, we had to ensure the tool created as little additional burden as possible. In reviewing existing best practice, we were able to incorporate an evidence grid from work done in Essex that would provide a wider context to the scope, variety and timing of activity to test, evidence and support the quality assurance of services including social work practice. For example, peer reviews and quality assurance audits could be logged to show how to prove what you know.

By using green, amber or red flags to rate services performance, users will be recognising that some areas are weaker than others. Action plans to address this can be attached showing strategies are in place to improve, demonstrating an inherent improvement cycle.

The final test was for it to be tested "end to end" by the service manager for social care in Calderdale Council. Having passed this test, it gives us confidence the model is ready for wider use to see how it copes with the variety of front door models in the region.

A key finding from the test is that the process was a positive way of engaging and demonstrating partnership working and that the local safeguarding children board is sufficiently providing challenge. However, where partnerships are under-developed, the challenge will be to convey they are aware and have plans in place to address this.


  • Additional further information tabs to provide a deeper story
  • It generates evidence linked to specific performance indicators within the wider sector-led improvement data profile
  • Signatures of risk for social care, red-amber-green rated providing a year-on-year visual trend
  • An evidence grid for logging quality assurance activity
  • A narrative covering key themes including, leadership and management, effectiveness of partnerships, quality of social care practice, and outcomes for the child and service
  • The ability to be used in collaboration with partners, electronically or in paper format, emphasising collaboration as a key part of the submission and assessment by Ofsted
  • By embedding the social care self-assessment into the department-wide self-evaluation, users will be able to address the proposed annual conversation meeting with Ofsted as part of their new inspection regime

Source: Calderdale Council

Andrew Ramsay is performance officer at Calderdale Council

Any local authority that wishes to view or use it can contact

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