ADCS calls for Ofsted workforce shake-up

By Neil Puffett

| 31 October 2014

Ofsted must recruit existing children's services professionals to inspect local authority social care arrangements if it is to boost confidence in its judgments, the head of the Association of Directors of children's Services (ADCS) has said.

ADCS president Alan Wood wants Ofsted social care inspectors to have current experience of working in children's services. Picture: Alex Deverill

Alan Wood, president of the ADCS, told delegates at a meeting at the National Children and Adult Services conference in Manchester that concerns about the existing inspection process stemmed from, in some cases, inspectors having a lack of experience in children's services.

"If their last experience of working with children was 14 years ago at a low level, how can they comment on the way a system operates,” he said.

"It doesn't win the confidence of those inspected.”

He said the watchdog should change its recruitment policy.

"The only thing that will improve acceptance is if a higher degree of the membership of inspection teams are serving [in children’s services] at the moment,” he said.

"We need to make sure inspection teams are populated by existing people. They will provide better analysis of what's happening."

Wood also highlighted three other main concerns with the current inspection system flagged the cost, the impact of judgments on services, and the current form of the inspection framework itself.

In terms of cost, Wood said Ofsted does not have sufficient resources to carry out inspections "in the way it should".

He added that there is an inherent cost to authorities when they are inspected.

"There is growing evidence that inspections create a period of time when the focus is taken off the work that needs to be done for children and families,” he said.

"There is often talk about the impact of preparing for inspection.

"The process itself raises stress and concern and then there is the outflow from that, which is more noticeable when linked to failure."

Wood said inspections had a number of implications for local authorities, sending a "powerful message" to communities.

"It creates a certain degree of alarm to schools, GP surgeries and the entire community that the service is failing.”

He added that although there had been claims that the current single inspection framework, which was introduced last November, is better than previous methods, it “doesn’t mean it is the best”.

“If we had a more fundamental discussion about the meaning of inspection we would have a better idea of the framework that should be used.

“It should be about outcomes and across all agencies.”

Wood’s comments come a month after he said that proposed multi-agency inspections of local authority children’s services – due to be introduced next year – will not work and should be mothballed.

Under proposals published in June, Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation and, where appropriate, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons will work together on targeted "integrated" inspections of children’s services from April 2015.

But the ADCS has warned that the proposals – which involve separate judgments from each inspectorate on their respective agencies – “lack credibility” and highlight how “disunited” the individual inspectorates are.

Speaking at the same event as Wood, Ofsted's director of social care Debbie Jones defended the current inspection framework against claims it is too tough, pointing to the fact that the results of the first 33 inspections were broadly similar to those under previous child protection inspection arrangements.

She added that overall judgment gradings provide important feedback for children and families.

“They tell us this in every consultation,” she said.

But she did call for a rethink on how children's services operate in light of falling budgets.

“We believe we need a new and very different conversation from the customary self-serving and polarising debate that we have had in recent years," she said.

“We cannot continue as we are.

“So why do we not debate how together we can build a system that can help families, that is receptive to the current and difficult straitened fincancial situation that we are all working in. We need to and we must move on together."

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