Children's services leaders call for wholesale changes to Ofsted inspection system

By Derren Hayes

| 31 March 2015

The current Ofsted inspection system for children's services should be scrapped and replaced with a light-touch but better-targeted approach, children's services and local authority leaders say.

The current Ofsted inspection system is too onerous say children's services leaders

A joint policy paper published today by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), the Local Government Association (LGA) and council chief executive’s group Solace, recommends Ofsted’s single inspection framework is “stood down” because it is “no longer fit for purpose” as it fails to assess the involvement of other agencies and places too great a burden on departments.

Instead, the three organisations are calling for the introduction of unannounced inspections of “front-door” arrangements covering contact, referral and assessment procedures and systems. These could be done by a single inspectorate or on a multi-agency basis, they add.

Findings from these lighter-touch inspections would be included in a narrative report that describes whether practice meets required standards along with recommendations on how services could be improved.

Authorities where significant concerns were identified would be subject, along with other services working with children and young people, to a wider, multi-agency joint inspection, with a narrative judgment.

Such an approach would do away with the current four-tier Ofsted grading system, which assigns a single-word judgment to summarise a department’s performance. Since its introduction in November 2013, three-quarters of authorities inspected have had children’s services judged to be not good enough.

The organisations also want to see a “significant expansion” of thematic inspections focused on assessing performance across services for children and young people on a range of issues. This, they say, would become the “bedrock of improvement” and focus on issues all local areas struggle with such as tackling domestic violence.

It repeats the call made by the ADCS last year, and follows the announcement by Ofsted in February that it intends to carry out six multi-agency inspections targeted by area of practice or locality over the next 12 months.

Alan Wood, president of ADCS, said: “The UK has one of the safest child protection systems in the developed world yet the single inspection framework results to date do not reflect this reality. The ADCS believes this is because the current framework does not get to the heart of how well services are working, and, with a single-worded judgment it tells a partial and excessively negative story, which runs the risk of weakening the very services it seeks to improve.
 
“A new regime is needed, one that takes into account the input of all safeguarding partners and contributes much more positively to achieving better outcomes for children and young people. This must sit at the heart of inspection activity in the future, not institutional boundaries.”
 
David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “There is a need for an urgent, back to basics review of Ofsted, as there are big question marks over the quality of judgments following what has happened in Rotherham and Birmingham, among other areas.

“Keeping children safe is the most important thing that councils do, but we know we cannot do it alone. Protecting children does not fall only to councils, but to the police, health services, schools and local groups. Inspections must reflect this and ensure children are at the heart of what we do.
 
“We have long called for a scrutiny processes to adopt the same approach, so every organisation involved in child protection is examined during an inspection. This new framework would ensure inspection was proportionate and effective.”

An Ofsted spokesperson said: "We welcome the debate on inspections and are committed to working with the sector to further develop and improve inspection. As the position paper recognises, Ofsted announced earlier this year that it is to consult on the future of joint multi-agency inspections, and we will be working closely with these organisations on this important programme of work.”

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