Slough children's services trust improves Ofsted rating

By Joanne Parkes

| 04 March 2019

Children's services in Slough - run by an independent trust since 2015 - has improved its Ofsted rating having spent seven years as "inadequate".

Slough Children's Services Trust was established in October 2015

Slough Children's Services Trust was handed a "requires improvement" rating following a visit by the inspectorate in mid-January after making "significant progress" over the past year.

The latest report praises several changes that have improved outcomes for children, and makes a number of recommendations to help it become "good" in the future.

The news comes nine months after the trust announced the appointment of former Wokingham Council director of children's services Lisa Humphreys as its chief executive.

The trust was established in October 2015 after the Department for Education intervened to remove responsibility for children's services from Slough Borough Council.

This followed inadequate Ofsted ratings in 2011, 2013 and 2015, as well as highly critical monitoring reports, which included concerns over delays in taking action to help at-risk children.

One such report, in February last year, was followed within days by then chief executive Nicola Clemo announcing her retirement.

Clemo, who joined the trust in July 2015, said she was leaving to spend more time with family following "almost three years at an unbelievable pace".

Last July, a DfE-commissioned report found that senior staff were concerned about the pace of change expected by the department and Ofsted.

The latest report, published today, states: "Significant progress has been made by the council and Slough Children's Services Trust in tackling the deep-rooted problems which led to the service being judged inadequate [previously].

"After a faltering start, senior leaders from the council and the trust now work closely together to deliver improved services for children.

"They have a clear and realistic understanding of the quality of frontline practice, including the areas for further development."

The report describes an "increasingly strong culture of challenge, support and learning", which is helping to improve practice.

When safeguarding and child protection issues are identified, social workers respond in a timely manner, including when concerns arise out of hours, the report states.

In addition, inspectors praised as "effective" an "integrated front door" system for taking new inquiries, which was launched in December last year.

Other positive judgments related to partnership working with police and health services.

A daily multi-agency domestic abuse triage meeting is also working well - with this form of contact from police making up the biggest proportion of referrals.

The inspectors found that, through regular visits, social workers were building meaningful relationships with children and their assessments were of good quality, although work is still needed to ensure consistency in the quality of children's plans.

The trust's virtual school, which works to ensure children in care reach their potential, was highlighted as a success, with inspectors stating it had been transformed since the last inspection and staff are praised for having high aspirations for children's education success.

Services for care leavers were reported to have improved significantly, with care leavers being better supported to successfully live independent lives. The number of care leavers in education, employment or training has also risen.

The improved partnership between the trust and the council was another focus of the report, which highlighted that senior leaders have been taking determined action to improve the quality of services following the last inspection.

The report also highlighted that the council's commitment to improving outcomes for vulnerable children has translated into its five-year plan.

The judgment adds: "When children need help, care and protection, they receive much better support than they did at the time of the last inspection."

However, for some children, particularly for adolescents at risk of exploitation, children in private fostering arrangements and 16- and 17-year-olds at risk of becoming homeless, "planning is not good enough".

Ofsted says the trust needs to improve:

  • The quality of children's plans, so that they include clear measurable actions, with timescales for delivery and clarity about what will happen if concerns do not reduce. 
  • The way strategy discussions are convened, so that processes are clear and relevant agencies participate in initial decision-making.
  • The quality of assessment, planning and service provision for privately fostered children and homeless 16- and 17-year-olds. 
  • The timeliness of initial health assessments when children come into care. 
  • The rigour of planning and co-ordination for children at risk of exploitation. 
  • Sufficiency of local placements to meet the needs of older children and for care leavers. 
  • The stability of the workforce so that children consistently benefit from the opportunity to build positive relationships with social workers.

Trust chair Robert Tapsfield said the organisation was "encouraged" by the report findings.

He added: "That's thanks to the talent and dedication of our staff, a solid partnership with the council and stronger leadership."

Tapsfield said since taking over as chief executive Humphreys has been "driving change at a faster pace than ever".

He added: "We know there are still improvements to be made and will be working hard, with the council, to continue making progress for our children and young people."

In January last year, Doncaster, the first children's services trust to be established on the orders of the DfE, was upgraded by Ofsted from "inadequate" to "good".

blog comments powered by Disqus