Inspections Clinic: Return of Ofsted visits Q&A

Jo Stephenson
Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Ofsted has announced a phased return to on-site inspection, which got under way last month. National director for regulation and social care Yvette Stanley answers questions on what this means for services.

Routine social care provider inspections are under way. Picture: Ralf Geithe/Adobe Stock
Routine social care provider inspections are under way. Picture: Ralf Geithe/Adobe Stock

What is the overall strategy for returning to face-to-face inspections?

Throughout the pandemic, inspectors continued to visit children’s homes and other places where children live when a safeguarding response was required. While we’ve mostly been able to assure ourselves of children’s safety virtually, this isn’t a long-term substitute for on-site inspection. It’s important we get back to face-to-face inspections as soon as possible. When we do, we’ll carry out inspections on site unless there are remote working arrangements in place or the office is closed. All inspections will take local restrictions and Covid-19 safety measures into account.

How will you decide who to inspect first?

Across both local authorities and children’s social care providers, we’ll prioritise places rated “inadequate”, or where we have concerns. For places where children are living away from home, we will also take into account how long it has been since we last visited the setting. Since last summer, routine monitoring visits to “inadequate” local authorities have continued where possible. These visits will start again for all “inadequate” authorities by the end of May.

What about focused visits?

Our next step will be to restart pre-Covid focused visits to local authorities where we have concerns or those we have not visited for some time, visiting as many authorities as possible. The visits will involve two days’ fieldwork by two inspectors. Fieldwork will start in June at the earliest. Depending on local restrictions, we will retain the current 10-day notice period until the end of June pending further government announcements. We will prioritise focused visits so we are able to cover more local authorities, offering wider assurance and insight.

When will standard inspections resume?

We plan to restart standard inspections before the end of the summer term, prioritising “inadequate” local authorities that are likely to move out of that grade. In the autumn, we will restart short inspections to local authorities previously judged “good” or “outstanding”, while continuing with standard inspections. We returned to routine inspections for social care providers inspected under the social care common inspection framework last month.

Will the impact of the pandemic still influence judgments about performance?

Yes – it will remain important for inspectors to understand the quality and impact of decision-making for children and families under the continuing challenges posed by the pandemic. We will continue to focus on whether people are making the best possible decisions for children.

Are there any particular areas inspectors are likely to focus on when visits resume?

We will be looking at and making graded judgments in the areas set out in our inspection frameworks. We are aware the pandemic will have impacted children differently and, for some children, this will have exacerbated their already difficult circumstances. We will continue to focus on children’s welfare and safeguarding issues and will be looking to see how children’s individual needs are at the centre of decision-making and practice.

What can councils do to ensure they are prepared for the resumption of inspections?

Carry on doing what they are doing. We want local authorities and other providers to focus on the help, protection and care they are providing for children, rather than inspection.

Will the way inspections are conducted change in any way?

We are continuing to learn from our experiences in the past year. Where virtual working has improved our inspection practice, for example in gaining access to the views and experiences of care leavers, we will continue to use the online platforms we have all become familiar with. But where possible, we want to return to face-to-face inspection.

How will ongoing restrictions affect the way the visits are carried out?

Depending on local restrictions in place we may need to, for example, have smaller, socially distanced meetings and carry out more work off-site if some offices are closed and staff are working from home.

We have amended the Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services (ILACS) framework to include the option to extend the notice period for standard inspections, short inspections and focused visits from five to 10 days. We recognise that when we return to our usual ILACS activities we may still need to carry out some tasks remotely. The extra time will help put practical arrangements in place.

What support are inspectors getting to ensure they are ready to return to the field?

Regulatory work continued through the pandemic and we have undertaken various programmes of work such as assurance visits to children’s homes and fostering agencies and focused visits to local authorities at various points over the last year.

We have also regularly met with stakeholders to hear from them directly about their work and experiences throughout the past year. We have taken time to share experiences so all of our inspectors have had time to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on children and services.

In our local authority work, we have invested time with our inspectors and sector senior leaders who have experienced a focused visit since September 2020. This has enabled us to understand what worked well and what has been a challenge. As Covid-19 restrictions lift, we will be responsive to local arrangements and tailor our approach accordingly.

Why is it important to get back into settings again?

There are some things that work better face to face. For social care providers, it is really important we see where children are living and have an opportunity to directly observe what it is like for them in their home. We’ve been able to get some assurance from “virtual” regulatory visits about how providers are operating but that can’t replace going into a provider and seeing what children are experiencing first hand.

Similarly, with local authorities, it’s important we can sit alongside social workers to talk about children’s experiences and to get “a feel” for how a service operates and this is best done face to face. Where staff are predominantly continuing to work remotely, inspectors will still go in person to meet with those practitioners and leaders who are on site alongside speaking remotely with those working from home.

What plans are in place to deal with a potential third wave of the virus?

We are taking account of local restrictions and public health advice, and will work flexibly – for example carrying out more work off site, if needed. On each occasion the government has introduced new restrictions, including lockdowns, we have been swift and decisive in responding to changing circumstances. Should a third wave result in further restrictions, we will be much better prepared to respond as a result of the last 12 months’ experiences.

SIX-MONTH TIMELINE FOR RESUMPTION OF ON-SITE OFSTED INSPECTIONS

April

Last month saw Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) start revisiting areas where there were serious concerns about provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) at their last inspection.

  • 1 April – Inspections of providers on Ofsted’s Childcare Register recommenced.
  • 12 April – Routine inspections of social care providers got under way again. Inspections are being scheduled taking into account any concerns about a provider, most recent inspection judgments and how long it has been since Ofsted last visited.

MAY

Gradual restart of inspections under the Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services (ILACS) regime, taking Covid-19 restrictions into account.

It will also see the resumption of routine monitoring visits to local authority children’s services rated “inadequate”.

  • 4 May – Some on-site inspections of schools will start including monitoring inspections of schools rated “inadequate” and those graded “requires improvement” at their last two full inspections. These will not result in a grade.

Ofsted will also inspect “good” schools that have not been inspected within five years. Schools rated “outstanding” will be able to request an inspection with priority given to those that have gone the longest without a visit.

On-site inspections of early years providers will recommence with priority given to those judged less than “good” or settings that have not been inspected for a while.

Monitoring visits to further education and skills providers rated “inadequate” or “requires improvement” will resume where appropriate.

June

Regular focused visits to local authorities will restart from June at the earliest, concentrating on authorities Ofsted has concerns about and those that have not been visited for some time.

Ofsted and the CQC will start doing full inspections of SEND provision in areas that have not already been inspected under the new framework for SEND inspection.

  • 7 June – The Department for Education will start commissioning Ofsted to carry out standard inspections of non-association independent schools that are overdue an inspection.
  • 21 June – Inspections of some secondary schools will start. Up to this date secondary schools will only be inspected where there are serious concerns.

July

Before the end of the summer term, standard inspections under ILACS will get under way prioritising “inadequate” authorities that are likely to move out of that grade.

September

Routine inspection of schools will re-commence as will short inspections to local authorities previously judged “good” or “outstanding”.

INSPECTIONS SHORTS

EDUCATION
Ofsted is to visit a number of state and independent schools and colleges as part of a review of safeguarding policy and practice. The review was announced by the government in response to anonymous accounts of sexual abuse posted on the website Everyone’s Invited. Ofsted said it would look at whether schools and colleges had appropriate safeguarding processes and guidance. The review, which is set to conclude by the end of this month, will also consider whether current inspection regimes are sufficiently robust around the issue of sexual abuse.

HEALTH
Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission are visiting NHS maternity services where there are concerns about the quality of care as part of a new, flexible approach to the regulation of health and care services. The regulator said it was rolling out a programme of focused visits to maternity settings which would look closely at issues such as teamwork and culture and the experiences of staff and patients.

EDUCATION
Ofsted is to publish a series of reviews and reports looking at the quality of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools. The regulator said it would publish research reviews on different subjects in the summer term. These would be followed in the autumn by in-depth reports on how those subjects are being taught, drawing on evidence from inspections and extra research visits to schools. “We hope the guiding principles set out in our curriculum work over the coming months will support and inform those leading the thinking on subject planning,” said Ofsted.

YOUTH JUSTICE
Inspectors say “commendable” progress has been made at Feltham young offender institution. A scrutiny visit in February found a dramatic reduction in self-harm and a reduction in the number of violent incidents at Feltham A. Other improvements included an increase in the amount of time young inmates spent out of their cells. However, inspectors were concerned that one in five young people at the setting said they felt unsafe and noted a “concerning rise” in assaults by groups of young people.

SOCIAL CARE
Ofsted has asked the independent review of the care system in England to take a fresh look at the way services are regulated, according to national director for regulation and social care Yvette Stanley. She said Ofsted had a key part to play in improvements but was often “hampered by the restrictions of current legislation”. Several key aspects of regulation, including the Care Standards Act, “need urgent modernisation”, she said.

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