Ofsted's new single framework for the inspection of local authority services for vulnerable children will come into effect from November 2013. The framework will bring together child protection, services for looked after children and care leavers, and local authority fostering and adoption services.
Inspection gradings have been revised so that anything less than ‘good' will be deemed not good enough and will be judged to ‘require improvement'. The ‘adequate' rating will no longer be applied.
Inspectors will judge performance in three key areas in the single inspection:
- the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection;
- the experiences and progress of children looked after and achieving permanent homes and families for them;
- leadership, management and governance.
If a local authority is judged ‘inadequate' in any of these three critical areas, it will automatically be judged ‘inadequate' overall.
Ofsted's new National Director for Social Care, Debbie Jones, said:
‘While I understand the pressures and recognise that the social care landscape is changing, I believe that this new framework has children and young people and the quality of professional practice at its heart.
It is our ambition to establish "good" as the new minimum and for this to become the agreed standard for all services for children and young people. It is right to introduce the harder test asking what difference we are all making and I am impressed with the extent to which the new framework sets this out.'
The introduction of the new framework has been the subject of concern among local authority professionals. Mark Rogers, Chief Executive of Solihull MBC and Lead on Children's Services for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) made the following statement on the Society's website:
'Only good is good enough when it comes to delivery of children's services. Excellence must be the ambition when it comes to the outcomes for children and young people. Unfortunately, Ofsted's efforts to deliver a quality independent single inspection framework fall short of expectations and still require improvement.
SOLACE has successfully argued that a single inspection framework is needed to recognise the complexity of the local system for protecting and caring for children and young people. However, it is hard to see how justice is done to this complexity when the performance of other agencies remains out of scope. The publication of a simplistic single grade to describe the performance of a sophisticated multi-agency system will not enhance public understanding, improvement or accountability.
Of greatest concern is the readiness of the inspectorate's workforce to deliver this new inspection framework routinely to a high standard. Feedback from the two pilots was only recently concluded and SOLACE is very concerned that this will leave insufficient time for the learning to filter through. Inspection practice and consistency will suffer as a consequence.
To deploy this inspection framework at this time will be like driving using only the rear view mirror.'
Andrew Webb, President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) voiced concerns about the use of graded judgments:
'Every director of children services wants to ensure a safe and high quality service is provided by all partners to protect and support children, young people and their families. The universal nature of the Single Inspection Framework is welcomed but we fundamentally disagree with the use of graded judgments. Graded judgments can, and do, hide a multitude of strengths and weaknesses, and there is no certainty that two local authorities with the same judgments are providing the same quality of service and achieving the same outcomes for children in their area.
The complex, multi-agency, nature of safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children would be better suited to a narrative approach to judgments. Narrative judgments, which are used effectively in Coroners' Courts, would allow Ofsted to describe its findings in detail, including the strengths and weaknesses of the system. This, combined with a requirement for the local authority to produce an ‘action plan' detailing how improvement will be achieved, would ensure the public can see a remedy for improvement alongside a diagnosis of the problems. Local authorities, working with their partners in health, education, police and probation, would then be empowered to devise and conduct a targeted and tailored programme of improvement designed to ensure sustainable change across the whole system, with everyone playing their part. We hope Ofsted, when working with other inspectorates to develop the planned multi agency, multi-inspectorate framework for April 2015, will consider the use of narrative judgments as a more constructive way to ensure that sustained improvements are made.'