The new inspections of children’s services have the capacity to drive forward positive improvement for children, young people and families, according to a report published today.
Ofsted’s evaluation of the first 11 inspections - with independent analysis from Professor Eileen Munro - finds widespread endorsement of and support for the framework among the social care sector, which Professor Munro describes as a 'major achievement'.
Following extensive feedback from local authorities, inspectors, and strengthened quality assurance, the evaluation finds that the framework is robust and effective, and that the judgements reached in the first eleven inspections are fair and secure.
Last year Ofsted introduced the new framework, which incorporates four previously separate inspections of protection, care, adoption and fostering, alongside a review of local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs). All 152 local authorities in England and the associated LSCBs will be inspected within three years, with some benefitting from an ‘integrated’ inspection – including inspectorates from other agencies - from April 2015.
The primary aim of the new inspection and review of LSCBs is to ensure that the experiences and outcomes of vulnerable children, young people and their families are at the very heart of help, protection and care offered to them by their local authority.
Ofsted consulted widely before introducing these inspections, and made a commitment to review the first inspections to establish whether the framework focuses on the quality of professional practice and the difference it is making to the lives of children, young people and families.
Debbie Jones, Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care said:
'Feedback from practitioners, managers and leaders across local authorities shows overwhelmingly that Ofsted is looking at the right areas of work and has the right ambition for children and young people with the new single inspection.
We want to make a difference to the lives and experiences of the most vulnerable children, young people and their families. Feedback from the skilled and experienced practitioners in the field remains central to this process.
The changes we will make in response to the evaluation will help us to further improve the way we deliver our inspections against the new framework.'
The evaluation contains the independent report of Professor Eileen Munro, who was also asked to consider the implementation and effectiveness of the new framework as a whole.
Significantly, she finds emerging evidence that the framework is playing a powerful role in driving cultural change in local authorities, as recommended in her 2011 review – encouraging an increased focus on help for children and families, rather than compliance with rules and distracting targets.
Inspectors now focus more explicitly on the impact of services on children, young people and families, and to ‘how’ professional tasks are performed as well as whether they ‘are’ performed, according to Professor Munro. The quality of inspector interaction with social workers while on site is also highlighted for praise.
The evaluation also highlights areas for improvement. Ofsted will be assessing how it can incorporate recommendations and feedback around transparency, consistency, the use of data and self-assessment – among others – to bolster and increase sector confidence in the framework.
In line with a recommendation that the inspectorate should do more to promote the good practice it finds, Ofsted will be dedicating more inspector resource to identifying good practice, which will include publishing case studies on its website.
Debbie Jones continued:
'The evaluation of our early inspections is very encouraging, and we are indebted to Professor Munro for her invaluable analysis. As Professor Munro points out, achieving cultural change across a whole sector is never easy – and the same also applies for inspection.
The fundamental changes we have made to the framework - so that it is principally concerned with the experiences of children, young people and their families and the value of professional practice - does provide a harder test.
We are committed to being ever more transparent in the evidence supporting the judgements that we make, and agree with Professor Munro’s suggestion that this will increase confidence in inspections.
I am very pleased with the extent of the strong support for the framework. We will continue to ensure that it is well and consistently delivered.'