At the end of February, we were delighted to publish Ofsted’s new social care common inspection framework (SCCIF). Simply put, it brings together all our inspection guidance for 8 different types of settings into one straightforward framework.
It has a sharp focus on what matters most to children and young people, wherever they’re living or wherever they are receiving support. The SCCIF puts their experiences and progress - quite rightly - at the heart of our inspections.
Collecting feedback on our proposals
Last summer, we set out our original proposals for the future of social care inspection. An extensive period of consultation and testing followed.
I’m very grateful to the many people from across the sector – including agency representatives, social workers, foster carers and young people – who took the time to respond so constructively to our proposals.
We received more than 200 replies to the online consultation and we were able to speak, either directly or via webinars, to about 250 people.
We also carried out 8 pilot inspections to test out how the SCCIF worked in practice.
I’m glad to say that nearly all the feedback about our proposals was positive. I am equally glad that we also received questions and concerns that challenged our thinking. They have undoubtedly helped us improve the published framework and guidance.
The SCCIF is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ framework
It’s crucial that our inspections take into account the different responsibilities and accountabilities of each type of service. So we will tailor the way we inspect and the benchmarks that we use to assess the impact of services to address those differences.
For example, we need to look at how well foster carers are supported as part of our inspections of independent fostering agencies. That isn’t relevant to all types of provision inspected under the SCCIF. Nor are the assessments undertaken by residential family centres.
But our inspections of the centres will have to look at the quality of that central part of their role. The SCCIF is flexible enough to address these differences between services. Similarly, it will take account of the experiences of adult service users in residential family centres and in adoption agencies.
The SCCIF, however, avoids unnecessary inconsistencies between our inspections of different services. There are some things that are important to children wherever they are, such as having good relationships with staff and carers, feeling safe, or being able to have fun.
A child’s need to feel a sense of belonging is no less important in a children’s home than it is in foster care, for example. So, wherever possible, the SCCIF sets the same benchmarks for care and support across relevant settings. The evaluation criteria and the judgements we make are only different when they need to be.
Frequency of inspection
One of the principles of the new SCCIF is to prioritise our work where improvement is most needed. What this means, for example, is that we will return more quickly to independent fostering agencies that are less than good.
However, this doesn’t mean that we won’t be visiting services that are good or outstanding. Indeed, we will always consider making an early return to services promptly if we have concerns for children, regardless of the previous inspection outcomes. We want to help services before they fall, not afterwards.
A greater focus on consistency
We’re not trying to raise the bar for good or outstanding judgements by introducing the SCCIF. It’s about being as consistent as possible about what we expect for children and young people across settings. It’s not about making it more difficult to achieve a positive judgement.
I am aware that any change to the way we inspect is bound to have an impact. That is what we want, after all. It may be that the new framework will have an effect on inspection outcomes.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on the progress of the SCCIF, including a formal review after 6 and 12 months.
I’m confident that the SCCIF is a positive step forward, as it sets out clearly and consistently our expectations of services. Please let me know your views on how it’s working. Don’t wait to be asked!