This is a really interesting time for me and my colleagues at Ofsted as we shape how we think Ofsted inspections can add the most value in vulnerable children’s lives from January 2018 (the new inspection framework will be published this autumn).
It is really rewarding to be working so collaboratively with colleagues in the sector who have shown such enthusiasm to help us get inspection right for the world we live in today.
Social workers, senior sector leaders, inspectors and government all want the same thing – high quality effective services that help children to grow up in the best possible environment where every child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Similarly, we all want social workers to be working in an organisation that enables them develop professionally and to do their best work with families.
Social workers need to be supported, valued, respected, sometimes challenged, but always invested in, to do their best.
I have said on a number of occasions how important we know leadership is and we are reframing how we describe leadership in the inspection framework. We want to focus more on the impact that leaders have on frontline practice and how leaders create the right environment for social work to flourish.
In our conversations with directors of children’s services, many of them have raised the very challenging financial context that they are having to work in.
We are thinking very hard about how the new inspections can best respond to this, but you won’t be surprised to hear me say that although this is an important context, it is not always insurmountable. So, I am clear that inspectors must continue to look at how the money available is most effectively used to support social workers supporting children.
Piloting the new approach
The recent blog from the new ADCS president Alison Michalska was a very positive blog about her experience of our first pilot inspection.
Of course we have some lessons to learn, but I was very pleased to read how Alison described the pilot as the most authentic inspection she had been part of.
Inspectors spent almost all their time with the social work teams really getting to the heart of how practitioners are working to help children and families.
We concentrated an even greater focus on the experiences of children, be they supported to remain living with their family or those who are looked after or young people leaving care.
More pilots are planned between now and the summer, testing our new approach which is more proportionate and no longer one-size-fits-all.
Authorities previously judged to be good or better will get a one week short inspection every three years.
Those that required improvement to be good will get a two week standard inspection every three years.
Both standard and short inspections will result in judgements on the established four point scale.
Our approach to authorities judged to be inadequate will remain the same as now – quarterly monitoring followed by an inspection under the single inspection framework (SIF).
We are piloting something completely new – focused visits.
All authorities which require improvement or are good or outstanding, will receive at least one focused visit between their short or standard inspection.
We are planning that, following a focused visit, the authority will receive a published letter setting out the authority’s strengths and areas for development in a narrative form, but the letter will not include a judgement on the four point scale.
I want focused visits to look at a particular area of service or a particular group of children or young people. I am confident we can identify the right focus for each visit in partnership with senior leaders in each local authority.
I see focused visits as a genuine opportunity to better support the improvement journey that we know all authorities are working on and where necessary catch others before their support for children and families starts to deteriorate.
We are working closely with officials and ministers at the Department for Education (DfE) to ensure we achieve our goal of being more proportionate while still enabling DfE to make the right decisions about how they help the sector to improve.
So, much more to do, but I remain really confident that working together with the sector we can create an approach to inspection that will benefit all and most importantly contribute to the lives of our most vulnerable children.