Most of us who work in children’s services recognise that there have to be national standards for children in care.
From January 2018 our approach will be carefully focused to draw out the best, and help people to see where things could improve.
Inspectors will be less interested in high level plans and strategies and even more focused on the experiences of children and families, and social workers’ effectiveness in helping them.
Our inspectors will look in depth at how children are getting on and how they are progressing. We will not be as concerned with the means by which those ends were achieved.
No preconceived ideas
Inspectors will of course look at how social workers help the children in their care, but they will have no preconceived ideas about the best way to support them. Instead they will ask “what was the result”.
In short, our focus will be more on impact and less on process.
So you can banish any thoughts of what Ofsted prefers, as inspectors will not be prescriptive.
You may well ask what we mean when we talk about the progress of children in care. Our inspectors have all worked in children’s social care. They have devoted their professional lives to helping children and young people.
Progress is relative
They understand that progress is relative when we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable children in the country. Children who don’t have the simple comforts that most of us took for granted when we were growing up.
So for some children, progress will mean they are getting a good night’s sleep and turning up to class on time. For others, it means getting decent exam grades which can lead to higher education and the prospect of a good career.
The most important thing is that children are doing better in many aspects of their lives as a result of coming into care. We want to see that they are making progress, and hopefully at a faster rate than children who have not had the same experiences as they have.
Effective children's social care teams
The most effective children’s social care teams I led all wanted the very best for the children in their care. They needed the space to deliver that. I found, as Director of Children’s Services in inner London, that manageable caseloads were crucial. Social workers can only deal with so many vulnerable children and families in their care at any one time.
Good leaders give social workers the space to devote enough time and attention to children and families who need their help. That’s a consistent theme among the best council children’s services.
When we inspect children’s services from next year, we will continue to ask leaders tough questions about the time they allow social workers to support children in care, and about what decisions they make that will ensure social work can flourish.
We worked with councils to pilot these new inspections and fine-tune our approach. So, how will they actually differ?
From January 2018, inspections of local authority children’s services will take place once every three years. And they will result in single judgements: outstanding, good, requires improvement, or inadequate. We will also visit between inspections to assess services’ strengths and areas for development.
Inspectors will spend most of their time looking at children’s experiences. They will do this by talking to social workers and their managers. Inspectors will also talk to the children and families. They will spend much less time in meetings or reading strategic plans.
Inspectors will want to see that social workers are making every effort to ensure children feel a sense of belonging.
We want to report on what really matters. Are children living in a place that is right for them? Are they waiting too long to move in with a foster family or into a residential home?
After the visit inspectors will write the report, which will be more succinct than previous versions. Our aim is to make it easy to see what’s good about a service and what needs to improve.
I know that not everyone welcomes the Ofsted inspector with open arms.
However, I am hopeful that next year will see further dialogue between the inspector and the inspected. And that talk of Ofsted being ‘necessary but anxiety giving’ will diminish.
So please don’t be afraid when we call.
This was first published in the Professional Social Work Magazine.