We have always met regularly with local authorities to discuss the services and settings we inspect and regulate. But for the first time, our new inspection of local authority children’s services (ILACS) framework sets out some clear parameters for this engagement.
As part of ILACS, we ask each local authority (LA) to share an annual self-evaluation of the quality and impact of its practice with children and families. This is discussed at an annual engagement meeting (AEM), which in turn helps to inform our decision-making about the next inspection steps we take and their timing.
I want to thank those of you who have embraced this and shared your self-evaluation with us.
Every local authority has now had an AEM, or has one planned, so it seems timely to share some of our reflections and learning from these early ‘activities outside of inspection’.
I want to say a few things about the first round of self-evaluations that you have helpfully shared.
Predictably, both the format and content have been varied. This is not a problem for us. There is no prescribed way of presenting your self-evaluation, but we do want you to answer 3 questions:
- What do you know about the quality and impact of social work practice in your local authority?
- How do you know it?
- What are your plans for the next 12 months to maintain or improve practice?
A common theme from both the self-evaluation and AEM is the tendency of many LAs to describe impact through performance against key performance indicators (KPIs).
While KPIs are important and give a helpful indication of the quality of practice, in round two we’d like to see more qualitative detail about the impact of casework, to really get to the heart of the 3 questions.
From those who did share details of their frontline casework in more depth, there appeared to be a (probably understandable!) reluctance to share the precise nature of any weaknesses in practice.
Trust is important here. We’re not using self-evaluation to catch LAs out. Instead, we want to catch them before they fall, as we made clear when we launched ILACS. So when we see issues, but there is strong effective leadership and action being taken to reduce weaknesses, we will give you time to make those improvements. I’m confident that as the sector becomes familiar with the ILACS approach, this trust will grow.
Learning for inspection
The lessons and learning are not all for you – we have learned a lot about our own performance too!
We know that there has been some variation when it comes to annual engagement across Ofsted’s 8 regions. For example, AEMs have happened at different times of the year; the meetings have been different lengths; some discussed children’s social care, while others included other remits too; different Ofsted staff have attended; and some AEMs have taken place in our offices, whereas you have hosted others.
We are reviewing how we carry out these meetings to make sure they are as consistent as possible, so that you know what to expect each time.
Most importantly, however we organise AEMs, we want to make sure that we gather the very best intelligence about you and your services, so that we fulfil the core principles of inspection:
- focusing on the things that matter most to children’s lives
- being consistent in our expectations of providers
- prioritising our work where improvement is needed most
We are close to completing the first year of ILACS and our formal evaluation of the framework will begin this autumn. We will be writing to you with the details of how to participate soon. I look forward to hearing from you, the sector, about what we’ve got right and what we can improve on.
I hope you agree that ILACS is a welcome step forward and that it is contributing to an improving sector, but most importantly, that it is meeting the needs of the children who we all joined the profession to help and support.