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Ofsted: Deprived councils face biggest social care challenge

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Councils in areas of lower deprivation, and those with a higher spend on children’s social care, are more likely to receive a higher inspection rating from Ofsted, the regulator’s annual report has found.

Lauching her first annual report since taking over as chief inspector earlier this year, Amanda Spielman said “some correlation” had been found between the level of deprivation in an area and the overall effectiveness of services, but less correlation between spend and overall effectiveness.

But the report, published this morning, cautioned this did not mean that the level of a council’s spend is unimportant to children’s social care performance, as record levels of children in care means budget overspends are required to meet demand.

It added: ”It is clear that highly deprived [local authorities] that have high demand and that are facing further reductions to funding will have the greatest challenges to either achieve or maintain good services.”

However, the report said the overall effectiveness of children’s social care continues to improve. The proportion of councils judged as either outstanding or good since April 2016 has risen from 26% to 34%.

It said overall judgements do not provide a full understanding of a council’s performance, with very few councils inadequate in all areas of practice.

Of the 29 councils inspected in in the year to September, 59% (17) had at least one area where practice was not yet good, but was not failing children, the report found.

Only two councils were rated inadequate across all areas and of those judged as requires improvement, 13 had at least one key area judged to be good.

Ofsted found that of the 82 monitoring visits made during 2016-17 to 26 councils with inadequate ratings, 88% were judged inadequate for children in need of help and protection, while only half received the same rating for looked after children.

However, the report said that almost all of these councils were making “at least some progress” in improving services.

Eleanor Schooling, Ofsted’s national director for social care, said: the “upward trend” was a ”testament to the efforts of many determined social work professionals”.

”Local authorities are working hard to get basic social work practice right, creating the right environment for social workers to do their jobs well. Where social work thrives, practice improves, and with it, outcomes for children,” she said.

It adds that many councils who have successfully addressed “significant” workforce problems have improved the quality of services, with those that have seen slower improvement identified as being “focused on measuring whether processes or procedures are followed rather than on the quality of work and how this impacts on children’s lives”.

The report said: “Quality assurance and performance measurement, at every level of the local authority, should not only be about compliance. It should provide insight and challenge to frontline practice that measurably improves the lives of children.”

Ofsted found that some councils’ effort to improve has been hindered by limited engagement with important partners “both inside and outside of the local authority”.

It also highlighted the importance of “strong and effective leadership” in driving improvement.

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