The new children’s services inspection framework will place fewer demands on councils and prevent damaging “big shocks”, Ofsted’s outgoing national director of social care has said.
Speaking to LGC ahead of the framework’s publication today, Eleanor Schooling said the new approach would be more ”nuanced” than the current model and support councils before services deteriorate, as well as “celebrate” good practice.
The framework, which comes into effect in January, introduces a system that uses “intelligence” and recent inspection judgements to decide how and when to inspect each local authority (see box), rather than after a set time period as under the current model.
The regulator will draw “intelligence” from an annual “engagement meeting” with a council and self-evaluations of social work practice that councils will be asked to submit.
This latter process is voluntary but Ofsted say this would “play an important role in our understanding of local authorities and how they work”.
Ms Schooling said some councils had been “left too long” with gaps of up to five years between inspections.
“Hopefully under the new system the sector will work together and people will be much more aware of what the issues are and there won’t be any big shocks,” Ms Schooling said.
The Local Government Association has criticised the current framework for placing added pressure on councils rated inadequate, as it can cause morale and recruitment difficulties which makes improvement more challenging.
Ms Schooling, who retires next year, said: “I know that sometimes those very broad judgements are not as helpful as they could be.
“This is a much more nuanced way of doing inspection to reflect people’s strengths, help them before things go wrong and celebrate what is good out there.”
Ms Schooling said Ofsted had worked closely on the new framework with the sector, which she said is now “much clearer about where the challenges are and what strengths and issues are”.
“We know we need to focus on areas where improvement needs to happen and make sure we do that more efficiently and quickly without making more demands on the sector.”
Asked by LGC whether Ofsted would comment on the impact of funding cuts on children’s social care, Ms Schooling said the regulator would do so if evidence emerges of services being affected.
“So far we have seen that people can spend money wisely or unwisely. We can’t say spending more equals better services,” she said.
“We haven’t seen enough of a sample where the pressure is really very great, but we have seen a couple of places where people have said ‘we have got to making savings come what may’ and that has been disastrous and they ended up having had to spend a lot more.”
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has predicted a £2bn gap in funding by 2020 and warned vital early intervention and prevention services are being sacrificed to focus resources on children at high risk.
Ms Schooling said: “I do get a sense from talking to people that we are getting to a point where people are under a lot more pressure than we have seen in the past and obviously if that is something we see we would have to comment on that.”
How the new inspection framework will work
Councils that have been judged good or outstanding under the current single inspection framework will usually receive a short inspection every three years.
These councils will also receive an Ofsted visit once a year focused on one area of social care services, or a joint targeted area inspection which looks at the multi-agency response to a particular issue in an area.
If Ofsted receives evidence of a deterioration in these councils, or areas of concern are identified during a focused visit, a standard inspection may be carried out.
Councils judged to be requiring improvement at their last inspection will usually receive a standard inspection three years after the previous judgement.
These councils will receive up to two focused visits between inspections, of which one could be replaced by a JTAI.
Councils rated as inadequate will receive up to six monitoring visits before they are re-inspected, using the current framework where that is the one that delivered the original judgement.
The four current inspection ratings will apply to short and standard inspections, while focused visits will result in a narrative judgement.