Ofsted is to push ahead with the introduction of a tougher inspection regime for children’s services, ignoring warnings from the sector that the system is too simplistic and will fail to deliver improvements.
Debbie Jones says Ofsted’s ambition is to establish “good” as the new minimum for children’s services.
The regulator’s new inspection framework for children’s services, published today, will start being used from November to assess the quality of all local authority services for vulnerable children, including those in a care placement, at risk of harm, care leavers up to 25 years old and those not in the education system.
The framework will use a standard four-point scale – outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate – used by Ofsted to grade services in the education and early years sectors to score the overall quality of children’s social care services.
A department’s performance and grade in three key service areas – the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection; the experiences and progress of children who are looked after (including adoption and care leavers); and leadership, management and governance – will be used to set the overall score.
If a local authority is judged “inadequate” in any of the three key areas, it will automatically be judged “inadequate” overall.
Debbie Jones, Ofsted national director for social care, said the new framework has children and young people and the quality of professional practice at its heart, and captures the “journey” of the young person through the care system.
She said: “It is our ambition to establish ‘good’ as the new minimum and for this to become the agreed standard for all services for children and young people. It is right to introduce the harder test asking what difference we are all making and I am impressed with the extent to which the new framework sets this out.”
But Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said he “fundamentally disagreed” with the use of graded judgments.
“Graded judgments can and do hide a multitude of strengths and weaknesses, and there is no certainty that two local authorities with the same judgments are providing the same quality of service and achieving the same outcomes for children in their area,” he said.
Webb added that using narrative judgments, setting out more detail on what was working well and needed to be improved, would have created a more transparent regulation system and enabled progress to be more clearly tracked.
The Local Government Association and Society of Local Authority Chief Executives said they stood by their previous criticism that the framework would produce “unrepresentative judgments of authorities’ performance”.
All 152 local authorities in England will be inspected under the new framework over the next three years, with those judged as “inadequate” facing re-inspection within 12 to 18 months.
Ofsted plans to consult widely next year on the development of a multi-agency inspection regime that evaluates and judges the contribution of health, police, probation and prison services in the help, care and protection of children and young people, and which is set to be introduced in 2015.
SOURCE: Children & Young People Now