Outstanding Ofsted for the Tri-borough

At the end of March 2016 Ofsted published separate inspection reports for the tri-borough authorities of  Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham.

Westminster and Kensington were rated “outstanding” while Hammersmith was rated “good.” These were  the first “outstanding” verdicts since the new Single Inspection Framework (SIF) was introduced, which led one Director of Children’s Services to say “now we know what Outstanding is”

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The “outstanding” rating was secured despite none of the three authorities achieving “outstanding” for “children in need of help and protection.”Outstanding” came about through the tri-borough’s work as a corporate parent, in terms of fostering and adoption, in particular “children looked after and achieving permanence.” In 80% of inspections the grade for  LAC and permanence  has matched the overall effectiveness grade. [LINK]

The Single Inspection Framework (SIF) cycle is drawing to a close. Ofsted has said that the next inspection system for children’s services will be less demanding on councils to reflect the pressures authorities face as a result of funding cuts, focusing on the authority as corporate parent, ie “help and protection services at the front door, looked-after children, those being adopted and care leavers” mirroring the  new DfE innovation funding priorities. 

It’s interesting to see how closely aligned the views of Ofsted are with those of Andrew Christie, the current tri-borough Executive Director.

Ofsted:

  • very much approves of the tri-borough model

  • thinks the current Executive Director Andrew Christie is “a pivotal figure”

  • hugely applauds the tri-borough approach to fostering and adoption

Andrew Christie, who has announced he will retire from the tri-borough this month, has recently been appointed as Chair of the national Adoption Leadership Board replacing Sir Martin Narey.

As  this report explains, “youngsters who haven’t been adopted after 18 months in care will be at the centre of new Government plans to place them with new parents as soon as possible.”

According to the Department for Education, rates of adoption in England have slowed down because of the way that the Re B and  Re B-S court judgments have been interpreted leading to “a mistaken view that … if any extended family placement can provide ‘good enough’ parenting at the current time, this should be pursued over adoption even if professionals have concerns about the ability of the carer to look after the child.”

Andrew Pack who blogs at  suesspiciousminds  argues instead that “numbers went down because the difficulty in obtaining a Placement Order from the Court went up…social workers have got more used to the rigorous standards that are required in terms of their evidence and are better equipped to present their evidence to those standards.”

The tri-borough focus on permanence planning is exactly what Ofsted wants to see. In Westminster and Kensington this is rated outstanding, while at Hammersmith the score of good in this area reflects the overall grade below outstanding for the borough.

Ofsted praises Westminster for high-quality ‘together or apart’ assessments and child permanence reports, and says in general that tri-borough adoption managers have a sophisticated understanding of the wider adoption market.

Ofsted does specifically say for Westminster that “children are supported to return home when this is in their best interests and exceptional effort is made to support children to remain in their wider families, including placing children abroad.”

Ofsted saw how the tri-borough was able to show evidence to back up decisive action either in  taking children into care or supporting them to remain with their birth family. Ofsted  very much liked the focus on performance management, with an experienced workforce making effective use of systematic data collection. Social workers in the tri-borough were felt to be making incisive decisions in a timely way with a clear understanding of where the bar is set for court in order to make a convincing case.

Paying for foster places had become increasingly expensive for the tri-borough, and Ofsted approved of the recent investment in recruiting more foster carers across West London, and also of the clear foster-to-adopt policy which Ofsted says results in early permanence placements.

Ofsted commends the way in which the tri-borough monitors school attendance for looked after children, noting that this group of children and young people attend good schools, that there have been no permanent exclusions for many years and that the use of fixed-term exclusions is being reduced. In addition, the tri-borough is praised for the ongoing support it provides to young people leaving care.

Ofsted approves of the fact that thresholds are clearly set out and understood by the wider children’s workforce such that the referral rate is pegged and social workers don’t get bogged down in protracted investigation and assessment. Inspectors also praised the tri-borough for being prompt to respond to changing circumstances for individuals and for being proactive in interrogating data and using local knowledge to spot emerging trends.

Ofsted asssessed the tri-borough as having effective strategies for dealing with identified issues such as radicalisation, child sexual exploitation, and missing children, as well as the ‘toxic trio of domestic abuse, substance misuse and parental mental ill-health which have been consistently flagged in Serious Case Reviews.

Ofsted also praised low social work case loads and was extremely impressed by the results seen so far from ‘Focus on Practice’ supported by a £4.2m innovation funding grant from DfE  which aims to reduce the number of families who are repeat clients, and  the number of children in care.

On April 3rd 2016 the Department for Education published more information about the innovation funding to 2020, saying “We know, for example, that the quality of support that care leavers receive from local authorities is patchy and in too many cases is poor: only two Ofsted inspections have found ‘outstanding’ care leaver services” 

 

What I am wondering is:

  • whether other LAs would need to have a similar approach to corporate parenting as the tri-borough in order to be rated as outstanding, either for the remainder of the current SIF cycle or in the projected “less demanding” new inspections (which will also focus on corporate parenting)

  • what part “adoption targets” would play, since two of the five assessment categories are “achieving permanence” and “adoption performance”

  • whether  other LAs will be able to secure similar “innovation grants” without making structural changes

 

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When Ofsted inspects local authorities under the Single Inspection Framework it doesn’t look at provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities. However, Ofsted WILL be inspecting SEN services shortly and the tri-borough has clearly anticipated problems in this area.

As set out in this SEN Service Improvement Plan 2015-16 the tri-borough evaluated its SEN service ahead of Ofsted starting to inspect SEN and found workforce deficits and inefficient caseload management. Parents gave feedback about inconsistent communication and forms which were difficult to complete. The self-evaluation also uncovered a lack of clarity about SEN funding for providers combined with a limited post-16 offer. The tri-borough therefore commissioned Ernst and Young to carry out an independent systems review aligned with an internal audit, requiring improvement areas to be addressed and monitored through a comprehensive action plan in line with Ofsted inspection criteria. [link]

The review was completed in October 2015 and discussed in February 2016 just after Ofsted left.

The RAG rating delivered by Ernst and Young judged that there was a lack of workaround processes to deal with technical infrastructure and misalignment across three systems whereby data was often not accessible, not accurate or not in existence, combined with a lack of strong performance management culture. Internal improvement plans were deemed insufficient.

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Home Education Postscript

As I explained here, being praised or criticised for home education  isn’t one of the key areas which will make or break an Ofsted inspection.  In April 2015 Ofsted told its safeguarding inspectors what they should and shouldn’t be looking for in regard to home education (if indeed they look at all)

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Outstanding Ofsted for the Tri-borough

  1. Pingback: Ofsted Inspections March 2016 | edyourself

  2. Pingback: Local Area SEND Inspection Ofsted 2016 | edyourself

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