Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-379)|
CBE, VANESSA HOWLISON,
9 FEBRUARY 2009
Q360 Chairman: Chief Inspector,
no diminution in quality with regard to ALI?
Christine Gilbert: The only thing
that I would add to what Vanessa has said is that there were significant
inspection changes. There was the move from what was described
as section 10 to section 5 inspections. We are just looking at
the findings from the National Foundation for Educational Research
on the impact of this, so it is not just us who is involved. It
is very positive in terms of what schools are saying and what
parents are saying. Therefore, I do not think that there is a
diminution there. It is just a very different approach. There
were significant savings with the first contract for out-sourcing
school inspection to the regional inspection providers. As we
said earlier, we are just about on to our second contract for
Q361 Chairman: But is outsourcing
effective in terms of quality, and maintenance of quality? I know
that it may be a great cost reduction to get a private sector
company to do the work rather than directly employing inspectors.
There is a number of companies to which you contract. Presumably
your expenditure on those organisations has increased?
Christine Gilbert: The contract
was in place when I was appointed. Certainly, coming from outside,
I should have known about the contract, but I did not know about
it in detail. I might have said this to the Committee before,
but I believe that it is the best public-private sector contract
I have ever seen operating in terms of its flexibility and what
it allows the organisations to do and so on. It is a very well-managed
contract, and it does exactly what it says it will do, which is
why we are adding to it for this September. We are putting in
some of the further education learning skills areas and so on.
It gives us a flexibility that we do not have without such a contract.
Q362 Chairman: These external
private sector people are contracted to do inspections. Is that
right across the piece? Do you use them in children's services
as well as in school inspections?
Christine Gilbert: No, at the
moment, we use them in schools. The contract for September includes
surveys and FE.
Miriam Rosen: At the moment, the
present contract includes some other things. For example, it includes
independent schools as well as maintained schools. It includes
colleges and surveys. The contract from September will also include
initial teacher education and the wider remit from the learning
and skills side as well. A lot of such inspections are still HMI-led
and have HMI involvement as well.
Christine Gilbert: So, over 70%
of the schools ones are led by an HMI. All of the inspection reports
are checked by HMI.
Q363 Chairman: Is it a very competitive
area? I know that there are people at CfBT. Do you contract to
a lot of those people?
Christine Gilbert: We are just
going through the contracting process now. I will be able to tell
you next week.
Q364 Chairman: Could we have a
list of how many and what the pool is like? By that I mean how
diverse it is and what is the range of expertise. Presumably,
it is better than a number of companies in the marking of tests
Christine Gilbert: It is very
well managed. I say that having seen the way in which it has been
managed. It is managed by organisations, such as Tribal, Prospects
and CfBT. It is linked into regions. That is how it operates at
the moment. Whether it will continue to work in exactly the same
way, we will have to wait and see until we move into next week.
Q365 Chairman: Are you in charge
of the training of these people as well as your own?
Christine Gilbert: No, they are
obliged to do x, y or z training, but we do not do the training.
We might guide them and tell them what they should be doingfor
example, they all have to do safeguarding trainingbut they
are responsible for the training.
Chairman: We have to move on to children's
Q366 Mr Stuart: May I ask what
happens when thresholds for local authority care are not properly
understood by partner agencies, whether it be schools or CAFCASS?
What are the consequences of any variation among local authorities
in the way in which they apply those thresholds?
Christine Gilbert: The second
point is really the bigger one. I do not think we have sufficient
evidence to pick up the bigger question. I have been talking to
the Audit Commission about doing a joint survey just on that in
this coming year to see if we can give better information about
exactly that second point. In terms of the first point, the assessment
should be a multi-agency one. The vast majority go through the
courts, so the courts apply a certain set of processes in that
regard. You would expect a full multi-agency assessment. Some
would be more hurried than others, depending on what had happened
in that particular instance, but there would always be a full
multi-agency assessment that related to it.
Q367 Mr Stuart: I was talking
particularly about their not understanding the thresholds for
access. Is that what you were answering?
Christine Gilbert: I do not know
if they would or would not. I have assumed that the people involved
locally would understand that. Whether they might all agree that
these thresholds are set at the correct level is the issue that
I thought you were getting to with your second point. One authority
could be much tighter in saying that you would go through a certain
process than another authority.
Q368 Mr Stuart: You said in your
report that "staff in some services are less well equipped
than others to recognise and respond effectively to signs of abuse
and neglect." I wonder to what extent that was because of
a lack of understanding of the services that they could access
on that child's behalf.
Christine Gilbert: I think that
is much more to doI do not know if Roger wants to add to
thiswith a lack of joining up on the child's needs, and
what needs to come from that, and a proper dialogue about that
child's needs. I would say that that was probably the key thing.
Q369 Mr Stuart: May I take you
back to when you were last before us, when we were discussing
the data on the number of child deaths? You will remember well
that a figure of 282 was mentioned in your report and yourself
and Michael Hart explained to us that 210 of the 282 over that
16 or 17 month period had died as a result of abuse or suspected
abuse. Since that time, increasing doubt has been cast over whether
that gives an accurate picture; certainly, it is a different picture
from the one used by the Department and the National Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. There is a bit of confusion.
If we are going hold the Government and yourselves to account,
would it not be sensible at the very least for the Department
and yourselves to come out with a common way of measuring the
data in this area, so that we have a common data set that we can
discuss and look at?
Christine Gilbert: Roger wants
to speak, but let me just say something on that before I pass
the question to him. We stand firmly behind the figures. I went
back and double-checked every single figure so that we were absolutely
sure about them. The figures are as we gave them to you last time.
We have taken a wider interpretation of neglect or abuse than
some other organisations. Somebody gave me the exampleI
cannot remember if I gave it to you last timeof whether
a child crossing a road might not be put down as neglect or abuse.
If we have looked at the case and think that there was nobody
at home and he was out because he did not want to be at home,
and so on, we would have looked at those reasons and perhaps more
liberally interpreted the situation. But I think it is appropriate
that we tell you what we are getting notifications on. We are
saying that not everybody involved would, for instance, have been
found guilty in the courts of that.
Roger Shippam: We are very confident
that the figure quoted in the annual report is correct. There
are two sets of circumstances under which Ofsted would be notified
of a tragic death: if the local authority has got a suspicion
of abuse or neglect and when a child in local authority care has
died. That is a broad way of capturing these figures. The figures
came down to 210 because, over time, we were able to establish
that abuse, or neglect, was not a factor in 72 cases. It is true
that we are measuring it in a slightly different way from some
other agencies, but we are in discussion with them to try to reach
agreement on, or a better understanding of, how agencies interpret
the figures. It is right that we take a global view initially
of the numbers that are notified to us, because that is safer,
and ensures that we cover all the youngsters. All deaths are tragic,
but we need to know that the numbers we start with are safe.
Q370 Mr Stuart: I presume that
you are aware of Michael Hart's letter to the Association of Directors
of Children's Services on 22 December. That letter, which I do
not believe was provided directly by Ofsted to the Committee,
put a slightly different take on the numbers, particularly the
figure of 210. For example, it includes nine children died as
a result of a killing by another young person, which does not
seem to be directly related to abuse in the conventional sense.
Why did you not send us a copy of the letter that you sent to
Christine Gilbert: First, I did
not know that it had been sent. Secondly, I did not know that
you wanted more information. We are very happy to provide more
information, and I am happy to take away the example of the nine
that you have just given, and to give you chapter and verse on
those without mentioning names.
Q371 Mr Stuart: But efforts are
being made to reconcile the differences and to ensure that everyone
speaks the same way. On this serious matter, no one is well served
by confusion on numbers. Is there is a genuine difference or is
someone getting it wrong? If it is just a matter of definitions,
common definitions would be useful. Are you working on that?
Christine Gilbert: No, not in
the discussions that I have had so far.
Q372 Mr Stuart: On serious case
reviews, is it your opinion that making them public, suitably
redacted, would be a positive step forward to ensure the sharing
of best practice and understanding of errors?
Christine Gilbert: I think it
would be difficult to do that. I have asked inspector colleagues
who go through the reports in great detail about that. I have
read several of them, and most identify people by name. It would
be very hard for it to be meaningful, and my worry would be that
if people knew that they would be made public you would not get
at the real lessons to be learned. I understand why people want
to see them, but I also understand the argument for not releasing
them. The executive summary is released, and I think the letter
that we write evaluating them should be released.
Q373 Mr Stuart: To go back to
the number of child deaths, when you write to us, will you let
us know whether you expect the number of 210 over the period in
question to come down? As you said, you were working away from
the 282 to reduce it. Can you give us an idea of what is happening
about reducing it, and whether you expect it to reduce further?
That would be helpful.
Christine Gilbert: The annual
report referred to the number of notifications, and the death
of any looked-after child is part of that notification. I think
we said that last time.
Q374 Mr Stuart: To go back to
serious case reviews, given the gravity of the serious case reviews
that are referred to local safeguarding children boards, and given
your finding that a quarter were inadequate and nearly all were
subject to serious delay, what are you doing to rectify that clearly
Christine Gilbert: We have a particular
role in evaluating the extent to which lessons have been learned
from the reviews. That was undertaken by the CSCI, and we started
to categorise them into the four grades. It soon became clear
that their quality was poor, and that lessons were not being learned
quickly enough. We identified that as a serious issue in the joint
review by chief inspectors on safeguarding last summer. I ran
a special conference that day, inviting people from local safeguarding
children boards and from local authorities, and I presented the
findings, as we had them before we did the report. As part of
the review, we have committed to an annual review of serious case
reviews and to explain what we find throughout the country. The
attention focused on the area means that it is now a high priority.
Support, advice and follow-through are not Ofsted's job. Some
of it used to be the CSCI's job, when it was responsible for children,
but it is now the responsibility of the Government Offices for
Q375 Mr Stuart: Are you aware of
the public services programme study by the Economic and Social
Research Council's, which looks at child protection practices?
The principal investigator is Susan White at the University of
Lancaster, but other members of the experienced project team come
from the Universities of Huddersfield, Cardiff and Nottingham.
Are you aware of that work?
Christine Gilbert: I cannot think
of it immediately. If you mentioned what it was, it might strike
Q376 Mr Stuart: Basically, the
study looked at this area and found a worrying picture in many
ways. It says that its findings show that the practices that Ofsted
reported in its recent more detailed inspection of Haringey, namely
incomplete assessment and recording, are produced by the systemic
effects of the inspection regime itself, as workers and managers
struggle to meet consequential performance targets. It goes back
to a question that I asked you, Chief Inspector, when you were
last here, about whether there were systemic reasons for the repeated
failure in so many of our children's services departments. As
I recall, you did not think that there were. If you are not aware
of the report, I do not suppose that there is any point in talking
about it further, but it would be interesting to have some written
thoughts on it.
Chairman: It figured quite prominently
in last week's session on children's services, Chief Inspector.
Christine Gilbert: As I said the
last time I was before the Committee, data can be very important
and give you questions to ask and so on, but we are committed
to using on-the-ground inspection to get under some of the data
issues. We stand by the findings in the joint area reviews, which
involved on-site inspection. They do not suggest that the problems
identified at Haringey are replicated throughout the country.
Mr Stuart: For the record, the piece
of work is entitled, Performing "Initial Assessment":
Identifying the Latent Conditions for Error at the Front Door
of Local Authority Children's Services.
Q377 Mr Timpson: Chief Inspector,
can I take you back to your opening statement and your announcement
of an annual inspection of children's services in every local
authority? I should like to get a little more meat on the bone,
and discover whether that inspection will take place in addition
to the comprehensive area assessment.
Christine Gilbert: We are asked
to rate children's services in every local authority. It was a
requirement of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, and we
proposed a way of doing so, which I shall go into, if you want
me to. The rating would feed into what is described as the area
assessment of the comprehensive area assessment. It would look
at the outcomes in that area and feed into the CAA's other component,
the organisational assessment. That is graded, and the grade that
we give to children's services in an area would feed in there.
Q378 Mr Timpson: So the annual
child protection inspection of every local authority will take
place regardless of whether it falls in the same year as a CAA
and regardless of the rating of the local authority's children's
services the previous year?
Christine Gilbert: You have conflated
two things. The rating of children's services is much broader
than child protection. It is a full rating of the performance
of the authority across Every Child Matters outcomes. We produce
a profile of the area and assess it using all the inspection activity
that has been undertaken in the area. We will then make judgments
on what that says about the area.
Q379 Mr Timpson: So it is just
child protection that we are talking about on the annual basis.
Christine Gilbert: No, the rating
is on an annual basis and will look at all inspections that have
taken place. It will look at the national indicator set for that
area and at the outcomes from the unannounced inspection visit
that you have described. It will focus more on child protection.
It will also take account of things such as serious case reviews.
It will give a broader picture of children's services in an area.
1 See Ev 83 Back
See Ev 84 Back
See supplementary evidence from HMCI: Ev 87 Back