The Work of Ofsted - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-379)



  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 next September.

  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 market?

  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.[1]

   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 doing—for example, they all have to do safeguarding training—but they are responsible for the training.

  Chairman: We have to move on to children's services.

  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 do—I do not know if Roger wants to add to this—with 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 example—I cannot remember if I gave it to you last time—of 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 the ADCS?

  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.[2]

  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 unacceptable situation?

  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 the regions.

  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 a chord.

  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.[3]

  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

2   See Ev 84 Back

3   See supplementary evidence from HMCI: Ev 87 Back

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