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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)



  Q380 Mr Timpson: It seems from this announcement that you give specific prominence to child protection in your wide remit as an inspectorate of children's services. It would be helpful to know how that came about. Is it a reaction to the findings in Haringey or was it discussed prior to those events and envisaged regardless of them?

  Christine Gilbert: It was discussed prior to those events and the draft proposals were published last September. They were out for consultation. To be fair, we will add more time than we would have added in September. We have reflected hard on what went on, and on what we saw in Haringey. We have added to the inspection inspector days in the authority that will look at what is going on there. However, the proposals were all written out in September.

  Q381 Mr Timpson: In your annual report, there is a list of failings that are still too prevalent throughout children's services. Of private fostering arrangements, about 27% were inadequate. Almost 200 children's homes were still rated as inadequate. How will the new inspecting regime that replaces APAs and JARs be different in managing the risks that you know are out there? I apologise for using so many colloquial terms.

  Christine Gilbert: Individual inspections of children's homes will carry on. Private fostering is another matter, because the CSCI did one year of inspections and we are doing two. That is not bound in legislation and I will come back to that in a moment. We will continue to inspect children's homes as we do now. That may change over the coming year as the inspection framework changes and as the new minimum standards come in. The inspections will carry on and we will continue to re-inspect homes that are inadequate more quickly. The difference from the APA is that we will look at the children's homes in an area and at the authority's commissioning of placements in children's homes. We will then make a judgment on whether the service the children are getting is good, inadequate and so on. That will influence the overall rating for the authority.

  Q382 Mr Timpson: Is this a recognition that APAs were not working?

  Christine Gilbert: APAs had a three-year life. When I came to Ofsted, I tried to make some changes in year 2. To be fair, those were not the changes that we are making now. It was very difficult to do that. The commitment had been given to local authorities that there would not be many changes in the final year. We had sent out proposals to make some changes. For example, an authority could not be satisfactory or good if it was inadequate in the areas of living safely and safeguarding. I said that we would come back with more radical plans the following year, which is what we did. APA was of its time, and I never thought that it got sufficiently underneath some of the issues on the ground. That is why we made the changes that we did last September.

  Q383 Mr Timpson: Perhaps I can put it like this. Are you confident that the new inspection regime that you are bringing in will be better at rooting out substandard practice as well as promoting good practice where it is found throughout the rest of children's services in other local authorities?

  Christine Gilbert: I am more confident that it will be more effective in doing those things than the APA.

  Q384 Mr Timpson: When you gave evidence on 10 December, during one of the comments that you made about looking forward to an inspection in the area of child protection and children's services you said, "We need to get underneath the practice of social work, which involves not only looking at what social workers do, but detailed discussions with users about what they think." With these new annual inspections, will there be a greater emphasis on speaking to those on the front line and users of children's services, in order to try and form a judgment as to whether the service that has been provided is of the highest quality that we expect?

  Christine Gilbert: There will be some attempt to do that, but there will not be a lot of time to do it in the time that we are there. We are carrying out an annual survey of the views of social workers and users—there are two different sorts of surveys. We want to hear the views of users, which will inform and influence us as we go into an authority.

  Q385 Mr Timpson: The availability of support to care leavers is something that comes up again and again. We certainly debated it on a number of occasions during the passage of the Children and Young Persons Bill. Will the inspectorate look at support for care leavers as part of its remit, and will it be on an annual basis rather than the three-year cycle of the comprehensive area assessment?

  Christine Gilbert: We will look at that issue in detail in the three-year assessment. The short inspection is mainly focused on assessment, referral and those sorts of things. If those matters show up issues that worry us deeply, we will bring the inspection forward. It will help us in our timetabling of the inspections. We are going to do the safeguarding inspection and the inspection for looked-after children together. Those inspections, particularly of looked-after children, will address the issue that you have identified. We are also worried about that matter; it is identified in both the annual report and the safeguarding report. Although there have been significant improvements, there are still a number of serious weaknesses in those areas.

  Q386 Paul Holmes: I do not know whether this has already been touched on, but in the evidence that we took, one of the starkest experiences was talking to children who were leaving care aged about 16, 17 and 18. Their experiences of leaving care, and what happened to them at that stage, were widely varied around the country. You said that inspectors will talk to service users. How much emphasis will there be on talking to children in that situation about what they have experienced?

  Christine Gilbert: Absolutely, there will be. However, we will not just be waiting for the three-year inspection. We take a number of issues and look at them in some detail. For example, Roger Morgan has a weekly texting system with children in care regarding a particular question or issue. That issue has been brought up time and time again by those children. For example, one of the things that they are most concerned about is the lack of decent housing on leaving care.

  Q387 Paul Holmes: Let us go back to what has already been talked about, the fairly high number of private fostering arrangements and care homes that are judged not to be adequate or to be inadequate. How often do they get re-inspected? With a school in special measures, the process is very short and brutal. What happens in this instance?

  Christine Gilbert: They are two separate things. For private fostering, there are no arrangements—that is one of the things that we shall be recommending in a report to be published in a couple of weeks. I am talking about this at a conference.

  Q388 Chairman: Is that 11 February?

  Christine Gilbert: I am doing a talk on 11 February.

  Q389 Chairman: But the real report is coming out on Wednesday?

  Christine Gilbert: The report will be a little later, because we want to put some other things in that were not there. Essentially, I shall be talking about the headlines of the report on Wednesday. So, that is one of things that we think should happen—there should be another system. There is some agreement, I understand, for one three-year phase, and this is the last year. We do not know what will happen, so we are in negotiation with the DCSF about that being extended. That is separate, because the pattern is still a very poor one in terms of inadequacy—with the same sort of figure now that was quoted a moment ago, even up to 82.

  Q390 Paul Holmes: Is it not very worrying that there is no vigorous follow-up on private fostering arrangements and care homes?

  Christine Gilbert: Care homes are different. It is worrying that there is no follow-up with private fostering. It has really just been coming to the surface of people's attention.

  Q391 Paul Holmes: At the same time, there is pressure for the expansion of the use of private fostering arrangements, rather than the normal council-based ones. So, the Government are urging greater use of a system that is not inspected very well and, when it is inspected, is found to be not very satisfactory.

  Christine Gilbert: It is not that it is not inspected very well. Whatever the agreement was with the CSCI, it was that this area be inspected for three years. It is not, unlike the other things that we do, built into legislation in some way. Children's homes are very different. We inspect them regularly. If a home is inadequate, we are back generally within three months to see what is going on. The real worry with children's homes, particularly the inadequate ones, is that they are so volatile, in a way that schools and other areas are not. That is the biggest pattern that we are worried about and want to try and focus attention on.

  Q392 Chairman: May I clarify, Chief Inspector? Your report that is coming out on private fostering—that is only where a local authority uses a private sector company to arrange the fostering.

  Christine Gilbert: No.

  Q393 Chairman: That is what I am taking, but from Paul's question to you, that is not the case, is it?

  Christine Gilbert: No.

  Q394 Chairman: It is any local authority using families to provide fostering.

  Christine Gilbert: What we are talking about is the sort of situation that Victoria Climbié was in, when she was fostered with a relative and no one knew about the arrangement at all. There are all sorts of questions about whether the right number are being identified and so on.

  Q395 Chairman: So, the report of yours that is about to come out is about that sort of arrangement and not about using private sector companies to find foster parents.

  Christine Gilbert: Yes. I thought you were looking blank.

  Chairman: I wanted to make it clear that that was the case.

  Q396 Fiona Mactaggart: Thank you, Chief Inspector, for your letter of 29 January following my questions on 10 December about safeguarding and safeguarding procedures with your inspections.[4] On reading the safeguarding policy, which is good in many ways, I am concerned that it does not connect the safeguarding strategies enough to inspection reporting. My anxiety is in cases where there are reasons to be concerned about safeguarding. Your policy rightly focuses on current cases, but it also recognises cases that might be historic. In such cases, parents and others are very concerned to ensure that the issue has been addressed and dealt with and, for example, where staff at a school have been convicted of abuse, that there is not any problem remaining—a ghost of the issue. Your policy does not seem to ensure that this is addressed in inspections. I cannot believe that that is right.

  Christine Gilbert: Can I reassure you then? Earlier, I was asked some questions about the changes that are taking place, and I talked about looking at the different inspection and regulation remits that we have. What we have done as a result of that review is insert a judgment on safeguarding for every single inspection and regulation remit. That will happen now in every single one of our remits.

  Q397 Fiona Mactaggart: Will your inspectors be asked to look at the history of the issue, as well as the current policy in the school, in relation to employment and things like that?

  Christine Gilbert: The inspectors will look at employment and those sorts of things, but they would not always know—unless there had been a reason for their attention to have been drawn, and in some cases they would be drawn to ask about the history—if there had been a particular case or something. Is that what you are asking about?

  Q398 Fiona Mactaggart: Yes, I suppose that it is. All those incidents are reported—there is a reporting centre in Darlington, where serious incidents are always reported, is there not? Therefore, that data must be available to you.

  Christine Gilbert: The investigation would not wait for an inspection—that would take place straight away. I do not think that it is automatic that we get that information from anywhere. I would ask Miriam whether that is the case for, for instance, school inspections.

  Miriam Rosen: We would not necessarily be informed if there had been a prosecution in a school, but we would look in detail at what was happening in the school at the time of the inspection.

  Q399 Fiona Mactaggart: I understand that. What I am concerned about is the footprint of previous issues. They create footprints that are not necessarily obvious, unless you are aware of previous history. I am wondering why you do not automatically check to see whether there was an issue in a school that you were investigating and reporting.

  Miriam Rosen: We check to see whether there is a current issue.

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