Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
20 JANUARY 2010
Q29 Chairman: I welcome some old
friends and some new friends: Kim Bromley-Derry whom most appear
to have met; Tony Howell, whom most of us met; Nick Jarman, I
am very pleased to meet you and Councillor Shireen Ritchie, this
is your first appearance before the Committee.
Shireen Ritchie: It is.
Q30 Chairman: You know what this
investigation is about. We take our responsibility as the Children,
Schools and Families Committee very seriously and of course we
are switching and swatching across our vast canvasit's
a mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean. We are moving around
all the time to try to show that we value our whole remit both
in terms of the Department's many guises and our responsibility
to scrutinise all its activities. We have been increasingly interested
in the role of Ofsted in terms of children's services and thought
that this was a good reason to have a short inquiry. I usually
give witnesses the opportunity to say something, or they can go
straight into questions. What is your option?
Kim Bromley-Derry: I am fairly
relaxed. If all four of us say something before questions, we
might use up most of the time.
Q31 Chairman: Can I suggest that
we go straight into questions? Let's get you started. I am always
regarded as the warm-up act and the real questions come from my
fantastic team. You know why we are looking at this area. We have
seen some interesting activities in terms of the Ofsted response
to particular crises in children's services. We are trying to
get under that. We have just heard a very experienced expert,
Dame Denise Platt, talking about the churn and change in inspection
over quite a short period; I am looking at the time frame from
2002 and 2004. There has been a lot of change in this area in
terms of inspection, which makes me wonder whether any of you,
as Directors of Children's Services, know what is going on. Is
the current Ofsted inspection process fit for purpose?
Kim Bromley-Derry: We feel that,
as part of that change and churn, we have probably lost more than
we have gained in terms of the quality of inspection around particular
areas of the children's services remit. We certainly think that
some of the frameworkssome more than othersare fundamentally
flawed. We have a new set of frameworks that we are operating
with at the moment, and it is very early days for some of them.
The three or four critical areas that we would identify include
the lack of triangulation of evidence. We heard Dame Denise talk
about that. If you use performance indicators as proxies, you
have to understand what the proxy is. I will use one example around
initial and core assessments. I was involved in the work that
developed those as performance indicators. The reason we had them
was because a piece of work patterns and outcomes in 1985 showed
that if you entered the care system and were in it for more than
six weeks, there was a high chance that you were going to be in
it for much longer. So we designed an inspection framework that
had one day, seven days, 35 days, adding up to six weeks, so that
we could ensure that assessment took place quickly enough, but
if you needed to go back home, you could do that within those
six days. Now, it is being used as a proxy to look at the quality
of a whole safeguarding function. That was not why we had the
assessment framework and those indicators. Using process and systems
to judge quality is not appropriate. We have lost the triangulation
of evidence where you looked at and talked to people and you looked
at case files and the performance indicators. We have also inevitably
lost a level of expertise in terms of that shift. Initially, when
Ofsted was set up, there was certainly a lack of experience in
social care issues. I think that we are only just beginning to
get that back. Therefore, quite often the organisational intelligence
about why we look at what we look at is lost. Many local authorities
feel that most of that expertise was in the local authorities,
not the inspectorate. On the separation of what we describe as
regulation in inspection from development, Dame Denise articulately
talked about the fact that a business relationship manager actually
knew and worked with the local authority. We have just seen, in
the past two, three months, Ofsted create link inspectors to effectively
replace what was the business relationship manager, but that has
happened five years after we lost it.
Chairman: Some suspect that might have
been after an interview with the chief inspector of this Committee.
Kim Bromley-Derry: Possibly.
Chairman: But we don't know. I'm going
to hold you there, Kim. You are the president of the directors,
so you and I have done the warm-up. Two members of the Committee
are going to Prime Minister's Question Time and are on a shorter
time frame, so I am now going to call David and Karen. I will
then give you a fair crack of the whip later.
Q32 Mr Chaytor: Is Ofsted too
Tony Howell: That is an interesting
question. As Kim said, part of the challengethis relates
to what Dame Denise saidis that it is not the structure
that is the issue, but the way it works. The thing that I want
to say, having gone through the last year of difficulty and correspondence
with Ofsted, is that some aspects of the lack of transparency,
particularly around some of the inspection regulation framework
for children in social care and things like serious case reviews,
remind me of the early days of the inspection of schools. It is
as if we are finding our way forward. The relationships with both
local authorities and other provisions that are inspected, also
with other inspectorates, present interesting challenges. There
have been some interesting difficulties between the Audit Commission
and Ofsted around CAA and communication and who is the senior
partner. It is more about the relationship ways of working than
about the size of the organisation. I want them to use the same
data more than once, not ask us to do self assessments more than
once, but at the moment, that is the kind of world we live in.
Q33 Mr Chaytor: Is the division
of responsibility between inspection of children's services and
the Care Quality Commission's responsibility for inspection of
adult services the right division of responsibility?
Tony Howell: Personally, I think
it is helpful because it reflects what we are trying to do in
joining up services for children. We want to see the same kind
of operating model that the adult services are getting at the
Q34 Mr Chaytor: Does it bother
you that Ofsted has responsibility for inspection of adult education,
for example? Is that consistent with its other responsibilities?
Tony Howell: I think it can be
consistent. It is important to have transparent frameworks, language
that people understand and a willingness to meet each other to
talk about what the findings are, where the evidence is, and what
we should be doing about it. That is the part that is lacking
at the moment.
Q35 Mr Chaytor: So there is not
a fundamental structural problem, it is about processes.
Tony Howell: Not for me. It is
about processes and relationships.
Q36 Ms Buck: Just going back,
perhaps I can start with Mr Bromley-Derry and the issue of the
inspectors. John Goldup's response to Lord Laming's criticism,
which is to some extent mirrored by what has just been said, said
that most of the inspectors had been transferred from the commission
into Ofsted, which in his view undermined that criticism quite
strongly. Is that something you accept, and if not, why not?
Kim Bromley-Derry: That is certainly
not the experience of most of my members. Most of the inspectors
have not worked in a children's services environment, although
they may have worked in previous iterations of structures in local
authorities. Until recently, there was no one who worked in Ofsted
who had been a leader in children's services, but yet Ofsted made
judgments about leadership in children's services. The general
view in the sector was that there was a real deficit in experience
both at an inspectorate level, and at a senior leadership level,
hence the loss of some of that organisational intelligence about
why we do what we do. If you're going to be a robust challenger
of the sector, as Dame Denise said, you naturally need to understand
it and have worked in it. You need to have experienced it.
Q37 Ms Buck: Does it worry you
that John Goldup's response to the criticism was effectivelytaking
your reply to the questionquite mechanistic in terms of
saying that if inspectors were transferred from the commission
to Ofsted, that ticks the box? Why would that happen and what
does it tell us about Ofsted?
Kim Bromley-Derry: Obviously,
we have a dialogue with Ofsted and feel that its approach is very
mechanistic. It looks at process and systems rather than the quality
and depth to that discussion. That response would epitomise the
experience that we have with Ofsted in terms of its approach to
inspection, regulation and management of the system.
Q38 Ms Buck: You have partly answered
my next question, but perhaps I could turn to Councillor Ritchie
and ask what in your viewa thumbnail sketchmakes
for a good inspector?
Shireen Ritchie: If I could just
set the context. I am here in my capacity of chair of the Children
and Young People's Board of the Local Government Association.
I am a statutory lead member within my own local authorityas
Karen obviously knowsand I chair my local children's trust.
In local government we are arguing that all parts of the system
that protect children from harm need to be involved. Inspection
needs to be one of the tools that can help local authorities to
learn and improve, and that aspect of improvement is something
that we find is missing from the Ofsted inspection at the moment.
One of the things we would be interested to see put within the
Ofsted framework is inspection. We are all absolutely determined
to make sure that we can protect all children, but in particular
the most vulnerable. That is the thing that feels to us is missing.
There has been a lot of comment about process rather than practice.
Again, we don't feel the mechanistic approach to inspection is
helpful to provide the best protection for children and the best
Q39 Mr Stuart: Some of Ofsted's
annual performance assessments of local authority children's services,
notably Haringey and Warrington but there are others, painted
a fairly rosy picture of performance, which was promptly contradicted
by other Ofsted reports highly critical of provision and suggesting
that it was not very good. Has Ofsted's credibility been damaged?
Nick Jarman: I don't think that
Ofsted's credibility has been damaged as such. We need to look
at the history of where we came from. Dame Denise alluded to this
as well. We previously had the joint area reviewwhich was
ludicrously abbreviated to JARand the annual performance
assessment. I have been in Doncaster since April when the Secretary
of State intervened. Until very late in that process it failed
to detect the extent of distress that there was in Doncaster;
the problem had been going on for over a decade. Now I have to
say, we had an unannounced inspection last week of our contact,
referral and assessment service, and it was vigorous and fair
and concentrated on the right things. It was reminiscent of the
old days of Ofsted. Coming from an education background, I know
Ofsted started to inspect schools and got better at it, and more
lately, local education authorities. Again, those are fair, rigorous,
process-based inspections. The previous regime, I think, placed
an over-reliance on fairly nebulous data on outcomes, at the expense
of looking carefully at how well things were being done or not,
as the case may be.