Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
20 JANUARY 2010
Q40 Mr Stuart: Dame Denise talked
about the fact that no process will solve the problem. What you
need is reflective, experienced, capable people who can make judgments
on complex amounts of information, and challenge what they are
told and follow it through. That suggests a very high calibre
is required of people to be able to do the work. Does Ofsted have
that work force?
Kim Bromley-Derry: If I may respond
to that in two ways. The first is, I think Nick is right, that
lessons have been learned and so the methodology and approach
are starting to change. If you take a mechanistic approach, you
are always going to have floors and ceilings and misjudgments.
A good example is how you might rate children's homes as red,
amber, green, or just red-green. If you have five children's homes
in a local authority and three of them are good and two are inadequate,
you are green. If you have five, including two that are excellent
and three that are satisfactory, you are red. I would be more
concerned about the two inadequate ones, which are completely
missed in that framework. Because everyone would perceive that
authority to be green when it came to children's homes. If you
take a mechanistic approach you get back polarised perspectives
on performance. Some of the authorities we have seen, where everyone
has said they are really good, was because we have this polarised
perspective on performance. To get beneath that you need to know
the services, you need to understand what makes a good children's
home, what does not. I know of one authority that had an example
of a children's home that was perceived to be inadequate because
the health and safety sign was in the wrong place. That has nothing
to do with the quality of care in that children's home but it
was still judged inadequate. It requires somebody who has actually
worked in a children's home, who has been involved in a children's
home as part of that inspection regime, to understand what is
going on in that children's home.
Q41 Mr Stuart: You didn't answer
my question, Kim.
Kim Bromley-Derry: It's sufficient.
Q42 Mr Stuart: Mechanistic processes
are harmless enough if you've got brilliant, reflective, thoughtful
professionals who can see beneath. As Dame Denise said, you can
change these processes and say "Don't be mechanistic"
and have a new set, but unless you've got the quality of peopleyou
didn't answer my question about Ofsted. And going back to what
Nick said, the truth is when you suddenly become a centre of national
media controversy they pluck all the brilliant people they've
got and they send them in, and suddenly Nick turns up here and
says, "Ah, it's all right now; they're improving." Well
they're not improving; they've taken the few people they've got
who are good enough. If that's the truth. Is the overall calibre
of people coming in to do this astonishingly challenging and difficult
job high enough; and if it isn't, how do you, as people to whom
the inspectorate should partly be accountable, according to Dame
Denise, influence that to help them raise the calibre?
Tony Howell: I think, as Kim said,
some of the inspectors I meet are extremely credible; very good.
Some inspectors are not, and that's part of the challenge we've
got, and we really need to think about it, because I think there
is a risk that Ofsted will lose credibility if we have that rather
unpredictable and inconsistent approach. And at the moment part
of the culture in Ofsted is that they're not expected, they're
not allowed, to give us advice, or to talk about the detail. Some
of the inspectors are very good, without giving us advice, at
having very focused conversations with us about signposting, and
where can we find other practice. And I think we do need to think
and work with Ofsted to say "Where could the work force of
inspectors come, who are completely familiar"? Because I've
had exactly the same experience that Kim had about an inadequate
residential home, simply because of a bureaucratic decision that
an inspector chose to implement. As I said, that's a challenge.
Q43 Chairman: Dame Denise just
told us that one of her concerns was that there was an insufficient
number of people with the right background in Ofsted to know about
this particular area of activity. That's what we've heard from
inside Ofsted. That is one of the problems, isn't it? It's hard
enough in your jobI'm looking at you now, Nick, who comes
from an education background originally. It's a damned difficult
job. I think everyone on this Committee knows that under the new
arrangements you have to get a director who's got to run the whole
darned school system; and at the time when there are problems
in the other part of their empire, the children's services part,
they've got a massive Building Schools for the Future programme
to juggle. Time and time again we talk to and visit directors
who say, "Look, this is a very complicated task." For
someone like yourself who is not from a social services background,
but educational services, or someone like Sharon Shoesmith, who
was from educationit is a tough job these days, isn't it,
without people coming in who haven't got a background in the children's
services or social services side? Is there a problem here, or
not? You seem to be nice guys today: "We don't want to be
too nasty about Ofsted; they might come and see us soon."
Shireen Ritchie: I am happy to
make an uninformed, non-professional comment. My understanding
was that when Ofsted was set up to have the responsibility for
inspection of both education and children's social care a lot
of the Ofsted inspectors had come from education, which is exactly
the sort of issue that you are alluding to. I'm sure that's changing
over time, and there is a senior person at Ofsted with a social
care background now, but this has taken some time to bed in and
Q44 Chairman: It's very difficult
to recreate quickly, isn't it? It's all about putting a senior
person at last at the senior management level at Ofsted, but what
Dame Denise was saying was a whole tranche of expertise went off
to the regional centres of government; other people chose to stay
with social care; and the picture I'm getting, certainly, talking
to the inspectorate, is that a lot of that expertise was lost
because it's difficult to recreate.
Nick Jarman: One of the points
we're touching on here is that the Children Act 2004 by its nature
created organisations, which are very large and very complex,
as I think you have acknowledged. As a result of that, if you're
going to inspect them, you need an organisation which itself is
capable of being expert enough to deal with that complexity and
that difficulty. Part of the problemand I can only speak
from my own experience herewhere children's services go
wrong under the new model is in my mind to do with two key success
factors above any others, and they are clarity and manageability.
It doesn't matter how good or noble your aspirations are; if you
haven't got that clarity and manageability in a large organisation,
you will not get integration and services working together to
deliver the outcomes and improvements that you wish for. To some
extent, Ofsted is likely to reflect that, because it is trying
to inspect organisations that are huge and complex. There are
solutions. There are no particular rights of access in terms of
what people's backgrounds need to be for them to be a director
of children's services. Obviously, you have to have a good knowledge
of all the services, but you also have to have a structure that
reflects them at the senior management level so that you, as director
of children's services, are able, for example, to make an appropriate
judgment about the performance of schools or referral and assessment.
It is critically dependent on the senior management team.
Q45 Chairman: Kim, while we are
on this subject, and sitting where you are, as the director in
Newham and as the president of the directors' association, which
includes 150 directors, is it not important that Ofsted is seen
to be fair? You all want fairness, don't you? When I talk to directors
of children's services, they talk about the unfairness. They agree
that if something is wrong in a local authority, the inspectors
should by all means come in, find out what it is and put it right,
but the process should be fair. Inspectors shouldn't come down
like a tonne of bricks on one authority and use a much lighter
touch with another authority. Tony, some people have said that
compared with some local authorities, Birmingham got off a bit
lightly recently in its treatment by Ofsted. Is that a fair comment?
Tony Howell: I don't think we
got off lightly. It's interesting that we had an unannounced inspection
a month or so ago. We had been working for a year with the government
office and the DCSF, and the inspection was good. We feel that
we were treated extremely harshly in the annual performance letter,
which judges that children's services in Birmingham are performing
poorly, because of some aspects of children's social care. Schools
in Birmingham outperform those in all the other core cities in
the country. Our early years has been acknowledged to have improved
and our youth service inspection was good, and I spoke to the
chief inspector about this. It is just not fair to try to summarise
all the performance of children's services in Birmingham, which
has a population of 1 million people, including 260,000 children.
It is not fair to say, "This is the way things are."
We have acknowledged that there are things that we need to improve
and we want to work with Ofsted to improve them.
Q46 Chairman: But you have had
some tragic deaths of children in Birmingham.
Tony Howell: We have.
Q47 Chairman: But you didn't seem
to get the same media attention as Haringey, for example.
Tony Howell: That's partly because
we're also trying to raise the profile of the lives of children
in very challenging circumstances in this country. At the time,
part of the challenge that we had was that the media and the public
didn't understand the nature of serious case reviews, the number
of serious case reviews or child death. Together, we have to make
sure that we address that so that we are doing something about
it and so that the public understand what the quality of some
children's lives is like. In a population of more than a quarter
of a million children, I am afraid that there will be child deaths
that will need a serious case review to find out what happened.
Q48 Chairman: This Committee understands
that very well, Tony. We have certainly looked at this in the
past. We do hear directors express the opinion that the system
is unfair and that media coverage in particular may lead unfairly
to the hounding of a local authority.
Kim Bromley-Derry: One of our
big concerns is the inconsistency of the judgments. When I speak
to directors, they sometimes tell me that they can't understand
the causal relationship between a judgment and the evidence that
has been found. If the public are to have confidence in the system,
it would be a good start if the sector had confidence in it. Otherwise,
we will get into fairly unhelpful discussions about whether we
agree with the judgment, whether the evidence base is right and
whether the process has been rigorous enough. We want everyone
to have confidence in the system, because if you are excellent
you want people to have confidence in the fact that you are excellent,
and not suddenly to feel that you are inadequate the next week.
If you are inadequate, we, as a sector, are absolutely committed
to supporting authorities that are inadequate and to help them
improve. We have a lot of expertise in the sector that can help
those authorities that are struggling or having difficulties,
but you have to start by having confidence in the system. The
general view is that that is not as strong as it should be and
that it is lacking. The result is that too many authorities spend
too much time and money preparing for inspection, because of the
impact that inspection has on themas you say, an inconsistent
media approach to authorities. One small authority told us that
it spent 9,500 hours preparing for its safeguarding inspection,
yet it had no confidence in the judgment being matched to the
evidence base at the end of the 9,500 hours that it had corporately
spent preparing for that inspection. Actually, we want people
to spend their time working with children and delivering services,
and not preparing for inspection. That is the inconsistent lack
of confidence that is out there.
Chairman: Graham has been very tolerant
Q49 Mr Stuart: As ever, Chairman,
but it is right that I should be. It seems to me, Shireen, that
there is plenty to be said about dual accountabilitynot
getting into this idea that the inspector comes in and you are
purely a victim doing 9,000 hours of preparation. It is harder
for the directors of children's services to do it. Is it not a
job for you to go and see Ofsted and start holding it to account
and say, "On behalf of the Local Government Association and
of local government overall, we need change."? You should
make it see that it is accountable, too, and it is not just local
government having to account for its performance to it.
Shireen Ritchie: I think that
you are right. The Local Government Association is obviously talking
to Ofsted. We are also talking to the director of children's services.
We realise that we should not be criticising unless we are coming
up with some positive and helpful comments. It feels as if there
is some shift in the way in which Ofsted is looking at inspection.
We understand that there will always be a need for external inspection,
but feel that it needs to be more supportive, particularly around
areas of high impact such as safeguarding. We understand that
there is a real need for rigorous inspection, but we think that
the focus needs to be clearer and that self-assessment needs to
be built on. We need peer challenge and greater flexibility within
local authorities to play a greater part in performance management
within their own sector. We want to make our contribution through
self-assessment, peer challenge and looking at our own localities.
The answer to your question is that we are having conversations;
it would be irresponsible not to have conversations with Ofsted.
We are also talking with ADCS. There is, if you like, a sector
conversation going on.
Q50 Mr Stuart: I was struck by
Tony when he said that the inspectors will not give advice. The
idea of inspectorscritical professional friendsnot
giving advice sounds extraordinary. While there is enough distance
to be able to maintain objective analysis, surely there should
be a sense of partnership?
Shireen Ritchie: Which goes back
to my comment about the inspection framework and the improvement
Q51 Mr Stuart: I started by asking
you about the inconsistencies in different assessments of local
authority children's services. Do you think that national inspectorates
have had their credibility damaged by the recent differences in
the performance of certain health trusts, because we seem to have
the same problem there? Is there a risk that they will have a
loss of public confidence in what such inspectors tell us?
Chairman: Nick, you have been everywhere.
I know that we can ask you this question.
Nick Jarman: I am not sure that
I wish to be described in those terms.
Chairman: You've been to Wigan, at least.
Nick Jarman: Speaking from recent
experience, and this applies to Ofsted's evaluation of serious
case reviews as well, much greater effort has been made by Ofsted
on ensuring consistency of judgment so that you don't get authority
A, which in objective terms is as good or as bad as authority
B, having completely different judgments made about them. It has
slowed down the promulgation of evaluations of serious case reviews.
There is a set time scale in which they have to get back to you
after an unannounced inspection, but considerable effort is invested
in moderation and ensuring consistency of judgment. I can't talk
about the business about health care trusts, as it is not in my
field of experience, but I think that more is being done to ensure
consistencyand quite rightly so.
Q52 Mr Stuart: I understand that
because directors like yourself are now very much involved in
healththe whole point was to have an integrated systemthat
the quality of pronouncements on health would come within your
area of responsibility. Others might want to comment on that,
but I am struck by the fact that it is not only Ofsted. Dr Foster
comes out and says that some people are not very good. The
Times said that "Eight trusts among the 12 worst performers
in the latest Dr Foster Hospital Guide were rated good or excellent
in the CQC's own annual health check ratings". It's a kind
of wacky world in which we don't know on whom to rely.
Tony Howell: May I comment on
that. One thing that concerns me as a director of children's services
is that there are some aspects of performance on which I am jointly
held to account with other people that are rather outside my direct
remit. The performance frameworks, when we think about the agenda
that your Committee is looking at, are about safeguarding children
and protecting them. The three key agencies that work with them
are the health service, the police and the local authority. Although
I get concerned about whether there is consistent application
of the inspection framework for health services, I find it interesting
that it is always the local authorityand usually it is
children's social carethat ends up being identified as
the critical service. But actually all services are important,
which is why it is important to think about how children's trust
arrangements and local safeguarding children boards can work to
achieve this. We need to ask this question about regulation, inspection
frameworks and performance frameworks across the whole range of
agencies that work with and influence the lives of children, young
people and families.
Kim Bromley-Derry: May I comment
quickly. I think there are two issues. It is about the qualitative
and quantitative approach and looking at services in the round.
I am sure, with local authorities, that if you chose another set
of performance indicators other than the ones that were measured,
you might change the ratings. Inevitably there is a risk, with
some authorities and some trusts, that you focus on the things
that you are being measured on. If someone comes along and measures
something different, you might perform differently. I think there
is some truth in that, if you don't take a rounded view of everything
and triangulate that evidence. One of our criticisms of some of
the inspection regimes that are around now is that they do not
take that rounded view of serviceswhere you look at practice,
you actually experience practice. It still happens in schools
to a large extent, where you have classroom observation going
on and where you see teaching and learning really happen. That
is much more difficult in some of the other services, but you
still need to triangulate evidence through whatever mechanism
is appropriatetalking to young people, which was mentioned
earlier, talking to staff and looking at the experience as well
as the PI.
Q53 Helen Southworth: May I ask
two things about the nature of the relationship between children's
services and the inspector. What is needed to make it work properly,
and how does it measure up against what happens? We have to consider
what has happened over the past 18 months rather than whether
things are rapidly changing once more.
Kim Bromley-Derry: It is having
an enduring relationship with the inspectorate that both looks
at your performance and what you need to do to improve, and how
you improve it and support that. I think the separation of functions
to government offices and Ofsted was a fundamental flaw to start
off with. Interestingly, I had my first meeting with my new LINk
inspector yesterday, who effectively is the replacement for the
old Business Link that we had in the days of CSCI. However, coming
in once every three years or once a year to look at something
over a very short time frame does not make for the discussion
or debate to create that rounded view or, more importantly, what
we need to improve, how we improve, what the support we can broker
in is and how we can look at the rest of the regional sector,
or nationally, to bring in the support to improve. At the end
of the day, we want the best for our children and young people.
We want to improve, and to improve outcomes, so we need to work
with the regulator, the inspection and the development agencies
to make that happen. At the moment, if you look at it over the
past 18 months, inspection tends to be at a point in time, using
a limited evidence base to give us a proxy of performance. Then
they go away and you have to do something about it. That is the
fundamental flaw in the process and system.
Q54 Helen Southworth: I have to
say, I want to use the example of my own local authority and to
set it in the context of saying that I find this bewildering and
quite shocking. The impact that this has on front-line social
workers and managers who are trying to deliver a service for very
vulnerable children is equally shocking and bewildering, so we
have to be able to unravel these things to make them work right.
Chairman: You are aware we are talking
Helen Southworth: And this is happening
not just in my own authority, but in other authorities as well.
It is a systemic set of issues here, which I am trying to unpick
at the moment, within the context of understanding the impact
this also has on my own front-line social workers, who do fantastic
work. That authority actually went from the situation, of 17 December
2008, of having either good or excellent assessments to having,
in September 2009, inadequate or adequate inspection. How can
that kind of pendulum happen? What do we need to do to make sure
that there is a monthly assessment, a monthly discussion and a
monthly debate to identify issues if they are coming up? This
is so demotivating and difficult for people, either because they
are aware of problems that are not being picked up by an inspectorate,
so they are not being given proper consideration, or perhaps because
in other circumstances they might think the assessment is unfair.
How can that be dealt with?
Chairman: Nick, you must have had a pretty
demotivated work force when you got to Doncaster.
Nick Jarman: I think that would
be an understatement, Chairmanthe work force were in meltdown.
My own observation about this is that there has been a propensity
for things to be driven by events in the past 15 months. Doncaster
is a similar case. I think that after the baby Peter case, hugely
more attention was focused on child protection in general, and
referral and contact in particular, and people all suddenly started
saying, "This is the area we must focus on", as a consequence
of which the focus of inspection intensified. In the case of Doncaster,
in November 2007 it had been judged as adequate for staying safe,
but it was judged in the wake of the baby P case the following
year as inadequate. The weakness in the systemagain I speak
from my experience of Doncasteris that the government office
for the region, which ought to be the Government's eyes and ears
on the ground, failed to understand the gravity and depth of the
problems in Doncaster, notwithstanding a significant amount of
available evidence that clearly said that. For example, there
was a report that had been in existence since March 2007 which
stated with the utmost clarity that there was backlog in referral
and assessment. It took a furtherI don't knowsix
months to pick that up, but in fact the organisation had been
in crisis for many years. The thing isI don't think the
point here is about inspection regimes or anything elseit
put children at risk and that is completely unacceptable. It is
Kim Bromley-Derry: The issue is
quality ongoing dialogue and interrogation of the information
that is coming forward. Performance information is happening on
a daily, weekly and monthly basis. One danger is that if you only
use a three-year cycle of inspection to make a judgment, you get
a major shift. Also, some of those proxies for tripping over into
inadequate are very marginal bits of a total service. I do not
know Warrington particularly well in that context, but we have
seen authorities that have tipped down from good to inadequate
on the basis of quite a small element of their service. It might
be that large parts of the service are very good. There is the
whole picture of the ongoing relationship and the reality testing
of the information and data on a constant basis, not just in inspections.
At the end of the day, if you take an unannounced, it is two days
and still partial, and yet it could trigger an authority becoming
inadequate. It might be quite legitimate that it is inadequate,
but that would be much stronger if it arose as a result of ongoing
dialogue and an interrogation of the available information.
Q55 Helen Southworth: You are
taking me on to the next part of what I wanted to ask about, which
is how you believe the inspection process can best reward people
who are robust and transparent in their self-assessment, and who
are open about near misses and discuss them. How can we ensure
that the process rewards those people, because it is about striving
to do well and something that is based on evidence, and does not
reward people who are not self-aware and have allowed things to
go on for years?
Tony Howell: That is absolutely
right. That is the relationship we would like to have with Ofsted
and with the government office. I have a good relationship with
the government office for the west midlands. We had identified
many of the challenges in our children's social care service before
Ofsted came in. The Ofsted focus on children's social care changed
after baby Peter. On fairness, I have a copy of the dialogue I
had with Ofsted raising some of the issues where there was a kind
of balance about what evidence was taken into account and what
evidence was not taken into account. Some of it was about the
timing of the evidence rather than the existence of the evidence
itself. We do need to have that ongoing dialogue with Ofsted to
get the relationship right so that we can all focus on ensuring
that things are right for children and young people.
Chairman: It appears that two inmates
have escaped today.
Shireen Ritchie: If I could add
to that, it is really about a trusting relationship as well as
a supportive relationship. In some cases, it does not feel as
if that trust is there currently.
Chairman: Could you repeat that? The
sound of the bell is still ringing in my ears.
Shireen Ritchie: I said it was
about having a trusting and supportive professional relationship.
In some instances it doesn't feel as if that trust between Ofsted
and the sector is there.
Q56 Chairman: Will it always be
the case that with particularly ghastly cases like baby Peter,
everyone, including politicians, gets absolutely swept away, even
though we know they will happen again and again? Is it a sensible
system when everyone feels that they are under siege at times
Kim Bromley-Derry: You are right.
The stakes are high in terms of the difference between excellent
and inadequate in our performance. Many local authorities are
seeking critical friends who can challenge them from a knowledge
base. Many local authorities now use peer arrangements with other
local authorities coming in to look at their children's service
and do unannounced inspections prior to Ofsted inspections. Those
critical friends will not pull any punches, but will talk about
their experience of improvement. That is increasingly a feature
in the local authority landscape. We would argue that there needs
to be more of that, because that is where a lot of the expertise
is. Many authorities pair up simply because the stakes are so
high, because it can paralyse front-line workers in terms of what
they do and it can paralyse middle and senior managers. That is
just preparing for an inspection and the aftermath of inspection.
At the end of the day, you have to learn, you have to do things
differently and you have to base that on best practice, and that
lives in the sector, not in the inspectorate. Therefore, you have
to get that information from other local authorities and other
services that are performing well. That is why we also need to
have confidence in the framework so that we know the ones that
are performing well and we can use their expertise.
Q57 Helen Southworth: In terms
of how frequently you think that the inspection process should
test against self-assessment, Dame Denise tells us about the norm
being monthly, but that it could be quarterly if there was excellence,
or fortnightly if there was more need. This is in terms of the
relationship directors. Do you think that that is effective and
Kim Bromley-Derry: I think that
it should be proportionate, and obviously in some local authorities
it should be there every month or every day. There are some places
where you can have a much lighter touch, but with a minimum level.
We have swung from a cycle of four years to an annual cycle to
a three-year cycle. I am not sure that any of us think that there
is a right length of time, but the important thing is that if
the quality of the self-assessment, the reality test and the challenge
of that assessment are accurate, there will be a judgment about
the frequency of inspection, whether that be a small-scale inspection
or a more robust one. I think that we would be comfortable that
those authorities that are seen to be struggling the most or have
the weakest performance have a much higher level of regulation,
inspection and input, and even intervention, than those that have
a much lighter touch but still have inspection and regulation.
Q58 Annette Brooke: Could we try
a quick-fire question to start. Obviously we have been touching
on issues all the time about how you would like the inspection
process to change and improve. From your perspective, can you
give your top three priorities of what would make a good inspection
process for you, other than getting an excellent?
Kim Bromley-Derry: Do you want
to ask me later?
Tony Howell: The top three priorities
for me would be a transparent framework, first, so that we all
had absolute trust in the analysis of the information and the
processes that we were going to use for evidence. Critically,
inspection is about gathering evidence of real practice, so there
should be a transparent framework. The second priority is the
relationship with the people who are inspecting us from outside,
particularly the lead inspector. For other aspects of regulation,
we have very positive ongoing relationships. Finally, there is
the issue in connection with the other partners who contribute
to the well-being of children. Part of the difficulty is that
that particular data set is quite often seen in isolation and
is not connected to the other performance frameworks that apply,
particularly to health, police and schools. It is almost as if
we are seeing this particular group of children as having such
separate lives that they do not connect with the other inspectorates.
So, a transparent performance framework, relationships and the
other agencies being involved.
Nick Jarman: My three would be
largely similar to Tony's. I think that it should be transparent,
that it should be something on which the public, elected members
and politicians nationally feel that they can rely, and, thirdly,
that it should be proportionate and not unduly time-consuming
at the expense of delivering services for children and young people.
Chairman: Shireen is nodding.
Shireen Ritchie: Yes, I think
that an increase of the burden on already hard-pressed local authorities
should be as was intended through the Comprehensive Area Assessment
(CAA). It should be a streamlined process, which it does not feel
as though it is at the moment. Obviously, there are the issues
that others have raised as well.
Kim Bromley-Derry: Yes, trusting
the judgments and having clear criteria for making those judgments
are critical. Some knowledge of the services that you are inspecting
would be quite helpful and would make for quite a good inspection.
Thirdly, there is the link between inspection regulation and development
improvement. There is no point in having an inspection if you
are left not knowing where you are going to go with it. You need
to know how to improve; you need some judgment about that.
Q59 Annette Brooke: May I follow
up that last point. Improvement is really quite critical. Do you
see with the new LINk inspector that that is now in place? Or
is there a long way to go?
Kim Bromley-Derry: I had my first
meeting yesterday with my LINk inspector, so it is early days,
and they have only just been established, so we would hope that
is the case. Certainly, as local authorities, that is what we
will be intending to use LINk inspectors for, and to develop that
relationship with the LINk inspectors. But obviously it is early
days and I guess many local authorities will not even have had
the opportunity yet to meet their LINk inspectors. They have only
just been announced.