Ofsted Inspection of Children's Services - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 74-79)


22 MARCH 2010

  Chair: I welcome the witnesses to this sitting of the Committee. I think that without a shadow of a doubt, it will be the last one before the general election, and we're very glad that you have all been able to see us before then, particularly because we know that Miriam Rosen is retiring in about 10 days' time. Considering that you must have one of the records for the number of appearances before the Committee, it's delightful that we can wish you well, Miriam—not that we expect you not to do anything in the next 10 days, but we do wish you well. We've always found your evidence and your response to questions to be good, clear and straightforward. Thank you. John, welcome. You haven't been before us until now, so our duty is to give you a really hard time just to get you into it.

John Goldup: So I gather.

  Q74 Chair: Chief inspector, it is very nice to see you, as usual. We usually give you a chance to make some brief introductory remarks. Christine, would you like to do that?

  Christine Gilbert: Only to say how pleased we are to be able to come today, given the recent information that we published about the section 5 school inspection framework results and the reviews that we've been doing on children's services. It's a good time for us and, we hope, for you.

  Q75 Chair: Thank you. We'll get started with some questions, but may I open up by saying that the last time we met, I put it to you, starting with child protection and children's services departments, that there had been something of a wake-up call for Ofsted in terms of what the role of Ofsted was and how you viewed the inspection of children's services? That wasn't an accusation—it was a fact of the matter. Two or three very high-profile cases had intensified the attention of all of us on how children's services, and particularly their child protection responsibilities, were assessed. Looking back, do you think we were right in thinking that there had been a step change in how Ofsted was operating?

  Christine Gilbert: I'm not sure I'd describe it as a step change. We published new arrangements for the inspection of children's services way back in September 2008. You will recall that there had been some discussion of them here, too. We saw quite some time ago that a very different approach was needed from the annual performance assessment. It is true to say that the tragedy of Baby Peter made us look more closely at those proposals, and we did things such as double the time that we spent during unannounced inspections. So there were some changes after those events. But we've always been aware, I think, of the importance and centrality of this area to our work.

  Q76 Chair: But you remember that my worry was that there wasn't enough face-to-face contact in terms of the inspectorate and inspections. I would make the point to you quite forcefully that I would like to have seen more inspections going out with young social workers and real links, with inspectors really being embedded. You didn't seem very keen on that at the time.

  Christine Gilbert: I wasn't keen, you will recall, about an inspector being based in a local authority; I thought that would bring them far too close to that local authority and that it was important for us to keep a distance. At the time, we were talking about the linked role for Her Majesty's Inspectors, which we introduced just a few months ago. It's really too soon to see how that is working, but it is an essential point of contact between the local authority and Ofsted, as well as an effort to look back at what has been achieved in terms of inspection outcomes. It's also an attempt to look forward with the local authority to see what is happening.

  Q77 Chair: Chief Inspector, I was hoping that I'd made one contribution to the work of Ofsted and that the link inspectorates were to do with something that I had suggested. You've dashed all my hopes in that respect. John, can I ask you something? Quite a few people—members of this Committee among them—were critical of, and worried about, social care inspection and thought that it was a very demanding role. We've seen the size of the inspectorate increase all the time. When I took over the chairmanship of the Committee, you were really a schools inspectorate, but then you got early years, later years and children's services. Your empire has changed and grown very rapidly, hasn't it? You had hardly put your feet under the table when you hit back at social care inspection criticism. One report said, "John Goldup, who took up the new post of Ofsted's director of social care in July, labelled attacks on the experience of inspectors of social care settings as `extraordinarily unfair'." Why were you so quickly so upset about that?

  John Goldup: I don't think it was a question of being so upset; it was a question I was asked. I actually came to Ofsted in September, so they got that slightly wrong. I came in with no preconceptions—coming in from local government, where I had had a long career. I have been extraordinarily impressed by the experience and competence of social care inspectors, particularly the inspectors who lead the inspections of safeguarding services and looked-after children's services. I was becoming aware at that point, and I have seen a lot more evidence of this since, that when you got the feedback directly from departments that have actually been inspected—I was getting similar feedback from colleagues in the field—they generally spoke very favourably of the competence and professionalism of the inspectors meeting with them. That's why I made the point that I did. I am also pleased that we've had the opportunity in the last six months to begin to recruit new inspectors from outside, and we've been recruiting some really outstanding people from senior positions.

  Q78 Chair: But haven't some of those recruitments been because of criticism of the focus? We were hearing that people who were very good at inspecting schools and knew a lot about education were getting into an area that they didn't have the background and training for.

  John Goldup: Two points on that. Since the new programme of safeguarding and looked-after inspections and unannounced inspections started, there has never been any truth in the suggestion that they've been led by inspectors with an education background; 100% of those inspections have been led by an inspector and a team of inspectors who are experienced—

  Q79 Chair: All of them have been from a social care background?

  John Goldup: Absolutely. There will be an inspector with an education background as part of the inspection team, because one of the things we're looking at is the quality of working with education services and, in particular for looked-after children, the way in which education services are or aren't meeting the needs of that particularly vulnerable group of children. That's a different issue, but no, the recruitment wasn't prompted by that at all.

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