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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 80-99)


22 MARCH 2010

  Q80 Chair: Even at management level? You're saying that the hierarchy of management was still predominantly made up of people from social care? One of the criticisms we picked up was that that's not true—the management structure was made up largely of people with an education background, not a social care background.

  John Goldup: What I'm saying is that all our inspections of social care safeguarding, without exception—

  Chair: No, I heard what you said about that, John; I'm now moving to the management.

  John Goldup: The wider management of Ofsted? I think that's probably something Christine would want to respond to.

  Christine Gilbert: John wasn't there and I did read with interest the proceedings of your meeting when this was discussed. It's absolutely true to say that people who came over were essentially inspectors, which is why I really want to reinforce the point that John is making—that the inspectors are specialists and they're the same specialists who worked in CSCI and so on. But you're quite right. People did have very confused expectations. Social workers were really astonished to see that they weren't going to be inspected by schools inspectors, as they put it. But the inspectors came over. Some people did come over with data analysis skills and so on. Nobody came over—you're quite right—at director level. Indeed, when I was appointing at director level, I asked the chief inspector from CSCI to interview with us on the panel and so forth, and another director helped with other interviews, so nobody came over at director level, but it's also true that in that first year, some very experienced inspectors who had come over from CSCI took on more and more senior managerial roles. But it wasn't until this summer that we appointed two people with social care elements in their background. You didn't accept previously that my background as chief executive covered social care, but it did. It covered social care and education, but no, I'm not a trained social worker.

  Chair: Okay. Let's get down to some more detailed questioning. Edward?

  Q81 Mr Timpson: May I return to a theme that we regularly talk about—the remit of Ofsted. It has gone through quite a transformation in quite a short time and we now have, through the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, your latest addition of children's centres. Where do we draw the line? There seems to be a lot of expansion in the role of Ofsted at a time when your budget is under constraint. Have we reached the point where Ofsted can't take any more and the Office for Standards in Education is not going to go any further? What's your feeling from the increased role that Ofsted has taken as to whether it has reached its zenith? Indeed, has it gone too far?

  Christine Gilbert: I think the issue about the extent of the remit is really related to the effectiveness of the organisation. I would need to be sure that with the areas that we're regulating and inspecting, we're doing as well as we can be doing and that there's improvement in all those areas—that we're ensuring improvement, but also improving in the way we inspect them—and we feel that we're at that stage and that we have made improvements in the remits within our brief. Every time we're asked to do something, we do reflect very hard on it and we consider whether we think it's part of our core business. We say no to a number of things. We want to be sure that what we're doing, we're doing well, and we're told by people who are directors that we are doing it well. We find a mismatch between what the representatives of the organisations say, and what people say when they've actually experienced the inspection. We've just been looking internally at the results of the evaluation of the unannounced inspections. Now, you would not expect people to be very positive about the unannounced inspections. We have had a 60% return of those inspected so far and 47 have responded. Every single one has said it has been a positive experience. So we are seeing really high percentages. The lowest percentage was three who disagreed with the statement that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. So what people say individually after they have been inspected by us is very important to us. That isn't to say that there aren't things that we can improve, but fundamentally there aren't problems with the methodology in that area. We have to be absolutely certain that we are focusing on the needs and best interests of children and learners, and that we have got the best methodology to do that. We think that we are on line with the things that we're doing.

  Q82 Mr Timpson: You said that when you consider whether to take on an extra role and the effectiveness of your being able to perform that extra role, there are some things that you said no to. Can you tell us when you have said, "No, we're not going to take that on"? What might those things be?

   Chair: You see, the mind boggles that there should be things that you have turned down in this rapidly expanding empire.

  Christine Gilbert: In a way, I have no right to turn some things down. That is up to the Government. The Government could ask me to do various things and I try to persuade—

  Q83 Mr Timpson: What do you have reservations about?

  Christine Gilbert: Hardly a week goes by without Ofsted being mentioned as having to inspect x, y or z. Let me take the week before last. There was a report about race equality on the Friday of that week and there was a request that Ofsted inspect local authorities to identify incidents of racist behaviour and so on—I think it was that. Also that week, there was reference to Ofsted inspecting personal, social and health education. Miriam will know better than I do the number of things over the years that she has had to fend off from the school inspection framework. People carry out a report, publish it, they want it to have an impact and therefore they say that Ofsted must inspect it. So we are constantly trying to keep our focus on the things that really matter, to do the best for children and learners and to effect the greatest change, really.

  Q84 Mr Timpson: Have you ever made a request to streamline an area in which you are already involved and also to accommodate a new area of inspection?

  Christine Gilbert: We have said that we can't take things on unless there was some dispensation, if you like, in terms of the Better Regulation Executive initiative. So, the new Ofsted was linked to a budget figure based on the year 2003-04 and the new organisation was expected to cut its budget by 30%, or £80 million, by this current year. It has done that. But the force of the requirement was that, if something new was introduced, something else had to go. It was the Government's attempt to reduce what was described a few years ago as the burden of inspection. We find it hard to describe it as a "burden", but that is what was being described at the time. Therefore, every time something new is introduced, such as children's centres, there has to be debate at government level about whether that can be an exception to the Better Regulation Executive ruling and, if so, how it would be funded. So we don't just keep taking things on and funding them from current resources. Resources have to be found for certain things.

  Q85 Mr Timpson: You have mentioned children's services. What will Ofsted look for when it inspects children's services and how will that inspection be different from the inspection of schools?

  Christine Gilbert: Children's services, or—

  Mr Timpson: Sorry, children's centres.

  Christine Gilbert: Children's centres are very different from schools and we have piloted about 60 different sorts of inspections of children's centres in about 29 local authorities. We have come up with a model that we will begin using on 1 April. Because the children's centres are all doing slightly different things up and down the country, we will be looking at how a children's centre assesses what the needs are in a particular area, how it then makes decisions about what it is going to do in that area and how it evaluates the impact of its work. A few years ago—I think it was a couple of years ago, but within recent memory—we looked at children's centres and we found many positive signs. However, we found that a major weakness was that the impact over time wasn't—there was nothing to help in the sense of looking at impact through time.

  Q86 Mr Timpson: We've had a proliferation in recent years of children's centres as we've gone through phase 2 and phase 3. As you say, some of them are so new that it is almost impossible to evaluate them or look at evidence as to how well they are functioning, as opposed to the information that we have on schools. How is that going to translate into how you go about inspecting a children's centre on a practical level, when there is not yet that evidence base on which to determine what the best indicators may be as to how the children's centre is performing?

  Christine Gilbert: We are planning to send two people in for at least two days. There will be a number of days where they are looking at different bits of written information and so on. They will look essentially at what the centre thinks it is about, how the needs for the locality are determined and what is being done about those. We look fundamentally at how the centre is assessing itself. We will then do some observation, and we'll talk to key partners about what they see and to children and parents about what they feel the centre is doing. We will look at what the centre is doing to evaluate itself, and particularly, as I say, at its impact through time.

  Q87 Mr Timpson: And what is the specific expertise and training of these inspectors going to be, to get to the nub of the issue as far as children's centres are concerned?

  Christine Gilbert: We have chosen the inspectors quite carefully—those with an interest or experience in the broader range of issues. This is not just about education and care, important as those are, but health, employment issues and so on. A couple of inspectors from the learning and skills area will also be working on this, and each inspection will be led by an HMI. They are being hand-picked—certainly, the pilots were hand-picked—and the training for all of them will be ongoing too. A reference group was set up during the piloting of this, and it reported very positively about that approach. That had practitioners on it; it had key stakeholders involved in it and so on. The model that has been devised was very well received and piloted very well.

  Q88 Mr Timpson: Because of the newness of this area of inspection, do you think that there is a case for reviewing the way you inspect children's centres on a constant basis—you may already be doing this, I don't know—and in terms of an overall review, and for reporting on how your inspectors are finding children's centres? That could be done in a shorter period of review, or on a more regular basis than perhaps would ordinarily be the case, and we would get a fairly clear picture of progression, rather than leaving it a year or waiting for the annual report. Is there not a case for perhaps having some sort of interim report on how Ofsted is performing in its role in the children's centres?

  Christine Gilbert: With every new inspection framework, we take time to review how it's being introduced and how it feels on the ground and so on. We make minor changes, usually, as the framework is being introduced. We will be monitoring this one very closely, although we have monitored the schools one closely too, and the new models on children's services. We will be looking at this, and talking, and looking at the evaluations that come out of it. I think, too, that before the annual report phase, we'll be looking to make sure we're looking at the right things and getting a sense of what's there. This hasn't been decided yet, but we might well be doing something such as we did for the serious case reviews—the lessons learned from the early ones—to send messages out to the others.

  Q89 Mr Timpson: May I bring John in and just change tack slightly into your area. At the moment, responsibility for inspecting children's social care rests with you. Then we have adult social care, which is now with the Care Quality Commission. I know there's been—I was about to say "a war of words", but that's probably taking it too far—a difference of opinion in the press between yourself and Kim Bromley-Derry from ADCS. How do you take his charge—this isn't necessarily a direct criticism of Ofsted—that the current set-up of inspection, where you have two different bodies in an area where there should perhaps be more joined-up working across inspectorates, is producing a situation where field work activity and focus group meetings between CQC (Care Quality Commission) and Ofsted inspectors show that they operate separately, in accordance with what one might term traditional professional silos? In other words, there isn't an integration between the work that they're doing; it's more of a segregation. How would you address that charge?

  John Goldup: The inspections that we carry out of safeguarding services and looked-after children's services are wholly joint inspections, and we work closely with CQC on them. Clearly, those inspectors who are looking particularly at the social care aspect will be focusing on social care issues, and the CQC professionals looking at health care aspects will pay particular attention to the contribution of NHS agencies in the area, but there is very much a coming together as part of one inspection team and one report. It is a very close working relationship, which is very much developing all the time, in my experience to date.

  Q90 Mr Timpson: Do you accept that more needs to be done to try to improve the working relationship between the two inspectorates?

  John Goldup: I don't think it's about improving the working relationship between the two inspectorates, which is very good. I think it is the case that for a major new approach to inspection—a major new inspection programme was introduced last summer—of course there are things to be learned from the first six, nine or 12 months of implementing that. We need to learn them together with CQC. We need to learn them together in dialogue with directors and other colleagues in the field. That's something we're very committed to doing.

  Q91 Mr Timpson: How are you assessing properly that the local authority's performance in both those areas is at the level that it should be?

  John Goldup: That's quite a complicated question, because we are assessing the local authority's performance as the lead agency, but, of course, we're also inspecting the performance of agencies beyond the local authority and, increasingly—particularly with the new legislation and guidance being published—we will be inspecting that, as we already do to some extent, in the context of evaluating the performance of children's trusts as a whole. The way we do it is the way we seek to approach all inspection, which is by gathering a wide range of evidence of different kinds and essentially cross-checking those different sources of evidence against each other to come up with a validated picture.

  Q92 Chair: Why is ADCS so upset with you then, Chief Inspector? They have a whole letter of complaint about it.

  Christine Gilbert: I just wanted to add here, because I've given a very positive picture about what directors are saying, that I think it's really important to also say one of the criticisms from the individual directors—forget about the collective that's the ADCS—is that we're not presenting joined-up enough with CQC, even at the feedback. We're taking those lessons back, and we'll learn from them. There isn't a fundamental difference, as I said earlier, about the methodology. That's one of the criticisms: they think we're insufficiently joined up.

  Q93 Chair: Chief Inspector, you look at 150 children's services departments. Are you finding evidence that worries you about the testing nature of the job of being a director of those two areas? I sometimes put it like this. On the one hand, here is the local authority; it's in the middle of an early wave of Building Schools for the Future, and all those other problems; it's got Ofsted on its back, in its schools and so on. On the other hand, in the light of recent events, it's terrified that it's going to have a dreadful child casualty—a murder—and child protection is going suddenly to put it in the front line of the media. Is it that we are asking too much of directors of children's services, with a job that demanding?

  Christine Gilbert: I think the job is a very demanding one, and I think when we're struggling to understand the mismatch between what individual directors tell us and what the collective tells us, I think it's because at a very personal level—it's high stakes these days; and they've seen a number of the directors go, and so on. I think it is high stakes. I think it's absolutely right, of course, that you look at the leadership and management of a local authority, but actually it can never be one person, and things can go wrong in the best led and best managed authorities. So I think there is a real concern out there about what's happening in this area, but I have to say too that directors have established arrangements in local areas—they're different in different areas—that are enabling them to lead and manage effectively.

  Chair: We will come back to that.

  Q94 Ms Buck: I want to ask a few questions about the improvement work and some of the changes in the regime for follow-through and improvement. I just wonder if you think there is a gap now in the provision for following through and working with local authorities in their ongoing improvement strategies, and that work that was previously done within the commission—actually working with the politicians, working with the senior managers to ensure that there's ongoing work after the inspections.

  Christine Gilbert: I should say that we would hope that all of our inspection work supports, drives and encourages improvement, and I was interested in your school accountability report, where you absolutely thought that the balance was right as it was, in terms of support and challenge. So I think that we have a role in terms of clear advice to the settings that we're inspecting, to identify and share good practice, and so on, and we're beginning to see outputs from work that we've been doing on that. I think that the gap you talk about, if gap it is—you discussed this, I think, at an earlier meeting—is that the development work went to the government offices, and where you might draw the line in that development work is, I think, for discussion. I wouldn't go back to a system—if it ever existed—as is being described—with the monthly visit. I think that wouldn't be right. We've written now a couple of times to local authorities. A third of local authorities have still not responded to our saying "Do you now want a link HMI?", so about two thirds of authorities have said yes, they do. I think the fundamental point of improvement has to rest with the local authority and it's up to them to get the support they need. The bit that worries me most, I suppose, is those authorities in the area of greatest need, and we've been talking to the DCSF about working in a clearer way with some of those. So, for instance, you saw the director of Birmingham at an earlier meeting: at which point does Ofsted go back to say whether it thinks it's improved, or it's better? They have got an intervention team at the DCSF, and so on. We think, and I think the DCSF has now agreed, that we need to be clearer about Ofsted's role in some of that, and give greater support to those—a bit, if you like, like the special measures model of schools, where you give more intensive support through monitoring visits, and so on. If you look at what we've done with Haringey, the first monitoring visit was very weak; the most recent one showed good progress, and I think people felt reassured by Ofsted saying this, particularly in terms of what it said before.

  Q95 Ms Buck: I think that's right. The Committee's view was very clear about the structure being right, but I don't think that necessarily means one can be totally confident about the quality of provision of the new regime. My personal view is that I've never found that the government office is the strongest arm of government. That does worry me, and it worries me particularly when it's weak. You are confident, are you, that the mechanisms are in place, even if they are not delivered through you—that the local authorities will get the continuing advice and support to enable them to carry on improving?

  Christine Gilbert: I have absolutely no evidence that would let me reassure you on that point. We just haven't looked at it, so I don't have a real view.

  Q96 Ms Buck: You don't think you should have a view?

  Christine Gilbert: I have always tried in this job to base my views on the evidence. If somebody asks us to do an assessment, to inspect the nature of the support, I think we could do a survey or report in that area; but I do think it is an area that needs looking at, for just the question you're asking.

  Q97 Ms Buck: How many link advisers will there be, and exactly what will their role eventually be?

  Christine Gilbert: I think there are about 65.

  Ms Buck: Inspectors?

  Christine Gilbert: HMI have either two or three local authorities each, and they could have an education background or social care background—or, indeed, a learning skills background—and be attached to that local authority. We have costed a number of days for each adviser—a dozen a year—and some of that will be them understanding what's going on in the local authority.

  Q98 Ms Buck: A dozen a year for each local authority?

  Christine Gilbert: Days; but that is for the inspectors to get their heads around the information and so on, so that when they go in to a local authority they are able to talk with confidence about what is going on with what they are seeing in terms of regulation and inspection.

  Q99 Ms Buck: What's their relationship with the children, and children-learning strategic advisers?

  Christine Gilbert: At the government office?

  Ms Buck: Yes.

  Christine Gilbert: At the moment, they have no formal relationship with it; it is entirely just the work being set up with the local authorities. The relationship with the government office is essentially through three regional directors that we have at Ofsted. The country is divided more or less into three regions. They don't each operate in different ways; it is a national system, but with three regional directors.

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