The role and performance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by The Fostering Network

The Fostering Network is the voice of foster care. We have nearly 60,000 foster carers in membership, plus most local authorities and 169 independent fostering agencies. We work in partnership with foster carers, social workers, parents, children, and young people, local authorities, independent fostering providers and voluntary organisations to fulfil our principle objective, which is to improve the lives of children and young people in foster care.

1.  The Role and Performance of Ofsted: summary:

The Fostering Network's response concentrates on the inspection of fostering services. Our response is based on the experience of our members, the combined views of a group of staff members and foster carers. Our main recommendations are:

  • Focus on improving inspection rather than the organisation which undertakes inspection
  • Inspection must move away from "tick-box" approach - and become a force for improvement
  • Outcomes for children should be the focus of inspection
  • Inspectors should have good knowledge of child development
  • Inspectors of foster care must have expertise in fostering
  • Inspections should place more emphasis on foster carers' views
  • Individuals with knowledge of foster care should be encouraged to enter the inspectorate
  • The inspection findings of fostering services should be compared with the inspection reports of related children's services within an area
  • Ofsted should publish themed reports to indicate areas for general improvement
  • The Office of the Child Rights Director should be retained

2.  Ofsted has undergone considerable changes within a relatively short period of time. Any further significant revision of Ofsted would usher in the third inspection body within 10 years. This turnover is in itself a problem - each inspection body requires time to settle down. Therefore we recommend making improvements to inspection rather than the creation of a new body.

3.  We would welcome simplification of the inspection, and moving away from the "tick box" approach associated with an overriding emphasis on enforcement, which has often emphasised multiple issues of lesser importance. Inspections should suggest ways in which individual and collective fostering services could improve, as well as rating them. At the same time, inspections must be robust in challenging services which are not good enough.

4.  Inspection standards often seem to be inconsistent. Frequently there is an over-emphasis on complying with criteria which are neither evidenced in the National Minimum Standards nor the Regulations. Above all, the inspection should seek to establish how the fostering service judges the quality of care. Outcomes for children are quite rightly more prominent in the forthcoming revised draft of the new National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services. Outcomes for children should be the focus of the inspection. This is particularly pertinent where long-term placements are concerned.

5.  We recognise that there are tensions between seeking objectively-measured, comparable base-line outcomes, (e.g. attainment of examination grades), and the need to assess the realistic personal progress (or deterioration) of individual children. Therefore inspectors should have a good knowledge of child development so as to comprehend realistic and attainable outcomes for the individual child. We regard the interviewing of children as very important, in order to identify how the fostering service handles the individual's issues.

6.  The level of expertise across the foster care inspectorate should be consistent, and relevant to the task. Inspectors of fostering services should have some experience and knowledge of foster care. In order to bring this about, foster carers should be encouraged to apply to become Inspectors. One way of doing so would be to introduce short, specialised training schemes to prepare foster carers to apply to become Inspectors.

7.  Inspections should place more emphasis on foster carers' evidence, and there should be transparency as to whether this has happened in the context of individual inspections. Inspectors should be able to interview both individual foster carers and also foster care associations. Whilst interviews with foster carers should take place at random, foster carers should nonetheless have the opportunity to speak to the inspector if they wish to do so. The inspection report should be sent to foster carers by the fostering service.

8.  The inspection of fostering services against the National Minimum Standards for Foster Care must also be backed up by the quality assessment of other services, such as children's social work. Foster care can only work to produce good outcomes for the child if a range of services play their part - e.g. school, college, health services. Therefore it is important that the combined provision of different agencies is reviewed in the round, particularly in the light of removal of children's trusts and joint area reviews. This does not imply, however, that we favour a dilution of the expertise of the foster care inspectorate.

9.  Ofsted should undertake themed inspections or pull together assessments on themed issues across fostering service providers. For example, it could look at the fostering services' performance in supporting the health of looked after children. The purpose should be to indicate general areas for improvement, and ways of driving up standards.

10.  The Fostering Network greatly values the work of the Office of the Child Rights Director (currently based within Ofsted) in seeking and collating the views of children, as well as issuing themed reports and advising on individual cases. In view of the particular vulnerability of looked-after children, and children in social care, combined with the responsibility of statutory authorities to assure their rights, this role is vital, and should be retained, wherever it may be based.

October 2010

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Prepared 17 April 2011