The role and performance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by British Association of Social Workers

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is the professional body led by and accountable to social workers in the UK. The Association has almost 13,000 members working in frontline, management, research and academic positions in all social work settings across the UK. Our members share a collective commitment to those values and principles that will secure the best possible outcomes for children, young people and their families.


1.  Ofsted inspections are viewed very negatively by the social care sector; they take up an inordinate amount of practitioners time in terms of satisfying the demands of the performance management framework at the expense of direct work with children, young people and their families.

2.  Ofsted inspections do not promote a culture of openness and transparency given the stakes that are involved for the organisations under scrutiny. Inevitably, this leads to great pressure being applied to the workforce to present a "good" front in order to get through the inspection process.

3.  The main focus of the inspection is to gather vast amounts of quantitative data rather than qualitative data which really does not provide an accurate picture of the service being inspected. Frontline social workers rarely get the opportunity to directly communicate with inspectors about the nature of their work.

4.  Inspection reinforces the "blame culture" as individuals rather than organisations are often scapegoated for any perceived weaknesses in the service which may then invoke a disproportionate use of disciplinary processes.

5.  There is variation in the knowledge, skills and experience of Ofsted inspectors; at their worst, some appear to have very little understanding of the work of the sector they are inspecting.

6.  Currently, the inspection regime of children's services is very time consuming, costly and ineffective in terms of innovating positive change. BASW is therefore calling for radical reforms to inspection as part of its Social Work Bill due to be launched on the 14 October 2010. BASW proposes replacing Ofsted and CQC with an independent social work inspectorate.

"Inspection will be a rigorous process with a focus on the qualitative experience of service users and the evidence of front line social workers as well as a thorough examination of social work practice and outcomes."


1.  What the purposes of inspection should be (relating not only to schools but to all organisations, settings and services under Ofsted's remit)

To ensure services are of a good and acceptable standard and provide advice and information on how to improve services which fall below this standard. The inspection should contribute to the provision of excellent services for service users and should involve all those who are responsible for the service, both in delivery and receipt.

Inspection, our members report (i.e. those working in local authority children's social care departments and Cafcass) should not be seen as a punitive measure whereby once notice of inspection is obtained, all efforts are put into presenting a "good" front purely for the inspection itself. Social workers want inspection to be genuine with knowledgeable inspectors seeing the position as it is, not fabricated for the inspectors visit. They want to be involved and to be proud of the service they deliver, not live in fear of criticism.

2.  The performance of Ofsted in carrying out its work

Sadly, a commonly held view amongst the social work profession is that Ofsted have built a culture of negativity around inspection. Consequently, agencies which experience regular inspection perceive this as an intrusion, often putting on hold other areas of service provision to meet the demands of the Ofsted inspectors. Social workers (our members report) dread the arrival of Ofsted as it not only generates stress amongst the workforce but also lots of additional work as practitioners are often asked to spend further time on the administration of cases particularly the presentation of case files which diverts them from the far more important task of direct work with service users. They report that their supervision also gets high jacked by any forthcoming inspection as attention is then turned to meeting the demands of Ofsted's performance management framework which is often perceived as a higher authority that needs immediate attention usurping other (service user) demands.

BASW members with direct experience of involvement in inspections, report that they have often felt that their performance is criticised with little opportunity to discuss freely the issue/area being inspected and often receive no feedback from the process. Some have described the Ofsted inspection as similar to an examination or job interview, with no involvement in the process only that of witness. They suggest that there has been little opportunity to express their views re: possible improvements or reasons for any given position.

3.  The consistency and quality of inspection teams in the Ofsted inspection process

There are a wide variety of inspectors who perform this task for Ofsted with some inspectors approaching the inspection in a friendlier and more participatory way than others. It is evident, our members report, that the inspection is based mainly on the acquisition of quantitative information rather than qualitative with little recognition of many factors influencing practice. They report that they often feel like they are being doubly judged, given that they are already governed by line management within the inspected organisation, and any negative outcome becomes a personal issue rather than one owned by the Local Authority. They also add that they have at times, been interviewed by inspectors who they believe have had little understanding of their role or the circumstances in which they practice.

4.  The weight given to different factors within the inspection process

Again, the emphasis is placed on administration and what is visible in the case file. There appears to be very little understanding included in the inspection of case progress as this can only be assessed through reading case recordings. It is important to note that social workers cannot process record their activities and recording often highlights the main points only. Members have told us that they would be pleased to have case discussions with inspectors about how outcomes have been reached but their remit is restricted to the visible recording. Social workers agree that recording is crucial but again repeat that it only highlights a fraction of the direct work undertaken.

5.  Whether inspection of all organisations, settings and services to support children's learning and welfare is best conducted by a single inspectorate

No, some inspectors appear to have a lack of knowledge of the service they are inspecting and often Ofsted will return to re-inspect, to measure progress and it may be a different inspector or team. Some of our members recall the previous inspection of children's homes which was conducted usually by a locality inspector (R & I) who became familiar to management, staff and service users. Issues of breach of standards could be raised easily by service users who could contact the designated inspector direct, social workers and their management became familiar with the requirements and would consult with her/him re: any proposed changes to the service etc. There was often involvement in training and events to ensure the inspector was familiar with the service and adjustments necessary to meet regulations were done in a positive manner. This has not been possible with Ofsted. Social workers have seen a stark change in culture in regard to inspection, they tell us that in the past, the inspector calling had none of the negative connotations it has today.

6.  Alternative proposal for regulation of children's social work services

BASW has spent the summer consulting with its members on a Social Work Bill which will strengthen the position of social work in England by creating a new structure for social work services including an independent Social Work Inspectorate which will provide "greater guarantees of public safety through a refocused approach to scrutiny and regulation of key services" (please refer to Appendix[35]). This Bill will officially be launched on the 14 October 2010.

Below is an extract focusing on inspection:

6.2 Inspection of Social Work organisations and services

(a) Inspection of organisations undertaking Social Work

functions will be undertaken by an independent Social Work


(b) The independent social work inspectorate may be

incorporated as a distinct arm of a wider ranging

independent inspectorate.

Regulations and statutory guidance will require the independent social work inspectorate to make a formal response to recommendations of the College of Social Work.

Inspection will be a rigorous process with a focus on the qualitative experience of service users and the evidence of front line social workers as well as a thorough examination of social work practice and outcomes. The result of inspection will be the agreement of an organisation learning and development plan which will enable every organisation to move forward positively with an acknowledgement of both areas of achievement and matters for improvement.

BASW would be delighted to have further discussions about this proposal with anyone who has an interest.

Sue Kent

Development Worker (England)

Nushra Mansuri

Professional Officer (England)

October 2010

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Prepared 17 April 2011