The role and performance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Association of Directors of Children's Services

The Association of Directors of Children's Services Ltd (ADCS) is pleased to submit this brief written evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee. This submission does not address every aspect of the Inquiry's terms of reference. It focuses principally on the inspection of local authority children's services.

ADCS is the national leadership organisation in England for directors of children's services appointed under the provisions of the Children Act 2004 and for other children's services professional in leadership roles. The Association provides a national voice as a champion for children, with local and central government, and with the public.

In summary, we would make the following points:

  • Inspection is a vital part of ensuring public accountability and the continuous improvement of children's services.
  • There is potential for significantly reducing the costs associated with inspection activity without reducing the value of inspection in providing this accountability and improvement.
  • These reductions in cost can be achieved through:
    • a significant reduction in the bureaucracy associated with inspection and improvement; and
    • ensuring inspection is proportionate and risk based.
  • Overall, inspection and improvement should involve less activity for both the inspectorate and the services being inspected.


1.1  The relationship between inspection and improvement

It is vitally important that the quality of public services for the most vulnerable is inspected; inspection is an important part of the public accountability framework. Inspectorates and those charged with delivering services have a shared interest in making a difference to service users by striving to identify and make the improvements that are necessary in order to continuously improve the positive impact that those services achieve. This must especially apply to the protection of society's most vulnerable children and young people.

Continuous improvement must be a shared endeavour between Regulators and those charged with delivering services. Any inspectorate must work closely together with the sector it inspects and must itself be willing to learn, adapt and play an appropriate part in improving public services. Open and regular dialogue between inspectorate and the sector is essential.

1.2  The purpose of inspection

We believe firmly that a single inspectorate should conduct inspection of all organisations, settings and services to support children's learning and welfare.

It is important that inspection recognises service failings; it is particularly important that inspection is able to identify children and young people who are unsafe or at risk, be that a safeguarding or an attainment risk, or that a young person is at risk of becoming NEET for example. Detecting and preventing service failings can be carried out through the use of risk analysis of publicly available information.

We need a system that improves services, works in an integrated way and allows our very best practitioners to influence the development of models of quality.

Inspection should be a formative not a punitive process. The current frameworks under which local authority children's services are inspected do very little to ensure that service leaders are managing for improvement, rather the reverse is more frequently the case that service leaders are managing for the inspection itself. Indeed an industry has grown up around the preparation for announced inspection. This is because the consequence of a poor service inspection outcome on the overall annual rating of a children's services department is serious indeed. The perceived punitive effects and the impact of judgements on services in terms of the local (and national) media and political response have created the climate whereby the inspected manage for inspection rather than managing for quality and continuous improvement of services for children and young people.

ADCS advocates a new approach to the inspection of local authority children's services. We need a framework that supports continuous improvement and is proportionate to risk, with targeted sector-led improvement support. Alongside this there would be an attendant reduction in the burden of performance monitoring and inspection by central government and inspectorates.

The role of Ofsted in providing an accountability mechanism for schools operating with greater autonomy is crucial, indeed if admissions and exclusions are to be the responsibility of individual schools rather than the local authority, there is an even greater need for accountability particularly with regard to excluded and off-roll pupils who are particularly vulnerable.


2.1  Unannounced inspections of safeguarding services

The principle of unannounced inspection is right and drives improvement without the excessive preparation for announced inspections. Such inspection should remain short, sharp and focussed, although the current focus of unannounced inspection of contact and referral centres (front door duty rooms) could helpfully be broadened to include other aspects of safeguarding and child protection services.

2.2  The annual rating of Local Authority Children's Services

A wide range of organisations, settings and services are inspected in order to give local authority children's services departments a graded annual performance rating, including a number of settings over which the LA has no control eg child minding services provided by sole child minders, academy results etc. There is a mismatch between the organisations that contribute to the annual assessment rating and the powers and levers that local authorities have to improve those establishments - for example, inspection results for private child minders and academies contribute to the annual rating but local authorities do not have levers to drive improvement or, in the case of childminders, to prevent poor providers from continuing to offer registered child care. In addition, as more schools become autonomous, less information and data and 'soft intelligence' is available to the local authority, removing the current "early warning signals".

Dropping the requirement to undertake an annual rating would significantly reduce the volume, burden and cost of inspection. The current four-point graded annual performance rating is a simplistic, unsophisticated approach to describing the extremely wide-ranging and complex services that are the responsibility of the DCS. We believe that the publication of this data by each local authority would provide accountability to the public and allow for risk based inspection based on identified triggers - such as a decline in attainment. This could be accompanied by a local authority's self-assessment report on its progress where this already exists.

A more proportionate risk-based approach to inspection would focus attention on improvement. Local authorities that have evidenced an improvement trend need not be inspected routinely unless there are concerns, for which a series of triggers exist. Sampling could also take place.


3.1  The impact of the inspection process on school improvement

Inspection should comment on all major aspects of the work of schools/settings which contribute to the all-round development of children and young people. If something is not inspected, schools will tend to give those important aspects less attention. Inspection should continue to provide clear pointers for development.

The more rigorous Framework put in place since September 2009 has helped raise standards in schools.

Ofsted's role as a moderator of school self-evaluation has been a good development. The Evaluation Schedule provides clear guidance on achieving the highest quality in different areas and acts as a means by which schools can self-evaluate rigorously and accurately by using the grade descriptors to judge their performance. The descriptors enable school leaders to hold staff and themselves to account. They also help governing bodies to have some kind of benchmark through which they can monitor school progress. The clarity of the guidance supports objectivity. Overall, the process supports schools in building their own capacity for improvement.

Any longer than three years between visits is too long, even for outstanding schools. Outstanding schools need regular monitoring. Just because they have been judged as outstanding in one inspection, it doesn't follow that the level of performance will be maintained.

The current emphasis on judging EYFS and post-16 provision as separate aspects has been helpful.

The short notice before an inspection is appropriate. The possibility of revisiting satisfactory schools a year later helps accelerate the rate of progress by providing a sense of urgency.

3.2  The performance of Ofsted in carrying out its work and the consistency and quality of inspection teams in the Ofsted inspection process of schools

Schools report generally that they are satisfied with the inspection process. Where there is dissatisfaction it is usually because the attitude or approach of the lead inspector has been unhelpful. Usually the quality of inspection teams is very high.

Because inspectors are observing a large number of lessons during the process, judgements on the quality of teaching and learning tend to be accurate.

3.3  The weight given to different factors within the inspection process

The weight given to different factors within the inspection process seems to have helped schools focus on improving outcomes for all learners. The specific focus on the attainment and progress of pupils with SEN/LDD has also been helpful. We are concerned that schools will no longer be accountable for their contribution to the well-being of pupils and would advocate that schools are accountable through the inspection process or otherwise for the way in which the pupil premium, once it is introduced, is used to improve the attainment of the most vulnerable pupils.

October 2010

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