Memorandum submitted by the Local Government
The Local Government Group is made up of six organisations
that work together to support, promote and improve local government.
Local Government Leadership
Local Government Association
Local Government Improvement and Development
Local Government Employers
Local Government Regulation
The Local Government Association is the single voice
for local government.
As a voluntary membership body, funded almost entirely
by the subscriptions of our 422 member authorities in England
and Wales, we lobby and campaign for changes in policy and legislation
on behalf of our member councils and the people and communities
they serve. We work with and on behalf of our membership to deliver
our shared vision of an independent and confident local government
sector, where local priorities drive public service improvement
in every city, town and village and every councillor acts as a
champion for their ward and for the people they represent.
Ofsted's current role in inspecting children's
1. Ofsted is currently under a statutory duty
to provide an annual assessment of performance for each council's
children's services - this includes the full and integrated range
of services from education to specialist services such as looked
after children. Ofsted also leads a programme of inspection of
safeguarding services and services for looked after children.
It can also undertake inspections on its own initiative, or triggered
by a direction from the Secretary of State.
2. However, we believe that the future role of Ofsted
in inspecting and assessing children's services needs to be seen
within the context of the new coalition Government's commitment
to replace the current top-down approach to managing the performance
of local public services with stronger accountability to local
people and communities.
The Local Government Group's proposals for a new
performance framework for local public services
3. The Government has already dismantled significant
components of the current performance framework. Public Service
Agreements have been abolished and a number of national indicators
have been removed. The Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) has
been brought to an end, the Audit Commission will be disbanded
and the Government Offices for the Regions will be abolished.
These steps represent a radically different approach to performance
management and hold significant implications for the future of
the remaining Inspectoratesincluding Ofsted.
4. We have welcomed this new Government approach
to the performance management of local public services and we
are currently consulting councils on a new approach to self-regulation.
We are keen to make sure that any new approach is "owned"
by local councils and is based on a coherent set of principles
and approaches that is shared by all the bodies inspecting local
public services. The consultation paper
is attached as an Appendix to this submission.
5. Key elements of the new approach on which we are
- Stronger accountability to the public through
greater transparency. Councils would make the performance management
information they use to manage their own performance available
to the public in a format that local people can understand and
use. This will enable local people to hold their council to account
and compare their performance against other councils;
- Self awareness. Councils and local partners will
develop stronger local arrangements for monitoring and assessing
their own performance through regular self evaluation and peer
challenge. An annual self evaluation (encompassing services to
vulnerable children and adults) would provide the basis for an
annual report to local people about the quality of life of the
area. The local government sector will collaborate to support
councils through sharing best practice, peer review
and support, benchmarking, etc.
- Managing the risk of failure. The Local Government
Group and its performance partners will work with the inspection
and regulatory bodies to draw on data to provide "early warning"
of potential major financial, governance or performance failure
so that preventative support can be provided and service failure
- As a result of these proposals the burden of
assessment and inspection can be further reduced.
- The current plethora of data returns and information
requirements should be scaled back. Councils spend as much responding
to Government and inspectorate requests for data as they do responding
to inspection. The onus in future should be on reporting to local
- Further reductions in the burden of inspection
and assessment need to be made. Currently, Local Government Group
continues to receive examples from councils where multiple inspections
are taking place simultaneously and requiring the input of council
officers for multiple purposes. Inspection (and/or intervention)
should, in future, only to be triggered once the local government
sector has had the opportunity to support areas facing performance
- Statutory financial audit would continue, addressing
financial resilience, value for money, probity and the reliability
of local data.
6. The consultation paper explicitly recognises the
importance of specific reassurance around children's and adult
services, and particularly safeguarding. So it includes the question:
Is there still a need for inspection for adult and
child safeguarding, or is a more robust approach to self assessment
and peer challenge sufficient?
We have asked for responses by 1 November, so would
be able to update the Select Committee on the response if asked
to give oral evidence.
A new approach to assessment of children's services
7. Building on these principles, and subject to the
proviso that we are still awaiting the views of councils on the
issue of safeguarding, we propose a new approach to the assessment
and inspection of children's services. We believe this is necessary
to support the current drive to reduce inspection burdens on councils
and to correct the current emphasis given to publicly highlighting
weakness, as opposed to supporting improvement. Key elements of
this approach would include:
8. Ending the annual rating of children's services.
The majority of councils' children's services are already performing
well or excellently, so there are diminishing returns from continuing
annual assessment. The current process requires reform in any
event to reflect the changes to the nature of Children's Trusts
and the removal of a requirement for a Children and Young People's
Plan recently announced by the Government.
9. Establishing a regular process of local self assessment.
This would be led by the Director of Children's services and involve
the other partners in the local children's services partnership,
building on the Local Safeguarding Children Board's (LSCB) report
on the effectiveness of local safeguarding arrangements. The results
of the assessments would be reported to local people.
10. Replacing Ofsted's programme of inspecting safeguarding
services and services for looked-after children with self assessment
and peer review. The current annual unannounced inspection of
local authority contact, assessment and referral centres have
been criticised by councils for placing too much reliance on data
at the expense of direct engagement with local safeguarding teams.
There are also concerns at the knowledge and direct experience
of safeguarding of inspectors. We propose that these inspections,
and inspections of services for looked-after children, should
be replaced by self assessment, backed up by short notice multi-agency
peer reviews. These peer reviews would focus on driving improvement
and would include councillors and officers from an outside authority,
supported by practitioners from other agencies involved in child
11. Ofsted would retain its statutory powers to inspect
where it believed it was necessary or where instructed to do so
by the Secretary of State. However inspection is one of a number
of potential responses to the risk of underperformance and Government
has acknowledged the importance of councils' ownership of their
own improvement. In this context we propose a new "dual key"
arrangement involving the Inspectorates and the Local Government
Group to authorise any inspection involving a council or council
services - following joint consideration of alternative responses
e.g. peer support.
The role of Ofsted in providing an accountability
mechanism for schools operating with greater autonomy
12. In a letter to councils' Lead Members for Children's
Services on 26 May Rt. Hon. Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State
for Education, said "Strong local authorities are central
to our plans to improve education. The Coalition Government has
partnership at its heart and I want to work in partnership with
local authorities to drive up standards for all children
in all schools." 
13. In our report Local freedom or central control?
we proposed a new role for councils, as active commissioners of
education provision in their areas. Central to these proposals
is a stronger role for councils in monitoring school performance
and constantly challenging all local schools to improve.
14. In response, the Secretary of State has established
a Ministerial Advisory Group to consider the council role in education.
The outcomes of the work of the Group are expected to be included
in the forthcoming education white paper. They will impact on
the role of local authorities in school improvement, in commissioning
services for children and young people and in work with vulnerable
groups and children who are excluded from school. The results
are therefore likely to have a significant impact on the local
authority role and the role of school inspection in the future.
15. We see councils as having a key responsibility
at a local level in championing the interests of local parents
and children and providing an accountability mechanism for schools
operating with greater autonomy. But councils will only be able
to play this role effectively if they have access to accurate
and timely information about school performance.
16. So we support the continuation of institutional
inspections of schools. However, in our discussions in the Ministerial
Advisory Group we are proposing that if councils are to have a
strategic role in driving continuous school improvement, they
will need to have powers to ask for an inspection of a school
to be carried out where they are concerned about educational standards.
Such action could come in response to concerns expressed by parents,
teachers or schools themselves, or issues that are giving rise
to concern such as a high turnover of staff, loss of senior staff
or a significant dip in results. The Secretary of State would
also retain powers to initiate inspections where there are concerns.
The impact of the inspection process on school
17. We believe that the inspection process has supported
school improvement. It is the framework for inspection, as much
as the inspection itself that has added value through the sharing
of the tools used to support evaluation. The "raising of
the bar" through successive frameworks has sharpened the
focus of schools as they strive to be self-improving. The result
has been to up-skill schools in their ability to review their
own provision against a series of "quality indicators".
The consistency and quality of inspection teams
in the Ofsted inspection process
18. Ofsted's wide remit should not be confused with
the undoubted need to ensure that inspectors assessing particular
aspects of service delivery or planning should be highly trained
and familiar with that area.
19. The consistency across teams is still an issue.
Schools are still experiencing variety in how inspections are
carried out. The best inspection teams are those that are prepared
to engage in a constructive dialogue with the school. Inconsistencies
remain in relation to the knowledge and skills of the individual
teams. For some inspectors there remains an over reliance on data,
particularly those who lack the experience to "get behind"
the figures and understand what the school is really achieving.
However, we acknowledge that Ofsted has recognised this as an
issue and made efforts to improve inspectors' training and inspection
The weight given to different factors within the
20. There continues to be an over-emphasis on levels
of attainment rather than achievement and subsequent 'knock on'
effect upon other judgements, such as leadership and management.
The inspection process should give greater credit to those institutions
which demonstrate good or outstanding learning and progress even
if they are still below national averages for attainment.
21. Not enough emphasis is placed on good governance.
Ofsted seem to find this a difficult judgement to make. Perhaps
Ofsted should put greater weight on pupil and parent views and
the local authority may have a role to play in this regard. Whether
inspection of all organisations, settings and services to support
children's learning and welfare is best conducted by a single
22. The Local Government Group has consistently argued
that there should be a single inspectorate with a remit across
all organisations, settings and services to support children's
learning and welfare. We believe this is important because, on
the ground, frontline services for children and young people are
required to act in concert to ensure effective provision and outcomesit
would be counter-productive for systemic or area wide improvement
to have assessments made by a number of different inspectorates
that do not liaise or learn from each other.
36 Education and Inspections Act 2006 Back
Sector Self-Regulation and Improvement: Consultation Document
LG Group, September 2010 http://www.lga.gov.uk/lga/aio/13733907
- Not published on the Committee's website. Back
Peer review is the process by which councils invite a small team
of members and officers drawn from other authorities (and, as
appropriate, from other sectors such as health, police, voluntary
and community sector) to review their leadership and corporate
capacity or other element of their service provision and give
constructive challenge and advice on how to further strengthen
what they do. Our experience is that peer reviews are a successful
improvement tool and the Local Government Group has long experience
of delivering a wide variety of reviews. Back
Local freedom or central control? Why councils have an important
role to play in local education July 2010