Venue: Virtual Meeting - Web ex meeting. View directions
Declarations of interest
Please see note (a) at the end of agenda.
No declarations of interest were received.
The committee to receive the outcome letter from the Ofsted Review Visit on 6 to 8 October 2020.
2.1 The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) explained that this process had been very different to the previous monitoring visits. It had been undertaken under the full ILACS framework and involved 5 inspectors over a period of two weeks, with a mix of remote and face to face interviews. This was not about grading but getting a clear line of sight of the council’s improvement journey.
2.2 The DCS informed the committee that he had been disappointed that the letter had started in the way it did, and had asked that the letter be re-ordered but this request had been refused. The disappointment was due to the fact that the initial paragraph was historical and did not reflect the changes that have been made to the service in recent months. However the letter did go on to acknowledge that there was a real change in the pace of progress
2.3 The DCS explained the process and how the service had responded. He informed the committee that the inspectors had raised concerns about pre-proceedings and that the response to some families was over time. The service took steps to investigate and within 24 hours the DCS had been able to assure the inspectors that none of the children were in an unsafe position.
2.4 In addressing the points raised in the letter members were informed that the reorganisation of the edge of care service had already started ahead of the visit, but that the changes were at an early stage. In developing Trevone House the council had intervened in the market in order to expand the options for suitable placements locally.
2.5 It was explained that although the Virtual School received positive feedback from schools, the Ofsted Inspectors had identified that 5 of the 6 Personal Education Plans (PEPs) sample cases provided to them did not reach the required standard. The DCS informed members that he acknowledged that the Inspectors were correct; educational outcomes for Children in Care were still not good enough.
2.6 Verbal feedback from the Inspectors had highlighted the level of repeat work; the DCS acknowledged that the Inspectors were correct and that this was a sign that we were not getting it right in the first place. The DCS explained that this indicator is often one of the last to improve on any turn around journey due to legacy issues in practice
2.7 The Inspectors had commented positively on the Quality Audit process.
2.8 The DCS stated that the letter was more positive than negative, and this suggested that the council was looking at a probable ‘requires improvement’ rating. He acknowledged that there was still frailty in the improvement journey, but was confident that these issues could be addressed.
2.9 The Chairman of the committee commented that this was the most positive letter that he had seen.
2.10 Members were concerned as to the rate of (repeat) referrals. The DCS stated that we could not mitigate circumstances to the degree where we never ... view the full minutes text for item 2.
3.1 Andrew Ireland, independent Chair Gloucestershire Children’s Services Improvement Board, presented his report. He informed members that the degree of consistency of views across the external scrutiny of the council’s improvement journey gave a level of confidence. He felt that Ofsted’s findings were very much in line with his own, and agreed with the DCS that the current position reflected a requires improvement position.
3.2 He explained that the Improvement Board has been using quality assurance and performance data to track process and look at specific areas, alongside his own activity as Independent Chair. The specific issues referred to in the Ofsted letter were already in the Boards’ line of sight. It was important to note that within the improvement journey there was now a subtle shift away from just a focus on compliance but was now talking about value and quality and a focus on outcomes.
3.3 This was important as when the council received its full inspection it would need to be able to demonstrate more than compliance. He felt that the Senior Leadership Team were clear on this factor.
3.4 He informed the committee that social workers had by and large given a good account of themselves to the inspectors; it was good that the council now had social workers in place who could clearly demonstrate their knowledge of the children and families that they worked with. He was pleased to report that his interactions with frontline staff had shown that staff felt that the LA was a doing a good job in supporting them through this challenging time.
3.5 He was of the view that there was now evidence of a change of pace and drive, and that Ofsted had recognised this. He agreed with the DCS that there was no scope for taking the foot off the pedal, and that the likely outcome of an inspection was requires improvement.
4.1 The Head of Quality, Children’s Services agreed with the DCS that over the last 18 months there had been an increasing acceleration of the pace of improvement including a clear improvement in practice; and welcomed the recognition of the viability of the quality assurance process by Ofsted. They reminded the committee that just over 22 months ago some intractable practice had been in place. It was now possible to see a marked reduction in practice that would leave a child in an unsafe position. Instances of weak practice have decreased and were increasingly moving into ‘requires improvement’. During their last visit Ofsted did not find any child who had been left in unsafe circumstances.
4.2 The challenge for the council now was to shift the majority of practice from requires improvement to good. There were a core group of teams that were succeeding and demonstrating that it was possible to deliver good practice. But some teams were struggling. Coaching was provided to these team managers working on the barriers to them improving practice in their teams. It was possible to see the benefit of this coaching through the quality assurance process. Work was also underway on a new suite of performance tools.
4.3 Month on month the improvement in practice was evident, and we were drawing close to targets. The quality assurance process was indicating that the council was not just a learning organisation but also a doing organisation.
4.4 In response to a question with regard to those teams that were underperforming the committee was assured that a hard line was being taken. Coaching was not a soft approach, it was not counselling but rather an intervention. The DCS stated that it took time to develop a workforce. The council was in the position of having to develop what is in effect an immature workforce as we were not able to attract sufficient numbers of experienced external recruits. If we could not gain access to a pool of experienced people then we had to develop our own.
4.5 Ambassadors present at the meeting discussed the challenges that they, and people known to them, had experienced with regard to contacting their social worker(s) during lockdown. The DCS informed members that this was indicative of why we needed to continue to improve. He also stated that the Care Leaver service was under a lot of scrutiny, and was going through a period of transition. The number of Personal Assistants for care leavers had been increased last year and was being increased again; this would mean a smaller caseload. The DCS indicated that he was disappointed when he heard that phone calls were not responded to or followed up, but commented that it was important to note that sometimes young people also did not respond. He informed the committee that he was not happy with what he had just heard from the Ambassadors and would follow up with the Care Leaver Service who would be disappointed to hear the feedback from ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
5.1 The Director of Partnerships and Strategy presented the report. He informed the committee that performance continued to improve in a good number of areas, but that there remained areas of concern – short and long term placement stability for children in care, stability of the social worker and readmissions and re-referrals. It was explained that some of the council’s targets had been stretched to bring them more in line with good and outstanding LAs. Overall it was an encouraging picture but not where we wanted to be.
5.2 The need to ensure that the voice of the child/young person was heard at child protection conferences was discussed. Members were informed that analysis of conference minutes did show that almost all talked of the child/young person. The limitations of the LiquidLogic system mean that not all this information could be captured in the form. The Head of Quality indicated that he welcomed any ideas that the Ambassadors might have to improve this process.
5.3 It was commented that it was difficult to understand the shape of the foster care placements. The Director informed the committee that this data had only recently been made available in this form (July 2020). It was important that in-house capacity was properly utilised; receiving the data in this way had identified that in house foster carers had been underutilised. It was also important to note that a number of foster carers were shielding; this has impacted on 40 to 50 placements. We were working with foster carers to identify those that were available. The Director stated that we were now starting to see a better use of in-house capacity.
5.4 There was concern that the stability of social workers could have a significant impact on performance going forward. The Director explained that the situation has improved, but only marginally; as the workforce stabilised and we reduced the dependency on Agency staff the position would further improve. It was important to be able to demonstrate that although the practitioner might have changed that there was a consistent approach in the care of the child/young person; Ofsted had not identified that children were being left at risk due to this change.
6.1 The Finance Business Partner presented the report, highlighting the overspends and the underlying reasons. With regard to the costs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic most of these would be covered from a grant from government.
6.3 It was noted that there has been an increase, over and above what would normally be expected, in the number of parents opting for elective home education (EHE). In response to a question it was explained that this meant that the funding for these pupils was returned to the centre and therefore lost to the county. This had a significant impact on overall funding. The committee was reminded that the council had no right of entry to homes where a child was being home educated unless there was a safeguarding concern. The DCS explained that we were not an outlier in this regard.
6.4 An Ambassador commented that in their view a factor in children and young people not wishing to go to school was bullying, both in school and online. Following a discussion it was agreed that bullying was an issue that the committee would need to consider in the next council, but it was important to note that the majority of schools in Gloucestershire held Academy status which set them outside the council’s purview. How to look at this important matter would need to be considered within that context.
ACTION: Andrea Clarke
6.5 Members were concerned with regard to home to school transport. It was explained that the pandemic had had an impact, and with the returns being so small for some providers they had elected not to bid for contracts. The market had been weakened and therefore there was a bounce back in terms of cost; when a contract was re-let it was usually at a higher price. Something that the council’s senior leadership team would have to consider was whether the council needed to enter the market as a provider?