A Senior Ofsted Inspector will be in attendance to inform the committee on the Ofsted Inspection Framework.
The Chair of the Improvement Board, will be in attendance to inform the committee on the work of the Improvement Board.
The Children’s Improvement Plan is included in the agenda for ease of reference.
This is the link to the Ofsted webpage https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted.
The committee was pleased to welcome Shirley Bailey (Senior HMI Ofsted), Paula Lahey (Regulatory Inspection Manager Ofsted), and John Goldup (Children’s Services Intervention Advisor appointed by the Department for Education and Chair of the Improvement Board), to the meeting to inform and engage with members.
20.1 Ofsted Inspection Process
20.1.1 The Senior HMI described the Ofsted single inspection process in detail so that members had a clear understanding of the process and the methodology, particularly relating to how data was used. This included:-
· Data covering the previous 18 months was used in an inspection; old data could distort the picture of how a service was performing
· The Lead Inspector chose 20 cases for the local authority (LA) to audit, and during the inspection an additional 6 cases were also identified for audit
· The inspection team spoke with a wide range of stakeholders including foster carers, staff, elected members, the Children in Care Council and care leavers
· As well as the 26 cases the inspection team also looked at external placements, adoption, care leavers, children at the beginning of their care journey, children missing, children at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)
· Social work practice was observed
· There were regular feedback sessions with the Director of Children’s Services (DCS)
20.1.2 The committee was informed that given the regular feedback that was built into the inspection process the final judgement should not be a surprise. There was a rigorous process of quality assurance.
20.1.3 The committee was informed that the Ofsted Regional Director attended the final judgement meeting (where the LA rating would be agreed) with the inspection team. This meeting was also an opportunity for challenge and question particularly where the judgement was not clear cut.
20.1.4 The committee noted that when an LA was found to be inadequate this meant that the concerns were widespread/serious. It was also noted that if one of the major strands was judged as inadequate then it would be unusual for the leadership not to be seen as inadequate.
20.1.5 The committee asked the Senior HMI for a view on how the committee could improve its scrutiny of this area. It was questioned whether it would be helpful for the committee to receive the information included in Annex A of the inspection pack. One member referred to the members’ Corporate Parent Pledge, and explained that some members were reluctant to sign this as they did not have direct access to the children and young people.
20.1.6 In response the Senior HMI explained that she did not think that receiving Annex A would be helpful although an analysis might be, but she suspected that the committee already received much of this information. The DCS informed the committee that, for corporate parents, there were events that elected members were invited to in order to meet the council’s children in care. The member indicated that he had attended these events but did not feel that they had helped him identify the concerns raised by Ofsted. In response it was noted that the only way to learn was by observing practice, but given the current pressures on social work teams it was not something that the Senior HMI would recommend members doing until late next year. The Senior HMI also commented that children and young people in care were entitled to their privacy.
20.1.7 The committee was informed that the council’s internal quality assurance (QA) framework had recently been updated and would need time to bed in. It was commented that QA was something that should be part of a manager’s DNA. The DCS informed the committee that QA reports would be part of the suite of reports that the committee would receive as part of its scrutiny of the improvement work.
20.1.8 The Ofsted monitoring process was explained to committee members. The inspectors would focus on the recommendations identified in the single inspection and would agree with the LA what areas to look at. It was noted that the Inspector would inform the DCS when the last monitoring inspection has taken place and this would signal that a re-inspection would take place in the next quarter. The committee was informed that the Ofsted Monitoring letter would be shared with committee members.
20.1.9 The Chairman stated that the committee, in the previous council, had been aware that there were challenges but had been under the impression that there was improvement. The Senior HMI commented that the difficulty here was that there had been a reliance on officers reporting which had not necessarily been accurate.
20.1.10The Chairman informed the committee that as a foster carer he was aware that a lot of information, and feedback, was shared at foster carer network meetings. He suggested that it might be helpful for these networks to be approached with the idea of inviting elected members.
20.1.11The committee was reminded about the training sessions on Safeguarding and Scrutiny led by the committee’s LGA support that were being arranged. The second safeguarding session would include how to use data to identify issues. The first session would be on 6 October 2017 at 10.00am.
20.1.12The committee was also informed about the Ofsted process for inspecting residential care homes. The committee noted that although there were 17 children’s homes registered in the county only one was run by the LA. The committee was assured that the DCS would be alerted if there were any concerns with residential provision in the county, and would also be made aware of any Gloucestershire children placed outside the county.
20.1.13It was explained that although Ofsted did not inspect Youth Offending Institutions they did inspect secure residential homes. They would also be aware of children held in police cells; this could relate to a lack of appropriate placement. With regard to secure residential places it was noted that there was a national shortage of provision, and that nationally LAs were looking more at how to configure services to provide therapeutic intervention earlier. In Gloucestershire this was being undertaken through the IRIS project.
20.2 Improvement Board
20.2.1 Members were reminded that Mr Goldup was the Children’s Services Intervention Advisor appointed to the council by the DfE, and had also been appointed as Chair of the Improvement Board (IB).
20.2.2 As an Advisor to the DfE his role was to report back to the DfE, on a monthly basis, as to how the council was progressing. He informed the committee that although the DfE had not appointed a Commissioner to the council this remained an option for the Secretary of State if the council did not demonstrate that improvement was happening, and, at the expected pace. Mr Goldup indicated that he thought that this was a strong Children’s Improvement Plan.
20.2.3 Mr Goldup explained that the membership of the IB meant that this was almost exclusively a council board. Membership did include the Police, but other partners were represented by the Chair of the Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children Board (GSCB). This situation had come about because the Chair of the GSCB had argued that as the failings were overwhelmingly the council’s problem that the GSCB should take on the partner’s role. The committee was informed that Mr Goldup would keep this arrangement under review. He stated that the GSCB was supposed to coordinate safeguarding activity across partners, and the Ofsted inspection report had raised questions about how effective these arrangements were, and had been rated as requires improvement. He felt that all partners should acknowledge their own safeguarding responsibilities, and that it would be important to ensure that the notion that this was all about the failings of the local authority did not stick.
20.2.4 The committee was informed that this inspection report was about as bad as it could be, with failings at every stage of the process. However, this had been acknowledged by the council, and there had been no defensiveness on the part of the council. It was felt that some of the issues were long standing and were embedded within the culture of the council.
20.2.5 In response to a question it was explained that the Improvement Plan had a significant element related to culture change, and it was acknowledged that changing embedded culture would be challenging, but the senior management team were committed to achieving the necessary change. It was also explained that support from the council’s Improvement Partner, Essex County Council, would be valuable in this area. The committee was also reminded that the council had agreed to invite the LGA to undertake a peer review into this aspect of the council.
20.2.6 The committee was clear that it wanted to be able to recognise and understand the issues, and be proactively scrutinising this area of work. As well as the regular performance monitoring reports the committee was recommended to receive the performance dashboard/metrics that were being received by the IB; the quality audit reports; and the reports and minutes of IB meetings.
20.2.7 The Interim Director of Operations and Improvement informed the committee that the new leadership team were working on key issues including ensuring that the focus was on the child, were children safe, and what does good social work practice look like. She also informed the committee that the senior management team had visited all the locality team hubs, and if an issue was raised at a hub a member of the senior management team would visit within two days. It had also been made clear to locality team managers that they were expected to spend more time in their localities as opposed to in Shire Hall.
20.2.9 It was commented that given the breadth of criticism was it not reasonable to question whether these issues were more widespread than children’s services.
20.2.10The Chairman informed Mr Goldup that the committee had previously raised concerns with the Chair of the GSCB regard to the attendance of partners at GSCB meetings and had been informed recent legislation was enabling a different approach to the GSCB structure. Mr Goldup clarified this situation explaining the Children and Social Work Act (2017) would abolish the statutory requirement for a local safeguarding children board (LSCB). This was being replaced with a defined duty for local safeguarding partners (local authority, local clinical commissioning group and Police) to provide arrangements for safeguarding and promoting the health of children. The safeguarding partners could decide to retain a LSCB, or could make other provision. Guidance was expected to be published in the Autumn. Safeguarding partners were required to submit their decision on the way forward by April 2018 and implement changes during 2019.
20.2.11In response to a question the committee was informed that there were overlaps between the findings of the council’s Ofsted inspection and the Gloucestershire Constabulary’s HMIC National Child Protection Inspection. It would be important to look closely at the common issues, and where there were differences; this piece of work had not yet been undertaken.
20.2.12The committee agreed that it would need to continue to closely monitor the council’s improvement journey.