41.1 The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) informed the committee that he felt that this letter presented a balanced view of the council’s progress to date. Overall he felt that the direction of travel was positive. There were still significant issues but these were being addressed.
41.2 The DCS, and Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, particularly welcomed that the letter stated that staff morale was good with social workers talking positively about the support that they had received to assist them in developing their practice. He stated that it was good to see this as members would recall that following the original inspection staff morale had dipped and it has taken time to rebuild.
41.3 The DCS informed committee members that the comments relating to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) have already been actioned. Members reiterated their wish to visit the MASH and it was agreed that visits would be arranged as soon as possible, preferably before the next committee meeting in January 2019.
41.4 In response to questions the DCS informed the committee that the level of churn in the social worker workforce was a serious issue. The council was very reliant on agency workers to maintain the system (currently about 40% of the workforce was agency staff). Until the workforce became more stable it was difficult for there to be consistency in practice. The DCS outlined the work being taken to address this area and committee members welcomed his approach. It was disappointing that having invested in the ASYE social workers (Assisted and Supported Year in Employment) that many of them were not choosing to remain with the council. A particular concern was the impact on development. The DCS informed members that he did not believe that the level of pay was a factor in retention of social workers. Exit interviews indicated that it was more to do with whether management had sufficient oversight and grip on cases, whether there was consistency. Newly qualified social workers benefitted from having access to more experienced colleagues to ‘bounce’ ideas off and if they felt that there was a lack of quality of supervision this would not encourage them to remain in post.
41.5 As previously discussed at committee meetings current market forces favoured the experienced social worker not the local authority. The DCS informed the committee that resources were not an in issue in Gloucestershire.
41.6 In response to questions the committee was assured that agency staff were robustly managed and if not at the required standard their contract would be addressed appropriately. It was also explained that previously only short term contracts (3 months) had been offered to agency staff; this approach did not support stability in the workforce and this had been changed and longer term contracts were now negotiated. The DCS was however clear that in the longer term it would be important to reduce the reliance on agency staff. It was unlikely in the current market that the council would be able to achieve zero agency staff but it should aim to reduce the number to 10% of the social worker workforce.
41.7 A member expressed the view that the news release following the publication of the Ofsted Improvement Letter had not represented the reality but had ‘spun’ the detail. The Cabinet Member expressed the view that it was important to acknowledge to staff that the situation was improving and that the news release had stated that the council was not complacent.
41.8 With regard to how committee members can better scrutinise the system the DCS agreed to put in place a programme of visits to teams that reflected the journey of the child through the system. This would support member’s broader understanding and also help members to identify areas/issues that the committee should look at in more detail. This would also add a qualitative dimension to the quantitative information that the committee receives through the reports received at committee meetings. It was suggested that the committee might wish to invite ASYE social workers to present to the committee.
ACTION: Chris Spencer/Andrea Clarke
41.9 The next Ofsted monitoring visit would likely be on 15 and 16 January 2019.The DCS anticipated that the next full inspection would be Summer/Autumn 2019.