In 2011, The Munro Review set out numerous recommendations for changes in the way Children’s Services are inspected. These included a proposal for a new inspection framework that put the child at the heart of children’s services. This framework would explore how the rights, experiences, feelings and wishes of children and young people shape and inform practice.
In 2016, Ofsted conducted a consultation about a new framework, in which respondents supported moving away from a universal inspection to one that takes account of past performance. Respondents were also positive about a more child-centred approach, moving away from a focus on accountability that often comes at the expense of the quality of children’s care.
But, eight years on from the Munro Review, how far has this framework succeeded in focusing on the child? Does the old system of accountability, paperwork and prescription permeate into recommendations, or is autonomy and the exercising of professional judgement showcased?
Cordis Bright has summarised the outcomes of inspections carried out since the new Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services (ILACS) framework was introduced in November 2017. In total, 16 local authority Children’s Services have been inspected: 11 within the standard framework (those who were rated as ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ at their previous inspection) and four within the short framework (those who were judged as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ at their previous inspection). Key findings are highlighted below.
Impact of Leaders
31% of local authorities inspected under the new ILACS framework were judged as ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ in this category, and all of these were advised that leaders needed to improve their oversight and challenge. The use of audits to monitor the quality and effectiveness of practice was also found to be lacking in 38% of local authorities, suggesting that monitoring of practice is a key issue. Those who received an ‘Outstanding’ rating in this category were commended for adopting a child-centred approach and having an ambitious leadership team with clear oversight of practice, including responding to areas for development.
Help and Protection
The ‘Quality of Assessments and Plans’ and ‘Response to Missing Children’ were the two over-riding factors that inspectors picked upon as requiring improvement in this category. This applied to many local authorities that were judged as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ in this category, as well as local authorities that received a ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ rating. Those local authorities that received an ‘Outstanding’ rating in this category were commended for how children’s views informed assessments and for their responsiveness to changing circumstances.
Children in Care and Care Leavers
There was more of a diverse range of practice within this category, but factors that were identified as requiring improvement in at least four local authorities included ‘Quality of Assessments and Plans’ and ‘Permanence Planning’. Twelve local authorities were judged as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ in this category, the most across all three categories. Those local authorities who received an ‘Outstanding’ rating in this category were commended for the child-centeredness of their work and the quality of relationships between children and trusted adults.
All four local authorities who received a short inspection framework, i.e. those who had been awarded an overall rating of ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ at their previous inspection, received a similar rating again. North Yorkshire was the only local authority to be awarded an ‘Outstanding’ rating across all three categories.
Wakefield was the only local authority to receive an ‘Inadequate’ rating across all three categories. Three local authorities received an ‘Inadequate’ rating in the ‘Impact for Leaders’ category, suggesting that this is the area across England that requires the most improvement.
The aim of placing the child at the centre of Children’s Services is a common theme that comes out of all the inspection reports; indeed, this was a key area that was identified and praised in every local authority that was judged as ‘Outstanding’ in each and every category. There are some common themes of what needs to be improved across some local authorities, including response to missing children and quality of leadership oversight. These findings suggest that child-centeredness is indeed a priority within the new inspection framework.
Interestingly, it could be argued that a flip-side of this move away from accountability and bureaucracy has resulted in higher expectations being placed on leaders’ management capabilities, as they are given more autonomy and subsequent responsibility (see the Munro Report). This may in turn be reflected in the comments regarding management oversight in the reports. Alternatively, perhaps the so-called funding ‘crisis-point’ that has hit Children’s Services up and down the country, combined with ever-increasing demand, has also had an impact upon leader’s ability to have a comprehensive overview and command of their services. It will be interesting to see if these current commonalities, both the positive and negative, are present in subsequent inspection reports as we enter 2019.