Keeping Parliament Informed : Over to Ofsted

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children held one meeting in May:

Monday 14 May: Every Child Matters and Social Care

How will the new Ofsted inspection arrangements help to better integrate social care services with other children’s services?

With speakers Jean Humphrys (Deputy Director for Children, Ofsted), Caroline Abrahams (Children and Young People Programme Director, Local Government Association) and Roger Morgan (Children’s Rights Director, Ofsted). 

This meeting was an opportunity to discuss the new Ofsted inspection arrangements and how they relate to children’s social services. On 1 April 2007, the inspection services for children’s social care moved from CSCI to Ofsted as part of the new single inspectorate for all children’s services. This meeting discussed how this will affect children’s social care services, particularly in terms of how the new inspection arrangements will help them to be better integrated with other children’s services to fulfil the five key outcomes of Every Child Matters. The Children’s Rights Director, Roger Morgan, has, as part of this, also transferred to the new Ofsted, and this meeting was an opportunity to explore the role in the context of these changes.

Jean Humphrys, Deputy Director for Children, began by explaining Ofsted’s remit fell into two parts – the majority of children, who are in mainstream services such as schools, and the smaller number of children who are in social services, such as in care or in the secure estate. She said that while there are far fewer in care, they have far greater needs.

Jean gave statistics which provided an alarming picture about children and young people in care. Two thirds are in care due to abuse; half of them have a mental health disorder; only 11% receive 5A* – C GCSE grades; and they are nine times more likely to be excluded from school.

She said these were indications that these children are being failed by the system, and so the new inspection system needs to end the situation where those who succeed only those who fall below the line in the first chart.

Jean said that Ofsted has not been responsible for children in care in the past. Now they have been, and will continue, working with CSCI and other colleagues to bring together their expertise, training each other, learning about the new remit, planning and setting their new strategy.

She said that their goal is to address the gap between those who do well and those in the vulnerable groups who do not. They are planning to maintain their strong links with CSCI, which still has a vested interest in children’s services – what happens to families and the children of adults in social care has an impact on adult social services too.

Jean said that they now have a wealth of data about children and young people, such as how well they do in school and in social care. They are bringing together the data and finding out some important things – are these children being failed twice by both parts of the system? They also using data about children’s views to take them into account and look at the system in a more holistic way. Their job now is to put all this information together to give a more clear and definite picture of children and young people’s experiences, and then they will focus on the areas of weakness, using inspections and surveys to identify best practice and start addressing the areas where vulnerable children are being failed.

Caroline Abrahams (Children and Young People Programme Director, Local Government Association) began by saying that they very much welcome the new joint Ofsted arrangements, and they hope that the whole will be greater than the separate parts. She said that this move is consistent with the direction of travel of services, and that the new Ofsted needs to be a driver for bringing services together on the ground. Local authorities take up a lot of time and manpower preparing for inspections, and this can be a distraction from developing and improving services. Every penny and resource counts, so we all need to be careful how they are used. For this reason, they would like local authorities to be allowed to be self evaluating wherever possible.

She said that one of CSCI’s strengths had been listening to children and young people, and she hoped that Ofsted would continue this, because the work on it so far has been very welcome. She said that there are risks with the new regime. Safeguarding still needs to be central to their work, and the outcomes for vulnerable children are very important too. She said that there needs to be joined up working across the board, and that children should not be split off from mainstream services because they are at risk.

She highlighted the problems faced by young carers, and the need to have close links with adult services to tackle this. She said that this is the problem of moving the boundaries so that all the children’s services are together – it simply creates a new boundary between children’s and adult services. There needs to be work to make sure the join is still there on the ground and in inspection.

Roger Morgan, National Children’s Rights Director, Ofsted, began by saying he had been looking into the key messages children and young people have for Ofsted and on moving services and inspection forward. He said he is particularly interested in how children and young people are involved in the process.

He said that there are three parts to his role. The first is ascertaining the views of children and young people (and where appropriate, parents). Doing this involves visits, surveys, text message questions, web surveys and more, to consult with them and also to try and give a voice to the harder to reach children. The outcome of this is to try and influence policy, including publishing reports as policy input. For example, they produced a report some time ago consulting with young carers.

Secondly, he also advises on children’s rights and welfare for the most vulnerable, such as those receiving social care services. Ofsted has an overall statutory duty, which is actually stronger than CSCI’s was, to have regard to children’s rights – to ensure that services are user-focussed and take into account children’s views on those services.

The third duty is to raise any matter relating to the rights of children and young people within his remit – a duty that he takes very seriously.

Roger then told the meeting about some of the views of children and young people about the Every Child Matters. Nine out of ten agreed with the Every Child Matters five aims, but also wanted to add another one: ‘Happiness, family, love, respect.’ The priorities of children in care were:

  • having 24/7 access to their social worker,
  • being given the choice of when to leave care,
  • having health checks,
  • access to advocacy, and
  • sports and leisure opportunities.

When asked to vote on their top and bottom three of the Government’s proposals, they placed top:

  1. checking whether there are any relatives that could care for them,
  2. children’s councils, and
  3. more social workers.

They placed bottom:

  1. closing bad children’s homes (because of the disruption it would cause)
  2. targets for fewer children in care (because each child’s case should be treated individually) and
  3. more information sharing among professionals (confidentiality was a concern for them).

Roger ended with a comment from a young person that he felt summed up the views of many young people in care very succinctly: “I want to be free of my past, better than my present, and ambitious for my future. The only thing that will get me there is funding for services – and my own will power.”

Forthcoming meetings of the APPGC are:

  • Tuesday 5 June: UK Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Speakers: Rt Hon Beverly Hughes MP (Minister of State for Children), Carolyne Willow (CRAE) 5-6pm
  • Monday 2 July: Joint Meeting with APPG for Disability: Independent Living Monday 4-5pm
  • Monday 16 July: AGM and Update from Children’s Commissioner
    Speaker: Professor Sir Al Ainsley-Green, Children’s Commissioner for England 5-6.30pm

Please contact Sally Cole, Clerk to the APPGC on 020 7843 1907 or by email to [email protected]:

  • to be added to the email mailing list to receive minutes and invitations to meetings,
  • for copies of minutes from any of the meetings,
  • for any further information about the Group.

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