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Ofsted's Single Inspection Framework - A Guide
Ofsted’s Single Inspection Framework model has come under scrutiny from sector leaders recently, which is something you can read about here. But what exactly is the single inspection framework, and why is it being criticised? Read our handy Q & A now to get an overview of the hot-button topic.
The single inspection framework provides Ofsted with a guide with which to inspect and evaluate services for children and care leavers in need of help and protection, and review Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs).
It differs from former frameworks insofar as it is focused more on the outcomes of the authority’s service and the impact they have on the lives of service users. It combines previous singular inspections for child protection and looked after children, in order to better identify and aid vulnerable children and young people – hence the name, ‘Single Inspection Framework.’
It should not be mistaken for a full review of Children’s services, as it only focuses on child protection and looked after children. However, if a council receives a poor rating within the SIF, they can be subjected to a further, full inspection.
The Single Inspection Framework was introduced in response to the 2011 Munro Report, which was itself commissioned in direct response to a series of high-profile failings within children’s services. The aim was to bring inspections of all services concerning child protection and looked after children into one overarching whole, reducing the chances of anything being missed by disparate bodies.
Observing the state of the authorities’ service offering at the time, report author Professor Eileen Munro noted there was too much of a focus on target-hitting and bureaucracy, which was leading to worse outcomes for service users. The SIF was introduced to reverse this trend, and see exactly how councils were impacting upon the lives of children and young people who use the service.
Nonetheless, the SIF was also introduced to improve standards by offering a much more stringent and detailed inspection to prevent the oversights which had led to high-profile failings in the past.
What Do The Inspections Involve?
Inspections under the single inspection framework are announced at short notice and address areas such as children and young people who are at risk of harm – though not yet at the ‘significant harm’ threshold – and children referred to the local authority, as well as those who become the subject of a multi-agency child protection plan.
Inspectors carrying out the SIF will take a sample of the authority’s children’s cases and use it to gauge the quality of front-line practice and management. They will also observe the difference this practice and management make to the service users through discussions with social work staff and the service users themselves.
They will also test the decision-making at all stages of a child’s journey within the authority, from early help right through to leaving care, and shadow staff in their daily work to better observe practice. A large variety of multi-agency meetings will also be observed, including child protection strategy meetings and looked after children reviews.
After carrying out the above, the inspectors will base their judgement on the overall effectiveness of the services for looked after children, children in need of help and protection, and care leavers.
This overall effectiveness is based on the experiences and progress of the above groups using the local authority’s services, as well as adoption performance and the quality of leadership and governance in the authority’s management.
Taking the above into account, the inspectors will then give a judgment, rating the authority on a four-point scale. The categories, from best to worst, are as follows;
The ‘requires improvement’ category replaced the earlier ‘adequate,’ reflecting the SIF’s purpose of driving up service standards by pointing out areas that need to be strengthened in the authority’s services.
The judgement is made to what Ofsted describes as ‘best fit’ – that is, if the inspector’s findings correlate most with one particular category, then the authority is rated accordingly. However, an authority can be given an ‘inadequate’ rating if any of its service are deemed to be inadequate. As well as this, the inspector’s report will also point out the authority’s areas of outstanding practice, and areas that require improvement.
What Does It Mean For Me?
As hinted at above, the introduction of the single inspection framework has proved to be controversial. Its detractors argue that while it was introduced with noble intentions, it has fallen into the same trap as its predecessor – that is, by being tougher, it has added to the compliance and target-setting culture it sought to replace.
This approach has been criticised by sector leaders for being ‘burdensome’ to resources and being overly harsh with ratings – since their introduction in 2013, only 30% of authorities have been rated as ‘good,’ with none receiving an ‘outstanding’ grade. Furthermore, the intense, forensic nature of the SIF has led to a nine-month delay in the full rollout of Ofsted’s new inspection programme for children’s services, which has now been pushed back to December 2017 – read more on this here.
As such, if you are a children’s social worker, you may now find yourself further scrutinised and facing more exacting guidelines than ever. However, part of the inspection investigates working conditions for frontline social workers, including whether their caseloads are manageable, whether there is enough managerial oversight and whether senior staff are providing regular, quality supervision, as well as opportunities for professional development. If any of these criteria are found to be lacking, the inspection team can take steps to ensure better future support within your authority, benefiting you.
Will There Be Changes To The SIF?
Potentially, yes. While Ofsted’s national director of social care Eleanor Schooling has professed confidence in the SIF, opposition from bodies such as the Local Government Association, The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace), has been vocal.
Though Schooling has labelled the system ‘robust’ and the most comprehensive look at a child’s journey through the service, she had earlier conceded a potential need for a ‘softer touch.’ Indeed, she has since announced plans to make the inspections less demanding, as to reflect the pressures of budget cuts – a further 50% cut to local authority budgets is planned by 2019/2020, according to last November's Spending Review.
Where Can I Find More Information?