Sometimes, despite best endeavours , things go wrong. Sometimes a snapshot can be taken of an organisation and with just a little context off the mark making things can look much worse than they really are.
And so it was with an Ofsted inspection of Childres services Safeguarding when I was Leader. I can remember the day that a devastated top management team came to see me to let me know the bad news.
Professionally, for the management team responsible for safeguarding children, this sort of Ofsted report can stop careers in their tracks.
Politically, It would have been so easy to have sacked a few people, laid blame at people’s doors and moved them out. But in this case that would have heaped more injustice on a judgement that I always felt was harsh.
The background to the judgement was the context that I believe Ofsted didn’t get quite right. For example, a few weeks before the inspection, a new social work team had been put together to increase capacity. Recruiting was difficult so some agency staff were used. It didn’t work. The management team had in place systems to monitor what was happening and to pick up the failing as well as getting it right. Part of the putting it right was the successful recruitment of a new manager who started work …….. On the day of the inspection.
With a commendable honesty, all this was shown to Ofsted, who instead of recognising the issue was of short duration, had been picked up and resolved put it into the inspection report as a revelation.
Add to this the entire Children’s service were ” converting” to a radical but government acclaimed “unit model”. It was recognised in the inspection that this was pioneering and a robust way forward as it removed a large number of potential single point failures. Government was watching and encouraging. But in the middle of this major overhaul the inspectors came in and unsurprisingly found their inspection methodology didn’t fit well with this new way of working.
Now, of course some things were not right. Recording was seen to be variable and had to improve. But, was this a case for “inadequate”? I’m not sure. In fact later on we heard on the jungle telegraph a new informal category of “inadequate light” was being used for Cambridgeshire!
Cambridgeshire County Council is the first local authority in the country to see its Ofsted rating for safeguarding children jump two levels from “inadequate” to “good”.
Inspectors found the council responded “purposefully and systematically” to making improvements.
This completely justifies my faith in the management team who we retained, supported and protected from the worst of the flack. It also justifies the move to the unit model.
What it does do is raise a question mark in my mind about Ofsted inspections. The impact of low categorisation can be extreme and profound.
The turnaround has been accomplished by the same team that was branded as a failure. In other authorities the inspection could have resulted in stopping the move to the unit model and sacking the managers. Both actions would have produced poor outcomes for children.
Of all the issues I dealt with at the County Council this is one of my most proud. I would like to pay tribute to Councillor David Brown, Cabinet member for Children’s Services, who played a huge part in this success story.