Press release

Strong leadership vital for children’s services improvement

Weak leadership in too many of England’s children’s services is letting down the most vulnerable children, Ofsted finds.

Social worker with young boy

The inspectorate’s third Social Care Annual Report, published today (28 June 2016), shows that there are still too many inadequate children’s services departments across the country.

Children who come to the attention of social care services are the most vulnerable in our society, and deserve the highest standards. However, today’s report shows that a quarter of children’s services departments, 21 in total, are currently rated ‘inadequate’ while 43 require improvement.

Many areas rated inadequate received the lowest rating for ‘help and protection’; the part of the system that assesses what the risks to children are, and takes action to protect them. The report argues that problems here remain the greatest challenge to the children’s social care system as a whole.

In poor performing authorities weaknesses in leadership and management oversight, along with high caseloads, often mean children do not receive the right support at the right time.

Despite this, for the first time under new inspection arrangements, the London boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, along with Westminster, recently received ‘outstanding’ ratings. A further 21 authorities have been rated ‘good’.

In high-performing areas, inspectors saw strong leadership, both at a political level and throughout the organisation. Leaders create the systems and culture that enable high quality social work to flourish, and understand the skills and qualities the workforce need to do their jobs well. In these places, children do not wait for help and support, and social workers are given time to work with families.

The report also finds that:

  • An ‘inadequate’ judgement is not related to size, levels of deprivation, or funding - the quality of leadership in an area is the single most important factor in the standard of help, care and protection given to children

  • Once children are in the care system, they are often well cared for - it is children who have not yet entered the system because their needs have not been recognised, or whose support has been too superficial and ineffective, who need attention

  • There are many outstanding and dedicated professionals working with children; however, they need the right leadership and support to succeed - in strong authorities, they make a huge difference to children’s lives

  • Manageable workloads are also crucial - the variation between local authorities in terms of the numbers of children in need per social worker is very wide, ranging from 7 in some areas, to as high as 34 in others. This year, inspectors found 14 local authorities where social workers’ caseloads were too high.

  • The picture for residential care has continued to improve and inspections show that many children are benefiting from the help authorities provide. Four out of 5 children’s homes are now rated good or better, and at nearly 80%, the proportion of good and outstanding children’s homes is higher than that of secondary schools. Meanwhile, inspections of independent fostering agencies found 85% of providers to be good or outstanding.

  • Children in care often make stronger progress educationally than vulnerable children who remain with their families, supported by social workers. Inspection evidence shows that when children in care are poorly served it is because good practice is made impossible by weak management, and uncommitted local politicians.

  • While there are many local authorities rated ‘inadequate’ for help and protection, in many cases the support that they give to looked-after children is better. The majority of local authorities also deliver good or outstanding adoption services, reflecting a pattern that has been established for many years.

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw said:

The picture of performance we are publishing today shows there is clearly an on-going need for improvement. While we have seen some green shoots of progress, too many areas are still failing the children they are charged with protecting.

This report shows that the context of a local authority, including size, deprivation and funding, cannot be used as an excuse for poor performance. If some authorities can succeed in difficult circumstances, so can others.

As I have said many times before, the driving factor that makes change happen at pace is good leadership. Areas that are letting children down must look to their higher performing counterparts with urgency, and follow their example.

Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care, Eleanor Schooling, said:

When local authorities have a strong practice methodology and reasonable caseloads, social workers are able to work effectively with families and improve lives.

We know that weaknesses can be overcome through grit, determination, and good leaders who make the work easier to do well.

Ambitious ideas based on sound research can be the foundation for making rapid improvements to local authority children’s services.

Ofsted is committed to using the power and influence of inspection to improve the lives of children and young people, especially the disadvantaged and vulnerable.

Today (28 June 2016) Ofsted also published a consultation setting out proposals for the future of social care inspection. These important changes aim to improve the quality, proportionality, and impact of social care inspections - both regulatory and those of local authorities. The new approach would ensure inspections are focused where they can make the most difference.

Under the new proposals good and outstanding local authorities would receive shorter, more proportionate inspections in recognition of their good practice, while authorities rated inadequate would be challenged to improve through regular monitoring inspections.

In addition, a new common inspection framework for the inspection of social care regulatory settings will provide comparable and consistent reports across a wide range of providers, ensuring that inspections focus on the progress and experiences of children, wherever they live or receive help.

Notes to editors

  1. The full report is available on the Ofsted website.

  2. Interviews will be possible following the Annual Report launch event on 28 June 2016.

  3. The Who Cares? Trust may be able to help source case studies. Please contact their press office on 020 7017 2787 or at media@thewhocarestrust.org.uk for further information.

  4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), academies, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection

  5. Ofsted’s consultation on the Future of Social Care Inspection is available on the Ofsted website.

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Published 28 June 2016