Social care common inspection framework (SCCIF): boarding schools and residential special schools

12. The on-site inspection

What happens during an inspection.

12.1 The start of the inspection

At the start of all inspections, the inspectors confirm their identity by producing their Ofsted inspector authorisation and identification card and identity badge. They don’t need to carry paper copies of Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.

The inspectors always meet with the principal and/or the member of staff in charge of residential provision at the beginning of the inspection to:

  • outline the plan for the inspection and lines of enquiry
  • provide the principal and/or the member of staff in charge of residential provision with the opportunity to share any current information or personal issues relating to any of the children and young people or members of staff that the inspectors need to be aware of during the inspection
  • discuss the case tracking process and which children are most suitable for case tracking
  • ensure that Ofsted holds the correct details on the inspection database, including email address and contact telephone numbers for the school
  • arrange the approximate time that verbal feedback will be given and who is to receive this; feedback is normally given to the principal; additional senior staff linked to the boarding/residential provision may also attend at the discretion of the inspector, if agreed in advance.

12.2 Case tracking and sampling

Evaluating the experiences and progress of children is a core inspection activity. This will be largely based on evidence from case tracking and sampling.

For tracked cases, inspectors take an in-depth look at the quality of the help, care and protection that individual children have experienced. For sampled cases, inspectors look at areas of practice within individual cases, usually to follow lines of enquiry.

Ofsted considers it very important that children experience high-quality help and care and make progress. We take into account children’s individual starting points and circumstances during inspections. We recognise that even slight progress in a particular aspect of their lives may represent a significant improvement for some children. We also recognise that for some children, because of their experiences of trauma, abuse or neglect, progress is not always straightforward. Progress in one area may result in deterioration in another as they work through the impact of their past experiences.

Children‘s overall experiences and progress are, in part, a result of how well they are helped and protected and the effectiveness of leaders and managers. Inspectors consider the ‘help and protection’ and ‘leadership and management’ judgements first so they can take these into consideration when reaching the ‘overall experiences and progress’ judgement.

Inspectors track the experiences and progress of at least 4 children. Inspectors also sample elements of other cases to follow specific lines of enquiry. The size of the provision and the nature of any lines of enquiry will determine how many cases are sampled.

Tracked and sampled cases are selected by the inspector from information provided by the school. Tracked cases should be representative of the current group of resident children and may include (where relevant):

  • a child from a foreign country, especially where the population of children shows high numbers of a particular national group or where there is only one young person from a particular national group (usually restricted to boarding schools only)
  • children who are from the older and younger age groups of the school
  • a child who lives in lodgings (where applicable)
  • a child who lives in residential accommodation that is not on the school site
  • a child who has complex disabilities and/or health needs
  • a child who has frequently gone missing from the school
  • a looked-after child or a child subject to a child protection or a child in need plan
  • a child who has made or is making good progress
  • a child who has recently joined the school
  • a child who is preparing for a planned exit from the school

Inspectors enhance their understanding of children’s experiences through evidence from sources such as observation of practice and discussions with key individuals, including children when appropriate. Inspectors want to speak to the children, relevant staff, any relevant external professionals and parents to understand what contribution the school has made to the overall progress and experience of the child across all aspects of their lives. Written records are only one aspect of tracking children’s journeys and inspectors will look at key documents required to enhance their understanding or clarify some information.

Inspections also usually assess the management of a recent serious incident (where relevant) so that they can understand how the staff team responds to complex and difficult circumstances and whether the actions and responses of leaders, managers and staff are focused on promoting and safeguarding the welfare of children.

Inspectors examine, discuss and evaluate cases in line with the evaluation criteria. Inspectors seek evidence that the provision has had a positive impact on the experiences and progress of children and that managers and staff know they are making a difference to children’s lives.

The detail of activities undertaken and discussions held varies depending on the lines of enquiry for each individual inspection.

12.3 Listening and talking to children and young people

The views of children who live in or stay at the school provide important evidence of their experiences and progress.

Inspectors assess how well the school consults with resident children. The views of children that have been gathered by the school are taken into account as part of the inspection evidence. Inspectors should bear in mind the limits of verbal consultation with some children, particularly those who are disabled or have complex health care needs, and take this into account in their evaluation.

Inspectors always try to meet with children during the inspection. Inspectors may make alternative arrangements to speak to children, such as telephone calls at a pre-arranged time.

Inspectors must take into account the specific communication needs of individual children. For some children, the inspectors may request the assistance of staff who know and understand the child’s preferred means of communication, particularly if this is unique to the child. In other instances, it may also be appropriate for inspectors to spend time observing children and how they interact with staff and respond to their environment.

Inspectors can request the services of an interpreter to join the inspection. This is helpful when the children and/or staff are fluent in British Sign Language. Inspectors request this service via the inspection support team and give 2 weeks’ notice where possible.

Many of the experiences of children living in the school take place after the normal school day and it is essential that inspectors are present at this time. Inspectors should involve children in inspection activity wherever they can. Opportunities to gather the views and experiences of children may include:

  • asking children to show inspectors around some of the boarding/residential provision
  • meeting groups of children (this may be by year or house group)
  • spending mealtimes with children
  • spending time observing and talking informally to children in the boarding/residential house(s)
  • observing or participating in recreational activities undertaken by children and young people after the end of the school day

Children, including those with limited or no verbal communication, may wish to share their views in a letter to the inspector.

Inspectors will demonstrate safe and sensitive practice by:

  • telling staff where conversations with young people are taking place and who is involved
  • being sensitive to the fact that some children may not want to be involved in the inspection
  • explaining to children that they will not include comments that will identify them in the inspection report or in feedback to staff without their permission
  • ensuring that staff are aware of any arranged meetings with children, and that children may leave the meeting at any time
  • where appropriate, explaining to children that information suggesting that they or another child is at risk of harm will be passed by the inspector to an appropriate person able to take necessary action about that concern

The privacy and confidentiality of personal information is respected at all times by inspectors. The inspectors always involve the school in any decisions about children’s involvement in the inspection.

12.4 Inspecting the accommodation and facilities

The inspectors are required to judge the suitability of the school’s premises, including any residential or boarding accommodation and the areas used for out-of-school study and recreation.

In the case of a school with a very large number of boarding/residential houses, a representative sample will be visited. This activity works best when children and young people are asked to accompany the inspector(s) on the tour of the boarding accommodation. When touring premises or grounds, the inspector(s) may take the opportunity to speak to staff or pupils they meet.

Inspectors should record which houses have not been visited so that they may be prioritised on the next inspection.

Inspectors may see a number of extra-curricular or leisure activities and spend time talking to children and young people about their experiences, including about what happens at weekends.

12.5 Young people living in lodgings

When inspecting a boarding school that arranges lodgings for young people to live in (as indicated in NMS 20 for boarding schools), the inspector should ask the school for a list of the adults who provide the lodgings and the young people placed there. Inspectors should consider:

  • a sample of the recruitment checks carried out for the host families and establish that the same procedures are used as for all staff members employed
  • safeguarding issues – for example, the quality of the training provided to host families and the guidance given on e-safety, child sexual exploitation and safe working practices
  • the induction provided to host families and ongoing training in relevant areas such as first aid
  • if the young people share bedrooms and, if so, whether a risk assessment been undertaken on the sleeping arrangements
  • whether the school has considered if the arrangements may constitute private fostering
  • the levels of support provided to host families and young people, including in the evening and at weekends.
  • the guidance given to host families regarding ‘house rules’ and times to return and what to do if young people go missing
  • if the host family have relevant medical information including medical consent forms and their arrangements if the young person is unwell
  • young people’s access to organised activities in the evenings and at weekends Inspectors will only visit a sample of lodgings if this is a specific line of enquiry

12.6 Observation of activities

Inspectors can use the school’s scheduled activities as opportunities for observing and following lines of enquiry. These activities could include:

  • staff handover between education and boarding
  • school council meetings
  • professionals meetings

Inspectors should have some meals with children and young people and observe the serving arrangements. This provides direct evidence of catering arrangements and provides an opportunity to observe general behaviour and to speak informally to young people in a communal setting. Inspectors evaluate how individual dietary needs are met. Inspectors should speak to the catering manager and ask to see a sample of menus only if this is a specific line of enquiry.

Inspectors respect the privacy and confidentiality of personal information at all times.

Inspectors always seek to strike a balance between the time taken to observe an activity with the weight of the likely evidence to be gained.

12.7 Gathering views of other professionals

Inspectors consult with a range of professionals to inform the inspection findings. This is usually through a telephone call during the inspection, or on site if a situation naturally occurs. These professionals may include:

  • placing social workers
  • the chair of governors and other members of the governing body

Inspectors contact the designated officer from the local authority where the school is situated during, or immediately prior to, the inspection for relevant information, child protection enquiries relating to the school that are ongoing, or have been undertaken (in the last 12 months in the case of residential special schools or 3 years in the case of boarding schools).

Inspectors ask for the relevant contact details. Inspectors should always take account of privacy and confidentiality when talking to stakeholders on the telephone during the inspection.

12.8 Discussions with managers and staff

Individual interviews are always held with the principal and/or the member of staff in charge of residential provision and other staff. The number of staff depends on the size of the school and the lines of enquiry developed through case tracking and case sampling.

The interview with the principal and/or the member of staff in charge of boarding/residential provision usually addresses issues that have arisen from the inspector’s analysis of pre-inspection information and/or emerging lines of enquiry. The interview is also an opportunity to discuss progress in meeting previous inspection recommendations.

During the inspection, the inspector shares emerging findings about the school’s strengths and weaknesses with the principal and/or the member of staff in charge of residential provision so that they fully understand emerging issues. The inspector usually meets with them at the end of day 1 to share emerging findings. The inspector normally sets out what they intend to consider on the second day of the inspection (where relevant) so that any specific information or evidence can be prepared. The principal/person in charge then has the opportunity to direct inspectors to specific evidence where relevant.

Shortfalls that could have an immediate impact on the safety of staff or children are brought to the attention of the principal as soon as the inspector has identified the problem.

Inspectors want to establish that the school’s monitoring systems are robust enough to identify any strengths and weaknesses in practice. However, inspectors do not spend time routinely counting medication or petty cash, undertaking vehicle checks, checking water temperatures or contents of fridges, freezers and food storage areas unless this is a specific line of enquiry.

Inspectors should be prepared to alter interview arrangements if staff have to attend to the needs of children.

12.9 Examining records, policies and procedures

Inspectors do not routinely examine all policies and procedures. Documents, such as children and young people’s records or staff recruitment records, are examined where it is part of case tracking and/or sampling or a line of enquiry for that individual inspection.

Inspectors focus on the impact of documents such as risk assessments and how they work in practice, rather than the format. What matters is that they are fit for purpose and provide enough information to all relevant people so that they can care for young people safely and appropriately. Where paper or electronic personnel records are maintained at the school, the inspector may ask to see those records, if they are included within the lines of enquiry for the inspection.

The school must be able to provide evidence that they are satisfied that all staff working at the provision are fit to do so and that recruitment and selection arrangements comply with the NMS and other relevant statutory guidance.

Where the school uses the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) update service to check the status of an individual’s DBS certificate, the school should be able to demonstrate how it manages and records details of any check it carries out. If any lines of enquiry require additional information, then the inspector may request that a small sample of full personnel records are made available at the inspection visit.

12.10 Implications of the Equality Act

The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) came into effect on 1 October 2010. The Act makes it unlawful for an employer to ask a potential employee questions about their health or disability before they are offered employment, whether on a conditional or unconditional basis.

Social care providers must comply with both the Equality Act and the remit-specific regulations that require them to employ people who are fit, both physically and mentally, for the work. In order to comply with both laws, this means that providers may give conditional offers of employment to potential employees after the recruitment process, subject to appropriate medical and health checks. However, there are a number of exemptions to the provisions in the Act. If a provider believes that an exemption applies to their recruitment of staff, they should take their own legal advice on the matter.

Inspectors will assess whether providers have a rigorous recruitment and vetting process in place, including ensuring that their employees are mentally and physically fit before they commence work as part of their inspection.

12.11 How inspectors record the evidence

Inspectors must analyse the information they gather on inspection and use their professional judgement to assess the impact on the experiences and progress of children and other service users.

Inspectors’ evidence should be clear, evaluative and sufficient to support the judgements.

The evidence should tell the story of the experiences and progress of children and other service users, as appropriate. Evidence should not include information that could identify individuals unless it is necessary to protect a child or to support further action. In these instances, inspectors can use individuals’ initials.

Inspectors can record direct quotes from children, adult service users and other interested parties in evidence to support judgements.

The record should clearly indicate the source of the evidence (for instance, whether the evidence is from observation, a written record or a face-to-face interview). If evidence is comes from an interview, the record must indicate the time of the interview and the interviewee’s job title or relationship to the child.

Throughout the inspection, inspectors maintain a record of their evidence. Electronic evidence is recorded within the inspection database. Summarised evidence must be sufficient to support the judgements and any recommendations or requirements. Inspectors must ensure that the provider understands the evidence that the judgements are based on and any requirements that stem from the judgements.

After the summarised evidence has been placed in the inspection database, any duplicate handwritten evidence should not be destroyed by the inspector until at least 10 days after the inspection. In some circumstances, inspectors will be required to keep any handwritten notes they have made during the inspection for longer. This may, for example, be necessary when legal action or a complaint about the judgement is being considered.

All handwritten evidence should be legible and dated. Handwritten evidence that has not been summarised forms part of the inspection evidence base, and should therefore be scanned and added into the inspection database within 5 working days of the end of the on-site visit.

Evidence may be scrutinised for quality assurance and will be considered in the event of any complaint.

12.12 Feedback at the end of the inspection

At the end of the inspection, the inspector will give verbal feedback of the main findings and provisional judgements. This feedback will usually be given to the principal or head of boarding or residential provision. Additional senior staff and governors may also attend, if agreed in advance with the inspector. In some circumstances, the inspector may need extra time after the inspection fieldwork to take advice before giving feedback. The day of feedback is counted as the last day of the inspection.

The inspector should:

  • cover the main findings of the inspection, including both strengths and weaknesses
  • clearly communicate the likely judgements
  • indicate likely recommendations, with clear reference to the relevant national minimum standard, providing a clear direction for improvement
  • use the grade descriptors and the evidence to clearly indicate how the judgements have been reached
  • confirm when the report will be sent to the school for comments on factual accuracy (see timeframe)

Inspectors will not provide a written summary of the inspection or written feedback in advance of the inspection report being sent. Providers may choose to take their own notes at feedback.