Social care common inspection framework (SCCIF): residential provision of further education colleges

11. The on-site inspection

What happens during an inspection.

11.1 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 lead inspector always meets with the principal or the member of staff in charge of residential provision at the beginning to:

  • outline the plan for the inspection, including any meetings or events during the inspection that inspectors may wish to attend or observe
  • outline any lines of enquiry for the inspection
  • give the college a chance to share information or personal issues relating to any young people or members of staff that inspectors need to know during the inspection
  • ensure that Ofsted holds the correct details on the inspection database, including email address and contact telephone numbers for the provision
  • arrange the approximate time that verbal feedback will be given and to whom - feedback will normally be given to the principal or the member of staff in charge of residential provision; additional senior staff linked to the college may attend at the discretion of the lead inspector if agreed in advance

11.2 Case tracking and sampling

Evaluating the experiences and progress of young people resident at the college is a core inspection activity. This is 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 young people have experienced. For sampled cases, inspectors look at elements of practice within individual cases, usually to follow lines of enquiry.

We will take into account individual starting points and circumstances during inspections. We recognise that even slight progress in a particular aspect of a young person’s life may represent a significant improvement.

Young people’s overall experiences and progress are partly 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 young people. Where there are fewer than 4 young people resident, inspectors track the experiences and progress of all young people who are resident at the college.

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 determine how many cases are sampled.

Tracked and sampled cases should be selected by the inspector from the case list they request when they notify the college of the inspection. Tracked cases should be representative of the current group of resident young people and may include:

  • students from both year groups
  • a student who lives in lodgings (where applicable)
  • a student who has complex disabilities or health needs
  • a student who has gone missing from the college
  • a student of a particular gender where there is a minority of one or the other gender
  • a student who is also a looked-after child or subject to a child protection or child in need plan

Inspections also usually assess the management of a recent serious incident (where relevant), so they can understand:

  • how the staff team responds to complex and difficult circumstances
  • whether the actions of leaders, managers and staff are focused on promoting and safeguarding the welfare of young people

Written records are only one aspect of tracking the young person’s journey. Inspectors enhance their understanding of the child’s experience through evidence from other sources, such as:

  • observation of college activities
  • the young person
  • their carers
  • the young person’s birth family (where appropriate)
  • other practitioners (for example tutors and mentors) involved in their care

When tracking the case of a looked-after young person, the inspector must always consult the independent reviewing officer and the placing social worker.

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

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

11.3 Listening and talking to young people

The views of young people who are resident at the college provide important evidence of their experiences and progress. Inspectors assess how well the college consults with resident young people. The views that have been gathered by the college are taken into account as part of the inspection evidence.

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

Inspectors take into account the specific communication needs of individuals. For some young people, inspectors may request the assistance of staff who know and understand the young person’s preferred means of communication, particularly if this is unique to the young person. In other instances, it may be appropriate for inspectors to spend time observing young people 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 young people are fluent in British Sign Language. Inspectors request this service via the inspection support team and give 2 weeks’ notice where possible.

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

  • asking young people to show inspectors around some of the residential provision or lodgings
  • meeting groups of young people
  • spending mealtimes with young people
  • spending time observing and talking informally to young people in the residential provision
  • observing or participating in recreational activities that the young people take part in after the end of the college day

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

Inspectors 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 young people may not want to be involved in the inspection
  • explaining to young people 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 young people and that young people may leave the meeting at any time
  • where appropriate, explaining to young people that information suggesting that they are at risk of harm will be passed by the inspector to someone able to take the right action

11.4 Observation of activities

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

  • staff meetings
  • leisure activities
  • mealtimes

Where catering is provided, inspectors are likely to sit with young people during mealtimes. This gives inspectors evidence of catering provision and arrangements, and is 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 speak to the catering manager and ask to see a sample of menus if this is a specific line of enquiry. Where students self-cater or stay in lodgings or with host families, inspectors talk to students and staff and relevant adults about the quality of the arrangements.

The privacy and confidentiality of personal information are respected at all times by inspectors. The inspectors always involve the college in any decisions about the involvement of young people in the inspection.

Inspectors always try to strike a balance between the time it takes to observe an activity with the significance of the likely evidence to be gained.

11.5 Inspecting the accommodation

Inspectors evaluate the suitability of the college’s premises and residential accommodation. If possible, they will visit all the residential units, but the amount of time spent in each may vary. Inspectors may ask to be accompanied by young people, and may speak to staff or other young people they meet while touring the premises.

Inspectors may see a number of extra-curricular or leisure activities and spend time talking to residential learners about their experiences, including what happens at weekends. Inspectors establish the quality of study or recreation areas and how these support learning and development.

Where the college arranges for young people to live in lodgings during term-time instead of on-site accommodation, the suitability of this accommodation and the welfare of young people in it are assessed during the course of the inspection. Inspectors may:

  • spend time with the college’s member of staff responsible for lodging
  • examine the college’s written guidance to host families
  • sample written agreements between the college and adults providing lodgings
  • discuss with the college its arrangements for monitoring its lodgings
  • look at any records of monitoring and training of host families
  • talk to a lodging provider

Inspectors only visit lodgings if this is a specific line of enquiry.

11.6 Gathering views of other professionals

Inspectors consult with professionals to inform their findings. This is usually done by phone and may not happen on site. Professionals might include:

  • social workers (where relevant)
  • parents/carers
  • college staff

Inspectors ask colleges for the relevant contact details. They should always take account of privacy and confidentiality when on the phone during the inspection.

11.7 Discussions with managers and staff

Individual interviews are held with the manager and other staff. The number depends on the size of the residential provision but will include a sample of permanent and agency staff working at the college during inspection.

The interview with the manager usually addresses issues that have arisen from pre-inspection information or emerging lines of enquiry. The meeting is also a chance to discuss progress from previous inspection recommendations.

Emerging findings about strengths and weaknesses are shared with the manager at the end of the first day. The inspector is likely to set out any issues they intend to consider later in the inspection so they can prepare or direct inspectors to any specific information needed.

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

Inspectors want to establish that the college’s monitoring systems are robust enough for managers to identify strengths and weaknesses in practice.

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 these are specific lines of enquiry.

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

11.8 Implications of the Equality Act

The Equality Act 2010 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.

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.

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.

11.9 Examination of records, policies and procedures

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

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

Where the college uses the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) update service, it should be able to demonstrate how it manages and records details of any check it carries out. If any lines of enquiry need additional information, the inspector may ask for a small sample of full personnel records to be available at the inspection visit.

Where members of staff are subject to TUPE arrangements, we recognise that the new employer relies on the previous employer for recruitment records relating to those staff and may not have all the information, including documents required by the regulations.

In these cases, we expect the new employer to hold enough information to know staff are suitable, including criminal record checks or vetting records, and reference to employment records such as appraisals.

11.10 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 example, 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 in the inspection database. Summarised evidence must be sufficient to support the judgements and any recommendations or requirements. Inspectors must make sure the college understands the evidence 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 be necessary, for example, 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 five 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.

11.11 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 responsible individual, as appropriate.

Additional senior staff from the college may also attend, if agreed in advance with the inspector. In some circumstances, an 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 or quality 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 manager 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.

Feedback to young people

Inspectors should give feedback to young people in a way that’s appropriate to their age and understanding. Inspectors make particular efforts to address matters raised by young people.