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Five priorities for Ofsted’s next chief inspector - LGC

The Secretary of State for Education has nominated Sir Martyn Oliver as Ofsted’s next chief inspector. This recommendation will need to be approved by parliament following a pre-appointment hearing in the coming weeks. The next His Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) will inherit a full in-tray and will need to hit the ground running. However, I’ve listed some issues that I think need particular focus.

Building an inclusive education system

Our current school system is fragmented and overlaid with an accountability system that does not reward inclusive practices, this has led to high levels of school exclusions and a widening of the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged children and their peers. It has also led to far too many children moving out of mainstream education. This is not in children’s best interests, particularly learners with special educational needs and those who need additional support to engage with the curriculum. Our children need a more coherent school system that works for them, whatever their needs, wherever they live. Ofsted has a role in helping to shape such a system, inspection regimes need to incentivise and reward true inclusion, set within an accountability framework that appropriately aligns with the responsibilities that each partner holds. One of the Association’s priorities for the year ahead is to articulate what a truly inclusive education system looks like, and we plan to publish a policy position paper on this in the autumn.

The children’s social care reform agenda.

There is a lot on the horizon in terms of children’s social care with government’s recently published reform agenda, Stable Homes, Built on Love. Local authority children’s services, up and down the country, support thousands of children and families each day, keeping them safe from harm and there is much good work taking place across the country, as evidenced by inspections. However, we can all agree the system needs urgent change and directors of children’s services want to work with government, and others, to achieve this. The government’s reforms propose revised Family Help arrangements, and the early involvement of Ofsted, and other relevant inspectorates, around new ways of working will be crucial. A revised regulatory framework will be required in order to realise the government’s vision.

Places for children to live

It will be key that the next HMCI continues to be engaged across the whole breadth of the services they are responsible for and recognises some of the real challenges facing children’s social care, such as insufficient funding, a lack of places for children to live and the need for more up to date regulations to meet children’s needs. While the unintended consequences of the ongoing reforms to semi-independent homes for 16-17 year olds are still somewhat unknown, a recent report by the County Councils Network and the London Improvement and Innovation Alliance, suggests that as a result of the introduction of the registration and inspection regime, the sector could potentially lose 20% capacity with the costs of provision increasing between 15-30%. We need to ensure that the system wide consequences of regulation are fully understood and therefore the government should reconsider the timescale for implementation.

High stakes accountability system

We continue to work in a high stakes accountability system in education and children’s services, sadly this has been highlighted by recent tragic events which has resulted in calls from many for school inspection reform. It’s important the inspectorate considers the impact of regulation and inspection on those it inspects. The consequences of inspection are disproportionate and have a significant role in the workforce sufficiency challenges we face.

Inspection should have a positive impact at a system level and be grounded in improving outcomes for children and young people. That is not currently the case across the breadth of inspection activity undertaken by Ofsted. However, I should be clear the regulatory framework is set by the DfE for Ofsted to inspect against. To address these issues is beyond the direct remit of Ofsted and needs a broader discussion and better understanding of the problems created by the current model.

Single worded judgments for local authority children’s services

It is right that local authorities are inspected and accountable for the work that we do with children and families. Our members value the robust and effective inspection of our services as part of the continuous improvement journey. However, the services we lead are complex and single worded judgements are not appropriate as they cannot capture the breadth of activity covered. They only tell a partial story and cannot capture the outcomes for children in their respective areas. We have similar concerns about gradings for new area-based inspections for SEND. The Association’s preference for a wholly narrative judgement is well documented and this takes me back to ‘what is inspection for’. Currently it is too focused on hard edged organisational and individual accountability rather than balancing that against system learning and even more critically making things better for children and young people.

ADCS continues to work constructively with Ofsted for the benefit of children and their families. We look forward to working with the next chief inspector when they take up the new role.

John Pearce, ADCS President, 2023/24

This article first appeared in LGC on 29 August - John Pearce: Five priorities for Ofsted’s next chief inspector | Local Government Chronicle (LGC) (lgcplus.com)


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