Saturday, 9 June 2012

Is Ofsted doing a good job?

As I sat in a not very good restaurant next to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, my mind turned from the indifferent risotto mare to the indifferent Ofsted report I had been reading that afternoon.  I should explain - I am not in Italy to read Ofsted reports. Far from it with the Uffizi a mere stone's throw away, I have better things to do.  But a very unpleasant chest infection acquired en route to Italy had left me confined to the hotel room for most of the day.  What better to do when you have a bad chest and a temperature than read a report on safeguarding in the London Borough of Sutton? On the surface of it this Ofsted report is no different to the many that brand safeguarding in local authorities 'inadequate'. It is liberally peppered with all the usual platitudes. Apparently management failed to challenge sufficiently, leading to poor practice and outcomes (a familiar refrane) and (surprise, surprise) the quality of assessments and plans was generally poor. Nor is the report different in its mealy mouthed recommendations. The one I 'liked' the most was: "ensure that all child protection plans clearly identify what needs to change, by when and what contingencies are in place if change is not forthcoming" The inspector might as well have said: "ensure all staff have perfect knowledge of the future"! To be fair this report was based on an 'old style' inspection conducted in April, but I am really quite concerned that the gap between Ofsted thinking and what is required of any 'new style' inspection regime is too big to overcome. The Munro Review, conceives child protection practice as requiring the ability to think outside the box. Assessments and decisions are made on the basis that information is soft and uncertain. Professionals need to be flexible and willing to revise their opinions in the light of new evidence. Osted seems to think that they need to complete the 'what needs to change' box 100% of the time. It only took a little bit of ferreting away on Google to find Ofsted's John Goldup's statement about the new inspection regime for child protection which began in May.  While he concedes the need for a more child focused approach, he does not mention a systems approach. If the central core of Munros's thinking is that we only learn to avoid errors (e.g. through a serious case review) by discovering the features of organisations, working practices and systems, which predispose to error, then it seems very odd to me that the the inspectorate's approach to quality (the opposite of error)fails to take that into account. But it seems that Ofsted may be stuck in the past, still conceiving errors as causes not consequences and still conceiving the approach to safer practice as being person-centred - i.e. focused on individual failures and management's inability to achieve compliance with rules and procedures. Perhaps that's why Ofsted reports continue to hunt out poor assessments and incomplete plans.