An article in Children and Young People Now reports that Ofsted is to require failing councils to produce a draft improvement plan within 20 days, as opposed to the existing arrangement of 70 days.
To some that may sound like good news, because prompt action sounds business-like. But to my mind it is likely to encourage a rush to judgement and even more top-down imposition of so-called ‘improvements’.
When things go wrong in an organisation, and the quality of its services declines, the first thing to do is to put in hand activities which will establish what has gone wrong and why. That’s what I call ‘analysis’ – understanding the extent and causes of poor quality. Now whatever else it is, analysis is not easy. It requires reflection and self-criticism and insight. It requires data collection and probing and evaluation. It requires thought – lots of it. And it requires time.
Shooting from the hip happens when management reacts to a situation too rapidly: quick, we need to act, do something. Nearly always shooting from the hip leads to more problems than it solves. There is one thing worse than not tackling a problem; it is tackling the wrong problem.
Twenty days is a very short period of time – less than three weeks. I would guess that rapidly composed improvement plans will be disproportionately influenced by senior managers, because there will not be time to include people across the organisation in a rush to get the plan agreed. That means that it is likely that the people who know most about the extent and causes of poor quality – those who work at the front line of service provision – will not be involved. And when senior managers begin to implement their plan it is more likely than not that it will not be received with enthusiasm by practitioners. It is likely to appear to them as being off-target and unrealistic.
The key to better children’s services is not flash-in-the-pan rapid reaction. It is systematic, careful and insightful analysis. Somehow I don’t think that Ofsted and the Government have learnt that yet.