England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

An inspector calls


It was an early start on Day Three of the marathon Children and Adult Services conference in Harrogate this week, but the leaders of people services were still wide awake. 

And with good reason. Secretary of State for Children, Ed Balls was first up that morning and got short shrift for his refusal to reduce bureaucracy in the inspection and record keeping regime. 

Uncharacteristically, Balls looked visibly shaken as the Q & A session turned into a heated exchange. The audience loudly applauded a BASW delegate who asked pointedly why social workers have to use 80 percent of their time servicing a machine which has “nothing to do with social work and everything to do with keeping a really ineffective inspection regime operating in a way that does not support work with children and families”.

But this was a mere warm up for the most anticipated session of the conference, ominously entitled ‘Meet the Inspectors’. Just the day before, delegates at a meeting on safeguarding had been complaining that Ofsted had implemented a series of unannounced inspections, failed to inform local authorities of changes to their inspection criteria, and then condemned them all anyway for poor serious case review process. 

 At this point Hampshire DCS John Coughlan delighted members by addressing a couple of pertinent football terrace chants to Ofsted: “you don’t know what you’re doing” and “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”. 

 No wonder at the disco the night before delegates were seen practicing ninja turtle kung fu moves, perhaps in preparation for the next day’s session.

 But as Ofsted’s Christine Gilbert took to the stage, along with Steve Bundred (Audit Commission) and Cynthia Blower (Care Quality Commission), delegates’ anger turned to embarrassment.  

 Gilbert had a real opportunity to conduct a meaningful dialogue with the other inspectorates and leaders of children’s services. Instead she simply read out a selection of testimonials from directors of children’s services, each given at the conclusion of their respective inspections. The frustration of the audience was charitably attributed to nerves rather than cynicism. 

As for my colleagues at the LGiU, our call for a national college of social work to fight the profession’s corner has never seemed more timely or relevant.

If you want to participate in the timely debate on how to transform children’s services to improve the lives of children, young people and their families, then please attend the LGiU’s Children’s Services Network annual conference on 11th November. For details please contact Jasmine.Ali@csn.info