Behind the professional façade of the Ofsted inspector are people working under incredible pressure to deliver an evaluation of the local authority, or registered home, at incredible break neck speed. What is it like on the other side? Ten minutes in the day of an Ofsted inspector.
“You look terrified. We are looking at this case together. Your manager is hovering nervously. Actually I have a high respect for you, because I know you do a difficult job and I have been in your shoes too. I am trying to be friendly so that you are put at ease and will talk to me openly, but actually we both know that I am not your friend. We both know that this conversation could have consequences for senior managers further up the organisation. But what you probably don’t realise is that the stakes are also high for Ofsted if I get this wrong.
I really want to understand what sort of service a child gets here. But its a challenge to get my head around the case quickly, and your slowness of speech and the long delays of the computer are silently driving me crazy. Inside I want you to hurry up so we can get to the point, but I can’t show you that. In fact I can’t afford to let you see a hint of my irritation, so I have to chivvy you along as nicely as possible. I don’t want a complaint.
I am listening to you and trying to work out if you really understand this child, their needs and have thought through the right interventions to support him. So far you are doing okay. I’m trying to understand what it is like to work here, and what support you get? You seem to be primed, because you tell me that your supervision is reflective and regular, and that your case loads are manageable. But somehow we have just seen that you have had the barest of supervision on this case over the last 3 months. I make a note in my book – “supervision, irregular, lacks reflection, or sufficient focus on the child’s needs, plans are not time bound or followed up”.
I’ve just seen your care plan. It covers the basics but it is vague and full of timeframes like “on going”. I ask you about smart outcome focused planning. You are not sure how to respond. I make another note in my book “plan has appropriate actions, but is insufficiently specific or time bound”. I check for examples of drift, and there have been some delays. The point is underscored by “…and leads to drift in achieving outcomes”.
The biggest concern that I have seen though, is the unplanned placement moves, and the quick succession of placement break downs. You reassure me that you matched these carefully and held placement stability meetings, but we only find one written up. I remember that the performance shows that the short term stability rate is too high here.
I have to wrap this up and make some bullet points findings in my notebook. Later I will be recording these long into the evening on Ofsted’s electronic recording system, called the SEA. Tomorrow I need to report these back to senior managers, and expect challenges. The pace is incessant.
I catch your manager on the way out, and try to give a balanced summary of findings, both good and areas that require improvement to be good. I let him know that I grade the case as requires improvement. He nods and listens courteously and then shows me the way out.
As I leave I am wondering how the local authority is tackling the high placement moves, and what difference the corporate parenting board is making here. It occurs to me that no-one has mentioned it yet in any of my discussions. Then I think – oh, I wish I had asked directly about that. But its too late. Time had been tight and extracting these findings has been hard enough. The next appointment beckons.
An ex Ofsted inspector.