The Ofsted Social Care Annual Report – Changing the narrative

NAVSH response to the Ofsted social care annual report 2016

NAVSH welcomes this report, which includes some important and hard-hitting messages. The report describes judgements made during inspections of local authorities carried out under the single inspection framework on social care services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers. NAVSH supports the conclusion that all local authorities should be asked to invest in early help, as there is clear evidence of this being associated with better outcomes.

In relation to the observations and findings in the section ‘Experiences and progress of children looked after’, NAVSH wholeheartedly welcomes this report. There has been a definite shift in the narrative that demonstrates improved sensitivity to and awareness of the lives of children in care, for example:

“These are children whose childhoods have not been like most other children’s… It tells us little to only compare this group of children with children whose lives have been happy and secure.” (page 10)

“Care can be good for children”

This headline is helpful and is clearly influenced by the findings of the Rees Centre / University of Bristol research project published as‘ The Educational Progress of Children Looked After in England: Linking Care and Educational Data’. NAVSH welcomes a public acknowledgement that the simplistic narrative that care is bad for children and young people is simply incorrect.

NAVSH regions have been working with regional Ofsted and HMI on the debate around agreeing appropriate wide-ranging care and education outcomes. This work is an example of ADCS President Dave Hill’s commitment to change the narrative around children in care. NAVSH is clear that this must not in any way dilute ambitions to improve attainment, or to be defensive around the ‘gap‘ with peers but it is a recognition that:

“While more could be done while children are looked after, new evidence from research this year makes it clear that it is not being looked after that is the cause of educational underperformance. Comparing children looked after with children in need, rather than with all children, shows that the former make better progress at school. This is particularly true of children who are looked after for longer and for those who entered care earlier. Children looked after are also less likely to be absent from school and are less likely to be permanently excluded.” (Para 112)

Some of the children who do not reach good outcomes at first do so in the end, but in their own time. We should still be determined to see them do better in their lives than other children in similar positions have done in the past. (Page 8)

Where practice is strong

It is reassuring and powerful recognition of the growing influence and impact of Virtual School Heads that Ofsted have acknowledged:

“In a significant majority of the local authorities inspected under the single inspection this year, inspectors commented positively on the contribution of virtual school headteachers.” (Para 114)

NAVSH is working across the whole VSH community with the aim of ensuring that the many Virtual Schools that are working well can support and challenge their peers where there is yet more to do.

The six bullet points in paragraph 115 are particularly well-framed and could be a priority blueprint for any new Virtual School Head, and should be included in every Virtual School Head’s Annual Report. It is especially reassuring that there is a clear overlap with the seven NAVSH Research and Improvement Priorities for 2016-17.

• Rates of progress and attainment –Yes
• Work collaboratively with partners –Yes
• Track closely educational progress –Yes
• Use pupil premium imaginatively – Yes
• Support training for carers and designated teachers Yes

NAVSH has not included PEPs as one of our priority targets but they are integral to our work, have been for a number of years and will continue to be so.

It is pleasing to read about the improved proportion of children’s homes that have been judged good or outstanding.

The report acknowledges that 75% of children in our care live in foster homes not inspected by Ofsted. It is, of course, within the VSH remit to ensure that education is part of foster carers’ training, and that there is an expectation by individual foster carers for children and young people in their care that they will attend school, and that foster carers should actively support children in their care to achieve the best educational outcomes..

NAVSH would want to highlight two key areas where a difference is being made but more can be done:

“We know placement stability is best achieved through effective care planning. This year, less than half of local authorities were found to be providing consistently good care planning.” (Para 87)

NAVSH believes that Virtual School Heads should always be involved when a new care placement is being considered. Educational stability must be considered at the same time as stability of care placement. Emergency short-notice care placement moves are relatively rare.


“Schools and Virtual School Heads should play a role in supporting the emotional well-being of children looked after. We have observed a number of examples where pupil premium funding has been used creatively to support children’s emotional well- being and in doing so, promotes progress at school.” (Para 105)

As the majority of Virtual School Heads would shout from the rooftops, they certainly do play a strong part in the role of supporting the emotional wellbeing of children in their care. NAVSH and individual Virtual School Heads have repeatedly highlighted the impact of attachment and trauma on learning and the importance of schools being ‘attachment aware’. NAVSH was represented on the NICE attachment guidelines working group. This is a key priority for NAVSH and we will continue to work to influence national policy in this area, one such example being ongoing discussions with the DfE on the soon-to-be-published advice to schools and teachers on classroom and emotional behaviour management. Another example is the evidence provided by Tony Clifford to the Parliamentary Committee on the mental health of looked after children.

The report raises concerns about adolescents, the ‘ages of concern’, and notes:

“The focus is on behaviour, rather than trying to understand the causes of the behaviour and need for support.”

NAVSH strongly believes that all professionals working with children and young people should ‘’try to understand the causes’ that lead to behaviour problems, and then to provide appropriate support rather than sanctions. NAVSH believes that this is a far more effective approach in both the short and long term.

Inspection and the future

How might we change the narrative further by the time the fourth Annual Report is published? In the first instance, NAVSH will respond to the invitation to help in the development of a common inspection framework for the inspection of different social care settings. The focus on the quality of relationships looks set to be part of the new framework and we very much welcome this. There will be far greater focus on the experiences of children and young people and their involvement in local strategies.

Children feel safe when the people who care for them are able to meet their needs fully and they have a good relationship with those around them.

This is why NAVSH and VSHs will strive to maintain the stability of school placements, reducing exclusions and limiting school moves, so as to enable positive relationships in schools, both with adults and peers, to develop and provide the support needed.


Alan Clifton | NAVSH Chair

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