Children: Social Services

Department for Education written question – answered on 27th May 2022.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what powers he has to compel children's services in England to improve when they have been judged by Ofsted to (a) be inadequate and (b) require improvement to be good.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

In line with the department’s intervention policy which is set out in its ‘Putting Children First’ guidance, whenever Ofsted finds children’s social care services to be inadequate, an adviser is provided to diagnose problems and support the local authority on its improvement journey. The guidance is available here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/554573/Putting_children_first_delivering_vision_excellent_childrens_social_care.pdf. The department would expect most of those local authorities to improve with support and challenge from experts.

If there is insufficient improvement in a local authority’s performance, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, may issue an improvement notice. The improvement notice requires the local authority to take steps to improve its services for children, such as putting an improvement plan in place to address areas of weakness identified by Ofsted. Improvement notices may be issued as a way of forewarning a local authority of a future statutory direction if there is no improvement in its performance.

Should the local authority be unwilling or unable to comply with an improvement notice, or if ministers are not satisfied with the local authority’s progress at any stage, the Secretary of State may choose to invoke his statutory powers of intervention (under Section 497A of the Education Act 1996) by issuing a statutory direction. The Secretary of State can issue directions to ensure that functions are performed to an adequate standard, such as directing the local authority to set up an improvement board or appointing a children’s services commissioner to work with the local authority to help secure improvement.

A children’s services commissioner is usually appointed when local authority failure is systemic (an inadequate rating across all three of Ofsted’s key judgments in one report) or has become persistent (two or more inadequate judgments within five years), to determine whether the local authority has the capacity and capability to retain and improve children’s social care services in a reasonable timeframe. If not, the Section 497A power can also be used to direct that children’s social care services will be removed from local authority control for a period of time and transferred to a different organisation, usually a trust, in order to secure sustainable improvement.

The department’s improvement programme also seeks to identify and work collaboratively with local authorities where children’s services have been judged ‘Requires Improvement’, providing targeted support to help them improve the services they provide to vulnerable children. The department has increased the amount of funded sector-led improvement activity that can be delivered from 2021 by expanding our cohort of strong performing local authorities to work as sector-led improvement partners.

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