Saturday, 30 July 2016

A 5 point primer on how to subvert your local area inspection

You want to impress Ofsted and the CQC. You've spent months preparing, but you know your services just aren't up to scratch. What can you do to get through the inspection? Here are some handy hints, in no particular order, from North Yorkshire's recent inspection.

1 Ensure that you minimise the feedback of independent or out of area (OOA) providers when Ofsted comes calling. These OOA providers generally have to pick up the pieces when a council has failed a child and can provide Ofsted with, frankly, awkward insights into gaps in services and details of the fights families have to endure to find appropriate provision. This will spoil the narrative you will have created of a successful service meeting the needs of the SEND population. The method employed by North Yorkshire is simple and can pay off handsomely, but is high risk in that you may be found out - plus you have to directly ignore a request from Ofsted:

The Local Area Inspection Handbook says Ofsted/CQC will :
request that the local authority ensures that providers within the local area, and those outside of this area but within the local offer, are made aware of the inspection and how they can contribute their views. Ofsted and CQC will provide a draft letter for this purpose, which may be adapted as necessary by the local area (p6)
It's a request right? Everyone knows requests don't have to be followed. Simply ignore it. This can pay off big time. North Yorkshire potentially took 101 OOA providers out of the inspection process in one fell swoop. Boom! You can do it too!

If you are found out, fess up but push the responsibility onto others. This wording may help:
They [out of area providers] were not directly informed of the inspection. The inspection team were made aware of the use of out of county placements used by NYCC so they could pursue further discussions as required. Parents and carers were made aware of the inspection via NYPACT and the Virtual Reference Group and we are aware that this will have included notification to some of our parents and carers of children in out of county placements.
You can follow that for good measure with:
They were not directly contacted although Inspectors were made aware of the numbers and types of placements used and indeed visited one such placement.
Give them numbers and types - that will be fine. Don't worry about informing Ofsted you haven't complied - that would really be foolish as that would defeat the purpose of this approach. And don't bother telling parents or the local Parent Carer Forum you are relying on them to notify OOA providers about the inspection either. This too will work against your aims. Handily, you can use this method for independent providers within your local area too.

2 Closely related to 1, this plays on the loose (some might say naive) wording from the Local Area Handbook. The qualifying phrase here is "within the local offer". So, if an OOA provider isn't in the local offer, it doesn't have to be informed, right? This is a green light for stripping your local offer back to council services only. Sure, this runs counter to the SEND Code of Practice, which says:
4.4 The Local Offer must include provision in the local authority’s area. It must also include provision outside the local area that the local authority expects is likely to be used by children and young people with SEN for whom they are responsible and disabled children and young people.
but you have to take chances your where you can. If you are caught out, the best approach is to quickly reverse your position:
The Local Offer contains the list of establishments approved for educational purposes by the secretary of state (section 41 list); additionally, as links are provided to other Local Authority’s Local Offers, all providers within these Authorities are included within the North Yorkshire Local Offer
This is dizzyingly good, though Ofsted may notice the lack of OOA providers in your local offer during the inspection. It is a risk you will just have to take. This method has the added bonus of reducing the amount of useful information parents can access about independent or out of area providers, which, as we all know, could cost you money down the line.

3 If you are asked about specific providers that should be included in the local offer, but really you don't want parents to know about, make sure they don't show up in your local offer's search facility. Reply with confidence to any request. For example:
The Lighthouse School is shown in the local Offer. 

This should hopefully confuse Ofsted for the length of the inspection and give the impression your Local Offer is more comprehensive than it actually is. Helpfully, it can throw parents off too.

4 Annoyingly, it will be well nigh impossible to ignore Ofsted's request to inform parents about the inspection. It will notice. I know parents can make things difficult with their grievances and complaints and requests that you follow the law and not your own policies and whatnot. The best you can realistically do is get parents to feedback via yourselves, rather than directly to Ofsted. That way you will have a chance to get your excuses ready before you pass the information on to Ofsted. Get your local PCF behind this approach. Win!

5 This is where you can really shine. Every local authority can submit to Ofsted a self assessment of the local area. It will be expected. This is where you establish your narrative about how great you are. Be realistic, you may have to cop to some minor failings (you always have a plan in place to deal with them at some unspecified future date, right?) but go to town! Realistically, this is going to take a team of crack managers many months to get right, but this prolonged turd polishing will be worth it!  With so many departments and organisations involved, you are likely to have to circulate a series of drafts, with your team making in document comments as you go. Remember, emphasise how well things are working by ignoring the crap bits and overplaying what an excellent service you are providing. The key words to have in mind here are DISTORTION, be SELECTIVE and don't forget, think OMISSION.

Here are some examples from draft 7 of North Yorkshire's self evaluation, to give you a flavour of  the team's thought processes:

Now the big risk here is that parents may find out about your drafts. This could really give the impression you are an untrustworthy organisation that will do anything to keep Ofsted from finding out the truth about your services. You could be really screwed. You do not want parents sending a draft to Ofsted in advance of your inspection. Oh no. This cannot be allowed to happen. If you receive a request, deploy the following tactics.

If the request says:
Please publish all self-evaluations the council has undertaken for the purposes of being inspected by Ofsted under the new framework for the inspection of local areas’ effectiveness in identifying and meeting the needs of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities.
You can easily deny any such document exists, because even though you have created a document for this very purpose, the Inspection Handbook says :
Any self-evaluation that is provided should be part of the local area’s usual business processes and not generated solely for inspection purposes.
so you can pretend your version is part of your "usual business processes". Decide you have no knowledge of Section 16 of the Freedom of Information Act which requires you to provide reasonable advice and assistance.

On no account must you write in your draft assessment:
 The assessment was started by the Authority’s Inclusion Service based on the Ofsted local area Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) consultation document published in October 2015,
as this will give the game away. Try replying with this formulation:
Please note the Ofsted framework was only published at the end of April and as such we did not have a self-evaluation "for the purposes of being inspected by Ofsted under the new framework". We are in the process of revising our self-assessment to reflect the new framework and this will be released in a draft format in the next month for consultation with partners and stakeholders.
Do not realise any drafts. Remember, at this point you are playing with semantics. If parents happen to get hold of a version by some other means, it is time to lock and load. You must ignore all Freedom of Information legislation at this point and hit them with this:
The number on the document you received is just a number for internal version control, there are no previous versions of this as the framework was only released at the end of April. Versions one to six were early drafts of the document and were superseded by version 7, therefore the version number is like an “as at date.” We have only done one
self-assessment against the new framework.
Magnificent! Do not release any drafts. Do not inform parents they can appeal this decision. Hopefully you will have confused the parents by the audacious use of contradictory statements and the knowledge it will take 6 months to get the drafts via the Information Commissioner's Office anyway. They will simply go away.

Good luck!

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