Ofsted has noted 'sustained progress' is being made by Together for Children, since the company took over the management of children’s services in April this year.
In Ofsted’s first monitoring visit to the new company, and the fourth monitoring visit to Sunderland since services were judged to be inadequate in July 2015, the inspectors noted that they ‘continued to see progress in practice and performance since the last monitoring visit’.
The visit, in mid-June, looked at the leadership, management and governance of the newly formed company and the impact on ensuring improvement, effective strategies and good-quality services for children.
Inspectors focussed on assessing the effectiveness of partnership working with other strategic bodies, the new company’s arrangements to comply with statutory guidance and establish effective governance and strategic planning, performance management, plus the quality of management and the arrangements to ensure a stable and qualified workforce.
In her follow up letter, Fiona Millns, who led the inspection team, said: “Overall Together for Children are making sustained progress in their improvement of services to children and families.”
She went on to add: “There is a clear vision in Sunderland for the delivery of children’s services through the recently established company. The new arrangements are supported by strong governance and backing from the local authority and partners. Performance management and quality assurance processes are increasingly effective in driving improvement in services and there has been sustained progress.”
Commenting on the findings, Alex Hopkins, Chief Executive of Together for Children, said: “It is encouraging that Ofsted have recognised the progress we have made in their visit, which came just two months after the new company was officially launched.
“While there remains much to be done as we continue on our improvement journey, the findings from this visit make for another important step forward.”
Councillor Paul Watson, the Leader of Sunderland City Council, added: “We’re pleased that following this latest visit, Ofsted have concluded that in partnership with Together for Children we are continuing to make steady progress.
"There is still much to do to get services to the level our children and young people deserve but we are continuing to work hard to achieve this and are confident that we are on the right track for future improvements.”
During their visit, inspectors spoke to social workers and managers from the new company. They also met with the chair of Together for Children, elected members and the chief executive of Sunderland City Council, plus the chair of the local safeguarding children board.
Reporting on their findings, the inspectors also noted:
- Together for Children is underpinned by clear governance and management arrangements.
- Social workers spoke positively about working in Sunderland and the support they receive.
- All senior management positions within the new company are held by experienced strategic officers from diverse backgrounds.
- The chief executive of Sunderland City Council runs regular performance clinics to scrutinise performance and hold officers to account.
- All 75 elected members of Sunderland City Council understand the new model of delivery of children’s services.
- The local authority arrangements for scrutiny have been strengthened and demonstrate appropriate challenge by elected members.
Inspectors also noted a number of areas where there still needs to be further improvement, in particular focussing on the need to recruit more permanent social workers to the new company.
With regard to staffing, the inspectors noted that ‘staff turnover is a significant challenge to maintaining consistent oversight and direction’ but went on to add: “The clear and well-focused recruitment and retention strategy has clear objectives to meet recruitment targets, retrain staff and minimise risk to children during periods of change.”
To address the issue, Together for Children has recruited eight additional permanent social workers and five new managers, while another 18 newly qualified social workers are due to start work in September and a recruitment campaign is ongoing.
Councillor Louise Farthing, Portfolio Holder for Children's Services, said: “We have seen some significant progress since the Ofsted report in July 2015, but I am under no illusion that we still have a lot further to go in improving services for the children and young people we work with. Everyone at the new company and the Council is firmly committed to continuing our improvement.”
Deborah Jenkins, chair of the Together for Children board, added: “I’m pleased to see our progress to date recognised in this latest Ofsted visit. The efforts of staff from across the new company, who are working hard to improve life chances of children and young people across the city, must be appreciated as they continue to work hard to engage with partners and improve the service we offer.”