Social care: Ofsted slams joint working as schools ‘isolated’

Watchdog says 'more needs to be done so that agencies see schools as a key partner'

Watchdog says 'more needs to be done so that agencies see schools as a key partner'

7 Nov 2023, 16:03

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Ofsted says join-up between schools and partner agencies is 'weak'

Ofsted has criticised “weak” joint working between social care, police, health services and schools, as heads reported they were “too often working in isolation” to keep children safe.

The inspectorate has published new research based on joint inspections in five areas of the multi-agency response to children and families who need help, in particular targeted early help.

It warned that the sample of inspections, which took place in Bedford, Sunderland, Surrey, Wirral and Harrow, was not “nationally representative”.

Ofsted found local safeguarding partnerships needed to ensure “greater engagement and strategic consensus” with partner agencies, “particularly schools”.

The research found that “join-up between schools or other education providers and partner agencies was weak”.

This was despite schools having a “critical role to play”, with the watchdog adding that “more needs to be done so that agencies see them as a key partner”.

Government social care reforms should therefore “remain responsive” to a “lack of multi-agency working, particularly with schools”.

Official data shows that last year, schools were the second most common source of referrals to children’s social care.

They have been in the top three sources of referral every year since at least 2014.

Ofsted said schools were “well placed to spot the earliest signs of a family in need of help” and could provide “appropriate help in a non-intrusive way”.

Ofsted finds ‘good practice’ in schools

Inspectors saw “good practice” by schools and evidence of positive outcomes for children.

But school leaders told inspectors that they were “too often” working in isolation to keep vulnerable children safe.

They added that communications they had with children’s social care, health services or police were “not consistent or that strategic connections were missing”.

Ofsted also found a lack of knowledge about Operation Encompass, a cross-partnership information-sharing programme that enables police to inform schools about domestic abuse incidents.

In a few cases, the system was not being implemented “effectively” and oversight groups had “not identified” this issue.

One area did not know that not all schools had signed up to the scheme.

In its conclusion, the report noted that there needed to be a “shared understanding” of what early help is among all relevant professionals and partners, “including schools”.

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