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Action research into improvement in local children's services

Final research report, Spring 2016

In 2012, Ofsted introduced a new single inspection framework for children’s services. At the time this action research began (January 2016), 78 local children’s services had been inspected, of which 20 had been found inadequate, 41 were deemed to require improvement, and 17 were judged good. During the time this research was carried out, further inspections have taken place, with two members of the tri-borough authority – Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster – becoming the first local children’s services departments to receive outstanding judgements under the current framework. The new single inspection framework has not been without controversy. Nevertheless, the profile of inspection outcomes suggests that there is a need for system-wide improvement in children’s services. Understanding how best to enable and support that improvement has been the focus of this research.

This project was commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA), and has sought to answer two central questions.
a. What are the key enablers of (and barriers to) improvement in local children’s services?
b. How can the system as a whole facilitate and support improvement in local children’s services?

This has been done by working in depth with a small sample of nine local areas, at different points on their improvement journeys. We carried out visits to each of these nine local areas, and engaged senior children’s services leaders in two sets of action research workshops. As well as informing the findings set out in this report, these discussions have also enabled us focus on specific improvement activities that each local area has been working on in real time. These have been captured in the case studies in the annex to this report, and have been used to illustrate key points throughout the report. As well as working with the nine local areas, we have also gathered views from a range of national stakeholders and senior leaders in eight other local areas.