BLOG- Devon County Council – Children’s Scrutiny and Ofsted
An Ofsted monitoring visit letter to Devon in July 2021 stated that the “quality and effectiveness of scrutiny and critical challenge provided by elected members and the corporate centre are not yet fully developed”. This challenge offered a timely opportunity to review practice, learn from other authorities and identify areas for improvement for our Children’s Scrutiny Committee. To build a picture of what ‘good’ looks like we conducted desk-based research into the working practices of other authorities and their relationship with Ofsted. This included looking for common threads and themes where Scrutiny was mentioned and the relationship between an Ofsted rating and Children’s scrutiny functions.
We created a Children’s Scrutiny Action Plan to review and sharpen the scrutiny function. Actions included more prioritisation of the agenda to focus on the key concerns, introducing a performance report to ensure oversight of the service, upskilling Members on good questioning and active engagement and reducing the number of meetings to focus on tangible outcomes and improvements. We continue to employ an independent Special Advisor to support critical friend challenge for the Committee. Councillors also completed a tour of the County to visit frontline staff to listen to their concerns and drive improvements.
In our most recent letter in July 2022, Scrutiny was praised: “the local authority’s scrutiny committee provides robust challenge to senior leaders. Elected members are taking the shortfalls identified at the previous monitoring visit seriously and are now asking questions better targeted to ensuring that services for children and their families improve”. Officers have praised Scrutiny for getting the right balance between support and challenge and the candid culture when speaking to Scrutiny.
Councillor Rob Hannaford, Chair of the Children’s Scrutiny Committee, stated in response to the comments in September 2022 that “the Children’s Scrutiny Committee has always taken Children’s Services seriously because it’s such an important, vital area of the Council’s work…it is nice to know we are doing our best to scrutinise the service robustly and give the service the right challenge. There is a huge amount of work still to do but this encourages elected Members to continue to do their job”.