Swindon Borough Council media release logo

Councillors will be asked to endorse a plan to improve Swindon Borough Council’s Children’s Services after it was judged to be inadequate by Ofsted earlier this year.

The Council’s Cabinet will be presented with the draft transformation plan at its meeting next Wednesday (13 Dec) and, if supported, it will then be signed off by the Department for Education Improvement Board.

Swindon’s Children’s Services is subject to a statutory Improvement notice which sets out what it must do and who it is to work with to ensure improvement in the areas identified by Ofsted following its inspection in July.

In its report, Ofsted noted “a significant deterioration in the quality and impact of services for children in Swindon” since the last inspection in 2019 where services were given an overall grading of ‘Good’.

Although inspectors highlighted areas of strong practice in services for disabled children, those on the edge of care, those who are privately fostered and children who receive services from the virtual school, there were a number of weaknesses identified.

The report said that “too many children are left with unassessed needs and risks and plans that drift, and they experience too many changes of social worker” and that “children are not matched with permanent carers quickly enough”.

Inspectors recognised the work which was already underway to improve services and that the new Corporate Director of Children’s Services had led a more rigorous and accurate appraisal of the quality of service provision.

Although Ofsted recognised this as a positive, inspectors said improvements had been largely very recent and so had not, at the time of the inspection, had a significant impact.

Following the inspection, the Council has continued to build on its existing transformation plan to ensure that it fully captures the recommendations contained within the Ofsted report.

The actions outlined in the plan when completed will, with partner agencies, ensure that children, young people and their families in Swindon benefit from high quality services leading to good outcomes for all.

The plan also focuses on managing demand for services and reducing the reliance on expensive care placements. In a recent Finance Peer Challenge, the Local Government Association highlighted how the Council needs to bring its Children’s Services budget under control if it is going to succeed in achieving long-term financial stability.

The draft improvement plan focuses on four key foundations. These include:

  • Practice: Improve the quality of practice with our children and families to enable improved outcomes at every level of need.
  • People: Ensure we have a stable experienced workforce who are well supported with opportunities to learn and develop their careers.
  • Place: Ensure we are able to provide excellent homes for our children and young people within the local area that meet their identified and future needs.
  • Process: Improve the quality of our management and data systems so we are able to use evidence to drive our improvement.

Action has already been taken to ensure the Council’s ‘front door’ is safe so that families get the right support at the right time, from the Council and its partners.

Work to recruit committed, permanent social workers and managers has continued to improve outcomes for children and young people, while there has been a drive to recruit more foster carers in Swindon so children have the chance to maintain their family networks, friendships, and links to their wider communities.

The Children’s Services Improvement Board, which met for the first time on Tuesday (5 Dec), is being overseen by an independent chair and tasked with providing effective governance, oversight and challenge of the improvement plan and programme of work. This will ensure that all the recommendations outlined in the Ofsted report are responded to and the plan improves outcomes for children and young people in Swindon.

The Board includes council officers, the Leader of the Council, the Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Care, strategic leaders from multi-agency partners, as well as the Local Government Association, a sector lead improvement partner, and the Department for Education Improvement Advisor.

The Board is meeting every six weeks. A Delivery Board, chaired by the Director of Children’s Services will continue to sit below the Improvement Board, and will monitor the priority workstreams that make up the Improvement and Transformation plan. The Improvement Plan will continue to receive regular oversight from councillors through Cabinet and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Regular meetings will also be held with the DfE and the Council’s Sector Led Improvement Partner to evaluate progress and impact.

Ofsted will return to undertake a monitoring visit in February or March, and will return to Swindon every three to four months to track the progress of improvement.

Councillor Paul Dixon, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Care, said: “This transformation plan is an important priority for the Council and I will be encouraging my fellow Cabinet Members to give it their full backing when we meet next week.

“We have included Ofsted’s recommendations within our existing plan and are fully committed to driving improvement throughout our Children’s Services department.

“Council officers are working tirelessly to ensure children, young people and their families achieve better outcomes at all stages of their lives and our partners have also played an important role in contributing to the plan and the wider transformation work.

“I look forward to seeing the robust corporate partnership approach we now have in place deliver real change for those who rely on our support.”