Wigan Council expects to lose "good" Ofsted rating for children's services

A "mass exodus" of social workers at Wigan council is now under control – but the children’s services department still expects to lose its "good" Ofsted rating.
Colette DuttonColette Dutton
Colette Dutton

The number of social workers leaving the local authority in the first six months of 2021 was 60 per cent lower than in the same period in the previous year – and the number of those joining the council has increased by 20 per cent during that time.

In total, 26 new social workers have been recruited over the last six months as part of a £10m investment into the workforce which will fund 40 new posts.

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It comes after government regulator Ofsted sent a "scathing" letter last year criticising the council for leaving vulnerable children at risk for too long as social workers struggled to keep up with the number of cases coming through.

In January 2020, the average caseload for each social worker was 30, with some staff members responsible for more than 40 children’s cases at a time.

Director of children’s services Colette Dutton told a scrutiny committee that average caseloads have now reduced to 22 each.

Councillors were told the "mass exodus" of social workers from Wigan over the last 18 months has now ended and the council’s reputation has improved.

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In the last three months, Ms Dutton said, not a single social worker has left.

This means Wigan council will not rely on agency staff as much – although a "massive" social worker shortage means some temporary staff may be needed.

But despite this, Ms Dutton warned the next Ofsted rating will not be ‘good’.

She said: “It’s all about the timing and unfortunately, we’ve got going, but there’s not going to be enough progress to say we’re consistently good.”

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In addition to recruiting more social workers, the council has made some changes to its processes with the intention of improving its performance.

Paperwork has been stripped back as much as possible following feedback from social workers and departments are working more closely together.

A board which monitors the progress made meets every six weeks and the children’s services department work is audited in line with Ofsted ratings.

But these audits revealed that only a quarter of the work would be rated ‘good’ with the majority of the department’s work rated as "requires improvement".

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Ms Dutton said the department’s ambition is for 100 per cent of its work to be "good".

She said: “What the regulator is looking for, they’ll never explicitly tell you, but it’s generally around 70 per cent of you work to be graded as consistently good.

“When we’re next inspected, we will not get a good report because we’ll be inspected in this period of time.

“Ofsted have already told us that they don’t think we’re good.

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“If you are a good, they will only inspect you for a week. They’ve told us they’ll inspect us for two weeks.”

Wigan council does not know when the next Ofsted inspection will be because they are unannounced, but the department is preparing for one in the autumn.

The children and young people’s scrutiny committee was also told that the borough’s youth offending team has been rated as "good" in a recent inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP).

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