Amanda Spielman's speech at the 2023 National Children and Adult Services conference

Ofsted's Chief Inspector at the National Children and Adult Services (NCASC) annual conference

Good morning everybody. It’s great to be here today. And thank you to the LGA, ADASS, and ADCS for inviting us. 

Before I start talking, I do just want to acknowledge the Inquest that is underway – I’m sure many of you will have seen the media reports. I cannot talk about that today, but I would like to say again how deeply saddened we at Ofsted were at the death of Ruth Perry. We are thinking about her family, friends and colleagues at this time. We have given evidence to the Inquest this week and we will of course continue to assist the Coroner in any way we can. 

I’ve been doing this job for 7 years now, and it has been a tremendous privilege. One of things that makes it so interesting is the opportunity to look and think systemically across all of education and care, and see what is emerging. 

Annual report 

And last week’s annual report, my seventh and last, was one such an opportunity.

It made me think about the progress that our sectors have made in the last 7 years. 

Of course, that period has been overshadowed by pandemic disruption.

But actually, as we reported, there are now signs that we can be optimistic. Looking from start to finish at those 7 years a great deal has happened. The profile of inspection results has been level or improving slightly in most sectors and recovery is happening faster than we might have expected. 

We’re not blind to the challenges, but there are many reasons for optimism. And that is down to the fantastic work of so many people working in education and social care. 

In schools we’re seeing improvement in curriculum in many subjects and deeper thinking across the board. This undoubtedly helped when the pandemic hit, helping schools adapt and bridge gaps, and minimising the harm to children’s education. 

And for young children, we’re seeing significantly better reading teaching in primary schools. And 9-in-10 primary schools are now rated good or outstanding. And the work of the early years sector, in and out of schools, is making a real difference for a generation born into lockdowns and social distancing. And the vast majority of nurseries and childminders continue to be good or outstanding. 

And for over-16s, we’re seeing some positives in further education. More than 9-in-10 colleges are rated good or outstanding. And the renewed national interest in post-16 education is also welcome. Not just the longstanding skills agenda but also actually the new thinking around the advanced British standard. 

And I also welcome the real improvements that many of you are making in social care. 

My first annual report showed that only around a third of local authorities were judged good or outstanding for children’s services. 

Shortly after that report, we began our ILACS framework. 

You know that ILACS is intentionally risk-based and aims to be proportionate. It’s about the experiences and progress of children and the work you do to make your services as good as they can be. And it helps us to respond to rising risk and spot areas for improvement before they become systemic. 

In the time we’ve been using ILACS, the proportion of local authorities rated good or outstanding has risen to 60%. 

We’ve reinspected about a quarter of local authorities under ILACS. And more than 8 out of 10 you have retained or improved your grade. Five have improved by 2 grades. 

And we’re also generally seeing stability in the quality of other social care provision. 

The proportion of children’s homes rated good or outstanding has increased slightly over the last year to 83%. After a small pandemic dip, this takes that sector back to the point it was in my first annual report. 

And of course, the social care sector includes so much more than children’s homes. Other types of social care provision have also improved, including adoption and fostering agencies, residential special schools and family centres, boarding schools, and residential further education colleges. Over 90% of those are now also good or outstanding. 

Our role 

Of course, we inspect individual providers and local authorities, but we also look at the bigger picture.

Like many of you, we have a broad portfolio. Just as you look across your services or area, we look across the whole range of services that support children. 

And while government policy limits our role to diagnosis, we absolutely aim to be a force for improvement in all the services that affect children’s lives. 

I know that all of you, whether you represent specialist provision or oversee the whole spectrum, share our commitment to improving children’s lives and opportunities. 

And you know only too well that you can’t look at one part of a child’s life in isolation.

Because it’s only by joining the dots of everything happening in a child’s life that we can really know that they’re getting the education and care they need. It really does take a village. 

Our approach to inspection 

Looking at the full picture is very much our approach to inspection. 

We look to get under the bonnet of the place that we are inspecting. We want to see substance and we want to see integrity.

And we build the approach around professional dialogue, because we don’t just want to see words and numbers on a page. We want to know what it’s really like to be a child in your care. 

This is true in all our inspections, whether in education, social care, or special needs. 

This determination to get to a true picture of what it’s like for children in care also contributed to bringing in our new judgement for care leavers. We’ve always looked at this, but it was previously addressed in the judgement for children in care. And we’ve now unpacked it. Twenty-six local authorities have been inspected with the updated model and half received different judgements for care leavers than for children currently in care.

So this separation is helping us highlight good and poor practice for these distinct groups and to make more targeted recommendations. 

Of course, our work has multiple purposes, and we have duties to the public and to government. But we also want it to be useful to you. Our post-inspection surveys consistently find that over 90% of social care respondents agree that their inspection will help them improve their services.

And incidentally the same is true across the board including for schools, for nurseries and childminders, and for colleges and other skills providers. This shows that our approach is the right one, and that it’s working. 

Local authorities 

As I’ve said, we’ve seen steady improvement in local authority children’s services. And several things are driving this. 

Of course, the most important thing is getting the basics of good social work right.

And we’re seeing local authorities working directly with families and with clear practice models. 

Of course, to develop consistent relationships with children and families, you need enough skilled social workers and good support services. But we are seeing family-focused and child-centred work leading to positive change. 

And we know that, for the most part, you are taking swift and purposeful action in children’s best interests, where it’s needed.

We see more places that are harnessing the strengths of wider family networks both to prevent harm and to provide enduring care. Ambitious leaders, who are clear about the direction and about expectations, are key to getting this right. 

And we are also increasingly seeing authorities working with partners across boundaries. We know that solutions are rarely delivered in one area in isolation. And it’s vital for tackling issues like sufficiency, county lines gangs, and serious youth violence where boundaries on a map are no barrier to children being harmed. 

It’s a complex national picture, but the signs are encouraging, and we hope to see more improvements in future. 

The national context and accountability 

And I want to reassure you that we recognise the context in which you are working.

We know you don’t exist in a bubble and are affected by national trends and government policy. So please know that we will always be proportionate in our approach.

For example, I’ve spoken frequently about the breakdown in the social contract since the pandemic.

By which I mean the unwritten agreement that parents will get their children to school every day, and respect school’s expectations and policies. And in return, schools will give them a good education and prepare them for their next steps. 

This is currently a big challenge for schools, and I know you are also dealing with the ramifications. Dealing with some of the most stressed and challenged families, working with and alongside them, to get the best outcomes for children. That is no easy task. 

So, we always consider the context when we inspect. And we know that local authorities don’t necessarily have the primary responsibility for things that happen in your areas. 

Instead, we want to see what you are doing to improve the lives of children in your area and make sure the right people are accountable. And this principle informed the design of our area special needs inspections. We aim to give a clear view of strengths and weaknesses. And we want to make sure they are attributed properly so the right people in the right places can take future action. 


Sufficiency is of course one of the biggest problems you are dealing with.

Even with the considerable growth in the number of children’s homes and places, we know how hard it is for you to find the right places for children. 

It’s partly because homes are disproportionately opening in the regions where numbers are already the highest. The North West alone has a quarter of all children’s homes and almost a quarter of all places. If I can paraphrase Eric Morecambe on piano playing, we have the right homes, but not necessarily in the right places. 

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. We do need more of some types of specialist care. But better national and regional planning could help get a better balance between supply and demand.

And as we said in our response to ‘Stable homes built on love’, work to improve sufficiency has to be led by children’s needs. 

Otherwise, children will continue to live in unsuitable homes, in unregistered places or far from their previous home. And this can disrupt their lives, isolate them, and make placement breakdowns more likely.

The shortage of fostering places is also well-known and was highlighted in the care review. And we are likely to lose more carers to retirement in the relatively near future. So rapid action is needed. 

And we know that finding the right places is even harder when providers tell you they can’t accommodate a child because of the complexity of their needs. And we know that people sometimes worry that it will affect their Ofsted rating. 

We’ve been clear that there’s no reason why this should be the case. We see many homes coping well with children with multiple and high-level needs and this is reflected in the overall high level of positive inspection judgements. 

But we do take this feedback very seriously. We do consistently review our work to make sure we are acting proportionately and in children’s best interests. I know Yvette and our team take great care over decisions to restrict accommodation. They fully understand the consequences and take no decision lightly. 


Workforce pressures are of course one of the biggest drivers of sufficiency problems.

We see many homes that aren’t offering all their places because they can’t recruit or retain staff. Or they’re using staff who clearly don’t have the expertise to care for children well. 

Last week we reported that 12% of children’s homes don’t currently have a registered manager. And of those that do, 40% have been in post for less than a year. 

And as well as shortages and a high manager turnover, over a third of permanent care staff in children’s homes left last year. Many are leaving for better paid jobs in other sectors or moving to agency work. These high turnover rates are disrupting supply and creating instability for children. 

But the problems aren’t just in social care. There’s also unsatisfied demand for teachers, therapists, health visitors as well as many other children’s services. I worry that many of these sectors could be fishing in the same pool of potential workers.

Increasing demand 

And these sufficiency and workforce problems are compounded by increasing demand. 

The impact of the pandemic, growing numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and the withdrawal of mental health beds are all contributing to more demand for services. 

And the result is more children in unsuitable places or falling out of sight of many services. We are particularly concerned for children in unregistered homes, those who are homeless, and those involved in serious youth violence or who are being exploited. 

The High Court judgement on the use of hotels for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is useful. It has brought welcome legal clarity on your responsibilities and on Home Office’s powers. It isn’t right that the youngest and most vulnerable are housed in hotels.

But that does mean that alternative and long-term accommodation needs to be found. Of course, Local authorities must accept transfers under the national scheme and treat them the same as all other children in care. 

And we will carry on contributing to the cross-government taskforce working to find alternatives. And we are advising on the regulatory frameworks for children’s homes and for supported accommodation as part of a possible solution.

Unregistered homes and supported accommodation 

With this increasing demand and the problems of sufficiency, unregistered children’s homes are being used as a ‘stop-gap’. This may be a last resort and intended to be temporary, but some particularly vulnerable children do end up living there for long periods.

And especially, the large number of children with deprivation of liberty orders in unregistered care, is something that we worry about deeply. 

That’s why, this year, we investigated over 500 possible unregistered settings and found that almost three quarters should have been registered. Some have now registered, most have closed. 

Some of the others were supported accommodation providers. As you know, these providers are now also required to register and we’re consulting on how to inspect them. We’ve received over 1,300 applications. We’ll publish our inspection guidance in February before we start inspecting in April. 

I know there were some concerns that requiring registration could put people off and cause some providers to close.

The numbers who’ve applied doesn’t suggest this fear has been realised. Our approach of ‘right touch regulation’ is always a difficult balancing act but we do believe, with input from many of you, that we’ve got it about right. 

Multi-agency working 

Many of our reports talk about multi-agency working. We do want to see more integrated work between agencies. 

Our inspections of multi-agency work through our JTAIs have highlighted both good practice and areas for improvement. 

This year JTAIs have looked at early help for children and families, the response at the front door, and serious youth violence. 

On early help, we found some excellent work at both a strategic and practice level. But there was also significant variability between local areas.

There was more to celebrate in our JTAI on the front door. Again, capacity was a problem in some areas. But we saw some great examples of joint working. And we saw some good systems and cultures that are committed to learning, have clear accountability and welcome challenge. 

We are currently conducting a JTAI on responses to children affected by serious youth violence. This is a complex problem. It’s not one that can be solved by any one organisation or agency. And we’ll be reporting on what we find in the new year. 

Government reforms 

The government’s proposed social care reforms do recognise the need for more integration and multi-agency working, as well as greater clarity around the roles and responsibilities of each agency. This is welcome but of course it’s just one part of what’s needed to reform children’s social care. 

‘Stable homes, built on love’ is a welcome step and reflects many of the issues that we have previously raised. We are particularly pleased to see the focus on families, as the family setting is where most children will do best. 

The intended review of the regulatory system is also important, and pressing. In quite a few ways, we are all constrained by out-of-date legislation. The Care Standards Act needs significant updates. And, to tackle the more systemic issues, Ofsted needs to be able to regulate the sector as it operates now, not as it operated 20 years ago.

The power to look at groups and the largest providers as a whole rather than as a list of individual settings is vital. 

But as with any reform programme, managing risk and minimising unintended consequences will be key to its success. With all the pressures I’ve mentioned, making sure that the already stretched system doesn’t become overwhelmed will be hard. 

But we do believe that the reforms, if properly resourced and well implemented, will result in a better system and better outcomes for children. 


So, Ofsted will continue to regulate and inspect proportionately and work with you as these reforms are made. So please do continue to engage and give feedback so that we can advise government and work sensitively to support you and the children you care for. 

Thank you for all your work and for being here today. I’m delighted be here with Yvette Stanley, our National Director for Social Care. And I think we now have time to take some questions.

Amanda Spielman