On 12 February 2008 Juliet Winstanley, manager of Ofsted's local services division, wrote to all 150 local authorities to set out planned changes to their annual performance assessments (APA). Juliet summarises what is proposed.
In my recent letter I asked for feedback from local authorities and want to thank all those who responded. Your views have been carefully considered. My letter explained that in this last year before APA is replaced by the comprehensive area assessment, APA will certainly be more proportionate to the performance of individual authorities. This more proportionate approach will mean that not every local authority will receive an on-site visit as part of the APA process. Detailed plans will be published in April, but they will take into account, as far as possible, your feedback to last December's questionnaire, and my more recent letter.
In the December survey many local authorities asked us to reduce the amount of work involved in preparing for APA. In this final year we must undertake APA in every local authority in such a way to make it more manageable. We propose to:
• significantly reduce the number of key judgements and in turn the amount of data which must be collected
• deliver fewer briefings but offer clearer guidance at those briefings
• invite submission of a self-assessment instead of a review of the children and young people's plan
• reduce the level of scrutiny where previous performance and accurate self-assessment indicate an authority is doing well
• apply clear criteria which will govern the overall grade for children's services.
My letter, sent to local authorities in February, asked in particular for views on a proposed new key threshold, and on criteria for making the overall children’s services judgement. We have reviewed and considered carefully all the comments received. As a result we have decided not to impose ‘rules’ as such but to retain inspectors’ discretion in coming to judgements in these areas. Nevertheless, we will be ensuring that inspectors take a rigorous approach in line with the grade descriptors published in April 2007.
As in previous APAs, where there are any concerns, it will be for councils to clearly demonstrate what progress they are making to overcome weaknesses.