This is an occasional newsletter regarding the Signs of Safety England Innovations Project.

Newsletter #3 April 2015


Why Do Appreciative Inquiries? 

  • If leaders and practitioners want to create change and sustain momentum, then it is important to focus on what’s working 
  • In the UK and elsewhere most of the time is spent inquiring into failure
  • Implementing Signs of Safety involves paying more attention to what’s working and learning from that

Ofsted – The Critical Friend of Children's Services


The Signs of Safety England Innovations Project includes developing an analysis of how Signs of Safety practice fits the Ofsted inspection framework. Meetings between Professor Eileen Munro, various Directors of Childrens Services and members of Ofsted are seeking to clarify how authorities can evidence good practice and how inspectors can recognise it. 

The EIP Local Authority Leadership Workshop in March involved a frank and open discussion between leaders of local authorities and Ofsted. Discussions recognised that Ofsted helped local authorities to better focus on practice by setting standards, identifying problems and gaps, asking difficult questions and highlighting poor practice.

Local authorities acknowledged the positives of the new inspection framework, its looking for evidence of effectiveness and the need for inspectors to sit alongside social workers to understand their work.  The recent thematic reviews and ‘getting to good’ seminars by Ofsted were welcomed. 

At the same time, local authorities spoke of the fear and anxiety in the relationship and the way it diminishes their capacity to measure, learn about and drive quality practice. They described ‘wanting to please Ofsted and so focusing on what we think they want to see rather than actual goal of improved outcomes for children’ and how an ‘oppressive mindset runs through culture and atmosphere of an organization’.

Data requirements, the extent of inspectors’ knowledge, expectations that social workers should do more without consideration of resources, and the inappropriateness of single word judgments and their consequences topped the worry list of local authorities. 

Considering what the ideal might be, local authorities looked towards Ofsted as a critical friend – a consultant, guide, reference point – and more fostering of local authorities’ self-assessment. The next steps to get there were identified as developing a shared understanding of what counts as good practice and possibly working together to define indicators for quality, as well as having joint learning events and involving DfE in a three way relationship.

David Hoare, Ofsted’s Chair, argued strongly that Ofsted needs to position assessments in a way that’s good for children, and recognise that if the direction of a local authority’s development is good, then Ofsted need to say this, as well as saying so when it’s not good. He expressed the view that Ofsted and local authorities must face issues and create a culture whereby both come to realise that we are on the same side and work to develop a culture that leads to the right actions.  His assertion that Ofsted is determined to work with local authorities was welcomed.



Practice Reform Projects


Practice outlines setting out the model/workflow/key strategies for how the practice in each project area should occur using the Signs of Safety have been developed and are with the local authorities. These are available on request from Munro, Turnell & Murphy or the local authorities participating in the Signs of Safety England Innovation project. 


The projects and the local authorities working on them are:

  • Front door to conferencing sets out the key practice steps and workflow through the critical early period of assessment and planning.
    Suffolk, Leicestershire, Wokingham, Norfolk, Brent
  • Continuum of practice outlines how Signs of Safety can be adapted for the various areas of service, from Signs of Wellbeing for early help to Signs of Success for at risk young people and Signs of Stability for looked after children.
    Suffolk, Wakefield, West Sussex
  • Partner integration recognises that England is the most joined-up jurisdiction in the world but that often work with partners is challenging and difficult and so sets out strategies to bring partners together in the practice with a specific focus on Signs of Safety and the Troubled Families programme.
    Bristol, Tower Hamlets
  • Public Law Outline (PLO) sets out the workflow, key aspects of practice and sample documentation for aligning PLO meetings and Signs of Safety.

The next step is the development of brief implementation plans for the specific practice changes. 

Five key aspects of implementation (for the plan)

  1. Key people – identify the key people in the local authority, and among partners, who need to understand and endorse the change before implementation. Reach out to them.
  2. Policy – write the policy/guidance. The practice outline should be the basis. Involve the staff who will be doing the work as broadly as possible and feasible.
  3. Learning strategy – identify, develop and provide the specific briefings, training and/or resources necessary, recognising that 70% of learning occurs on the job, 20% though networks, colleagues and supervision, 10% through training (70:20:10)
  4. Supervision – determine how supervision may be a tool for supporting implementation after the introduction of the reform
  5. Review – determine how the reform and its implementation will be reviewed and how the information from review will be used

Leaders reflections and tips on the EIP 


As of the March workshop we are now almost five months into the 18–month Signs of Safety EIP. For many local authorities it is a next-step in their implementation of the Signs of Safety. For everyone it will be part of an ongoing journey with Signs of Safety practice and aligning the organisation to the practice. At this stage, here are some of the reflections of the executive leaders of the local authorities.



  • Opportunities to talk to each other are very important
  • There is a high level of enthusiasm 
  • There is a high level of optimism 
  • Can see progress 
  • Sharing/learning from others is still in the early stages though there are some good examples 
  • Avoid death by feedback!


Challenges and what helps or could help

  • Good corporate engagement, the whole local authority being with the reform
  • Belonging to the project 
  • Stable workforce 
  • The international experience 
  • Ofsted participation
  • More Department for Education engagement 
  • How to work best with partners
  • More focus on senior leadership with the MTM consultants

Action Research Update


The staff survey reports for each local authority will be out in May. The family feedback process plan, outlining methods, target groups and timescales, with all local authorities using the same survey, is currently with authorities. The need for children’s feedback is recognised and will be a focus at a later stage. 


Information Management Update


Site visits for the development of the ‘blueprint’ for a management information recording system are underway. 


Scoping for the 3 Houses Apps is well underway; with practitioners reporting they want the apps to be drawing based and interactive, as well as comprehensive enough so that workers and children can ensure all areas are covered.


Yammer is on!

  • Working on integrating Signs of Safety and the statutory assessment?
  • Want to check whether your implementation plan has captured everything that the other local authorities are doing?
  • Has anyone done…?
  • Has anyone got…?

Join up, share your knowledge and resources and have your queries addressed. 

The more ways we have of communicating the better!  


It's All About the Practice


Amplifying the voice of the child 

  • How can we be sure the practitioners are doing everything they can to get the voice of the child, so that it is heard by managers who have not met them but are making decisions about them? 
  • Young people want people to know what’s happened to them so that it can be better for other children.
  • Older teenagers can be neglected by practitioners because they appear to be able to look after themselves.


Sharing the child’s actual words through audio and video – what leaders like about this

  • Fantastic! It was great hearing the child’s voice shared in that way
  • Useful to get a visual picture from the child rather than mediating it from the social workers; courts really like this as well – it is very powerful

How organisations are doing in supporting workers to bring the child’s voice into the assessments and the work they do with families

  • Pockets of really confident staff who use 3 Houses well
  • Recognising that tools can’t be an end in themselves
  • Using supervision, using the framework to explore where workers are at with their skills and how these can be developed

What Local Authorities will do to make the organisations even better at listening to the child’s voice

  • Managers being clearer about how they are supporting doing 3 Houses
  • Doing video and audio and being able to upload it to files and reports
  • Building confidence, celebrating good practice  
  • Going back to workers and teams at different times to look at progress
  • Asking – How are we responding to the child’s voice? Is there a challenge, is there feedback, what difference are we making?
  • Promoting the importance of 3 Houses 
  • Talk to the practitioners – encourage them to try it out

The Next Local Authorities Leadership Workshop

The next workshop is set for 27 July 2015 at NCVO Society Building, 8 All Saints Street, London N1 9RL.


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