Supported accommodation: are you ready for your first Ofsted inspection?

Supported accommodation: are you ready for your first Ofsted inspection?

Following a consultation launched last year, Ofsted published its guidance for inspecting supported accommodation on 29th February 2024, moving away for its 4-point model for the first round of inspections and pushing back the initial Spring start date for inspections. It follows the announcement in April 2023 that all supported living providers for those aged 16 to 17 had to register with Ofsted by 28th October 2023.

What’s new?

Ofsted has made changes to the proposed guidance for the inspection outcomes model for supported accommodation – or facilities such as children’s homes, fostering agencies, boarding schools and adoption support agencies, among others.

The guidance follows a similar format to other social care settings regulated by Ofsted and is set out in a ‘Social Care Common Inspection Framework,’ designed specifically for the supported accommodation sector. The most notable change is that Ofsted will be operating a 3-outcome model for the first round of inspections; instead of the typical 4-point judgement scale of outstanding, good, requires improvement to be good, and inadequate. The three summary outcomes against which providers will be inspected are as follows:

  1. Consistently strong service delivery leads to typically positive experiences and progress for children. Where improvements are needed, leaders and managers take timely and effective action. The next inspection will be within approximately 3 years.
  2. Inconsistent quality of service delivery adversely affects some children’s experiences, and this may limit their progress. Leaders and managers must make improvements. The next inspection will be within approximately 18 months.

Serious or widespread weaknesses lead to significant concerns about the experiences and progress of children. Leaders and managers must take urgent action to address failings. The next inspection will be within approximately 6 months.

Another key change is that Ofsted will be inspecting at ‘provider level’, rather than conducting inspections of each individual premises. This is in line with the registration process, which enables providers to register and operate more than one premises across different categories of accommodation.

Further, providers will be given 2-day notice of inspection. However, inspections will start immediately, and any feedback gathered in the 2-day notice period will be incorporated into the inspection findings.

The consultation had a good uptake in terms of responses: 280 responses were received overall, including 58 responses from young people. Concerns were raised that a move away from Ofsted’s usual judgement structure would cause issues with local authorities’ commissioning benchmarks and may be less easily understood by the sector and public. Ofsted’s position is that it is too early to set benchmarks that describe exceptional practice in a newly regulated sector.

When will inspections start?

Ofsted has announced that inspections under the new framework will commence in September 2024, rather than the previously indicated April 2024. This will give providers more time to digest the framework, whilst Ofsted prioritises dealing with the large volume of registration applications, the guidance says.

"Providers should consider conducting mock inspections, either internally or by an external specialist care consultant, to assist them and their staff in preparing for an inspection"

What can providers do to prepare?

It is important that providers familiarise themselves with the new inspection framework. In particular, they should consider the outcomes and evaluation criteria, as well as what evidence they are able to gather to support each of the individual criteria for overall experiences and progress, how well children are helped and protected and the effectiveness of leaders and managers. Although it is not necessary to have written or documentary evidence for all the criteria, there must be tangible evidence that you are able to outline and/or provide to inspectors during the inspection, to enable them to make their judgement.

Providers should consider conducting mock inspections, either internally or by an external specialist care consultant, to assist them and their staff in preparing for an inspection. This is a particularly important step given that the sector was previously unregulated and there are likely to be employees who have not experienced an Ofsted inspection before.

As well as understanding the inspection process, providers should also familiarise themselves with the post-inspection process and how to challenge any draft reports. Given the inspection process for this sector is new to both providers and Ofsted inspectors, providers should be aware of any potential issues with the inspection process and should not hesitate to raise concerns or seek advice if they are not satisfied with the outcome. 

Inspection advice 

If you need advice on challenging an inspection outcome, Markel offers specialist regulatory advice to providers registered with Ofsted. Please contact our specialists on 0161 8271808.