Written evidence submitted by Mrs Amanda Jane Knowles








Dear Education Select Committee Members


My career in children’s social care began in Oldham during February 1976 when I took up the position of residential social worker in a small children’s home. I am a qualified social worker and I have occupied various positions including foster mother, children’s home manager, children and family social worker and senior children’s resource centre manager in the public sector. I have also worked in the voluntary sector and currently in the private sector as co- owner/director of two registered children’s homes and two supported accommodation projects for care leavers. From 2012 to 2020 I was a trustee and director with TCTC the consortium for therapeutic communities and since 2017 I have been the organiser of Your Life Your Story a small charity that brings care experienced adults and caregivers together with published authors, poets and artists to learn the techniques of storytelling through the Arts that has become a supportive community.


In response to your call for evidence following the announcement of your investigation into children’s homes I would like to draw your attention to my experience and observations of the impact Ofsted’s approach to regulation has had on children’s social care.


Ofsted’s interpretation of the Care Standards Act and its role as a regulator has led to a misuse of power, corruption and discrimination. Examples of this are exchanged daily within the sector but rarely in public because fear prevents this.


Inspectors are protected from being held accountable for poor practice and conduct. I reported an inspector to HMCI Christine Gilbert in 2010 and Sir Michael Wilshaw in 2012 for serious safeguarding failures but no action was taken.


I have recently found that he was employed by a private children’s home company and the same time as he twice inspected one of the homes operated by this provider. I also have reason to believe he was employed by this company when he gave a competitor home a bad report and rating. A request for the policy on this has recently been refused.


A poor Ofsted report or fear of a poor report terminates children’s placements which is a significant factor in poor outcomes. A poor report has the potential to remove competition by forcing the closure of children’s homes and forcing small providers out of the sector and ending careers because they are trusted and relied upon by policy makers and commissioners even though inspection findings are subjective, unproven and often questionable.


There is actual and anecdotal evidence of discrepancies between feedback given at the end of an inspection and published reports with evidence of cutting and pasting.


Too many inspectors have no experience in the settings they inspect, this lack of familiarity leads to observations being misinterpreted.


Ofsted’s decision-making processes are secretive. When challenged to provide the evidence on which decisions have been made, legally untested regulatory exemptions are relied upon to refuse FOI requests. These include:


-          Minutes/notes taken at fit person interviews.

-          The number of manager applicant disqualified from the children’s workforce

-          Policy on inspectors working for providers they inspect


Evidence from other sources for example information from local authority designated officers is not shared and the 28-day appeal timescale does not provide sufficient time for related FOI requests made by applicants to be processed.


There is tribunal evidence of Ofsted’s knowledge of employment law and child protection processes being inadequate at senior level in the organisation.


There are without doubt children’s homes that are not fit for purpose where senior management accountability is all too often avoided, because it has been pushed down the ranking. Whistle blowing is pointless – there is evidence to support this statement.


There has also been an exodus of trained and experienced people who have found refuge in training, compliance and other related roles. This leaves the least experienced, lesser qualified staff caring for children with highly complex needs.


There is a national shortage of managers, applicants are being refused and disqualified from the children’s workforce. There is evidence of alarming inconsistency in the fit person test. A convicted criminal was registered but an applicant who was unfairly disciplined and received a first written warning over two years before the application was refused.


During lockdown Ofsted registered 177 new homes, owners of a high percentage of these have no background in children’s social care.


The fear laden environment arising from a lack of understanding about how trauma manifests in children’s behaviour and the long-term impact of this, is driving poor decision making and children are being moved around the system like parcels because of this.


In the wider environment there is no shortage of examples of poor planning and decisions by other agencies that fail children but the impact of this on the behaviour being managed in children’s homes poor outcomes is too judged to be the failure of care not a systems failure. When a social worker puts £400 into the hands of a teenager transitioning from care to independence without consultation the outcome is almost certainly destined to be disastrous.


If any of this is of interest to you, I will collate the evidence on which my comments are based and make it available to you.


Yours sincerely,


Amanda Knowles MBE



April 2020