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5.12.5 Quality Assurance and Learning Framework


This chapter describes the principles and purpose of quality assurance activity. It also sets out the quality assurance process and the expectations of staff involved in this. Emphasis is placed upon learning and upon supporting colleagues in Children’s Social Care and Early Help as they seek to achieve positive outcomes for the children of Knowsley.

The framework is informed by Knowsley’s Children and Young People’s Plan 2017 – 2020 which includes safeguarding as a key priority and the development of effective frontline social work practice as a key commitment.

The table at Appendix 1: Roles and Responsibilities for all Staff and Managers in the System details the roles and responsibilities of all staff and managers within the Quality Assurance system in Knowsley.


Practice Standards


This chapter was fully reviewed and amended throughout in July 2018. The chapter contains a new Section 2, Quality Assurance Cycle and two new Appendices: Appendix 2: Early Help Audit Process; and Appendix 3: MASH Audit Process.


  1. Principles and Purpose
  2. The Quality Assurance Cycle
  3. Practice Standards
  4. Applying the Framework to Review Practice
  5. Monthly Case File Audits
  6. Supervision Audits
  7. Thematic Audits
  8. Targeted Reviews
  9. Observations
  10. Feedback from Children and Families
  11. Learning and Changing
  12. Links to Wider Assurance of Practice


1. Principles and Purpose

The framework seeks to reflect the key principles that inform children’s social work practice in Knowsley. The Quality Assurance framework aims to be:

  • Child centred: the focus of quality assurance will be on the experience, progress and outcomes of children who come into contact with our services;
  • Strengths based: quality assurance will focus upon strengths whilst identifying where practice can be improved. It will seek to offer high support and high challenge;
  • Evidence Based decision making: quality assurance will provide a clear rationale for decisions made when considering practice. Quality assurance must be transparent and fair to those whose practice is being assured;
  • Outcome Focused: the proper focus of quality assurance will be upon outcomes rather than on processes which are well understood through a robust performance management framework;
  • Positive: our approach to quality assurance will be positive – looking at informing and encouraging improvement and supporting the development of staff and services;
  • Reflective: our quality assurance framework is designed to promote reflective practice and shared learning.

2. The Quality Assurance Cycle

Click here to view The Quality Assurance Cycle

3. Practice Standards

All staff employed by Knowsley Children’s Services, or providing services on behalf of the Council, are held accountable for making sure that practice standards are met at all times. Practice standards are informed by statutory guidance, regulation and local policy. They are based on evidence about the elements of practice which are most likely to lead to good quality services and positive outcomes for children, young people and their families. Practice Standards for Children’s Social Care can be viewed in the Practice Standards Procedure and the specific standards considered within all quality assurance activity are listed below.

Standards of conduct of all social work staff are informed by The British Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics for Social Workers, the Professional Capabilities Framework, as well as the Health and Care Professions Council Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics.

Involving children in assessments, care plans and reviews should be embedded in practice, irrespective of the level of need within the family. The child’s wishes, views and involvement in decisions that affect them is central whether the child is supported through Early Help, Child in Need, Child Protection, a Child Looked After or a Care Leaver.

Quality Assurance activity seeks to ensure that the following practice standards are adhered to as they act as building blocks in achieving effective frontline practice and positive outcomes for children.
  • Standard 1 - All children will have an up to date holistic assessment which reflects a clear picture of the child’s experience, wishes and feelings;
  • Standard 2 - All children will have a plan which explains their needs, personal views, planned outcomes and agreed actions;
  • Standard 3 - All assessments, plans and interventions will reflect an understanding of the wishes, feelings and needs of parents and carers, and will be focused on enabling them to fulfil their responsibilities to their children;
  • Standard 4 - All assessments, plans and interventions will reflect an understanding of the wishes, feelings and needs of parents and carers, and will be focused on enabling them to fulfil their responsibilities to their children;
  • Standard 5 - As far as age and understanding allows, children will be spoken to alone and worked with by professionals who have the tools and training to directly engage children;
  • Standard 6 - Case records will have an up to date Chronology of significant events, an accurate Genogram and a case summary;
  • Standard 7 - Case recording will be up to date and will reflect the purpose of interventions and contacts;
  • Standard 8 - Every case file will include a relevant risk assessment on a child and will include a contingency plan;
  • Standard 9 - Every case will contain evidence of management oversight and regular supervision that is reflective, provides challenge and includes a rationale for decision making with clear actions;
  • Standard 10 - Every case will contain evidence of management oversight ensuring that tasks have been completed to the required quality standard.

4. Applying the Framework to Review Practice

The key elements of the Quality Assurance Framework include:

  • Monthly case file audits: that assess the quality of recording, practice and the outcomes and experiences of children;
  • Supervision audits: the quality of supervision is crucial to frontline social work practice. This will be assured through quarterly supervision audits;
  • Thematic audits & reviews: focused audits that consider aspects of practice identified by senior management. Themes may be identified from monthly case file audits, performance data, complaints or other sources of learning;
  • Targeted Reviews: reviews of aspects of service or teams undertaken by teams of auditors lead by Heads of service over one or two days;
  • Dip Sample: team managers complete regular dip sampling audits to ensure that actions are completed;
  • Observations of practice: in addition to assuring the quality of frontline practice, observation enables assessment of key decision making in meetings and the quality of shared working;
  • Feedback from children and families: feedback enables triangulation of quality assurance;
  • Benchmarking audits: these provide auditors with an opportunity to discuss aspects of auditing practice and supports consistency within audit practice;
  • Annual Health Check: the experiences of social workers supports an understanding of issues that impact upon practice;
  • Learning from Compliments and Complaints: these are a valuable source of information and can identify strengths within social work practice as well as areas where things could be improved. Learning from the Statutory Complaints process therefore informs the framework.

In addition to these elements, staff within Children’s Social Care work closely with the local Safeguarding Board which undertakes a variety of quality assurance activity through the year.

5. Monthly Case File Audits

Each month the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead in consultation with senior management decide upon a theme to be considered through the monthly case file audit. Cases are then identified randomly and allocated to the team of auditors which includes the Assistant Director for Children’s Social Care, Heads of Service, Team Managers and Independent Reviewing Officers.

In auditing cases auditors seek to apply the principles laid down within the Quality Assurance Framework and with reference to the Ofsted guidance (see Framework, evaluation criteria, and inspector guidance for the inspections of local authority children’ services; Ofsted 2017). Auditors consider the quality of social work practice and the impact that this has had upon outcomes for the child. Auditors provide evidence to support their decision making which means that judgements are transparent. This enables learning and allows for challenge to the audit process.

Auditors make judgements of practice based upon the Ofsted grades of: Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement or Inadequate. 

For practice to be judged Outstanding the child must have received effective services that have contributed to significantly improved outcomes for the child. Progress will have exceeded expectations and will have been sustained over time.

Cases judged Good must have improved outcomes for the child who will have been protected and had their welfare promoted.

Requires Improvement judgements are given when outcomes evidence no widespread or serious failings that leave the child at risk of harm but it is apparent that practice is not yet delivering good outcomes.

Where practice is deemed Inadequate this will be because it is felt that the child has been left at risk of or harm as a result of widespread or serious failings.

When cases are judged Inadequate they will be re-audited by the relevant Head of Service and Team Manager after 3 months to evaluate whether progress has been made and sustained following the audit.

Auditors complete their audits on an audit tool which is embedded within ICS. As well as considering case recording auditors meet with the allocated social worker and other relevant practitioners where appropriate, including the Team Manager, Independent Reviewing Officer, or Child Protection Chair, if one is involved in the case. These meetings promote reflective discussion and are central to the principle of learning from audit. They enable a fuller understanding of the child’s journey and ensure that audit has an immediate impact in bringing about change to address practice issues.

In addition auditors make contact with families or children whose case files are being audited to gather their views of services they have received. Such feedback provides additional understanding of practice thus contributing to quality assurance.

After each audit has been completed it is sent to the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead who moderates each audit, considering the evidence provided by the auditor in support of the judgements made about the quality of practice. During the moderation process judgements may be adjusted up or down depending upon the evidence on the case file. If this occurs the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead provides feedback to the auditor to ensure that the rationale for the change is understood and to inform future audit practice.

After moderation audits are returned to the allocated social worker to complete any identified tasks noted by the auditor. Auditors may identify up to six actions to be completed by the social worker, all of which are intended to improve the quality of practice recorded on the case file. The team manager confirms that actions have completed before the audit is returned to the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead who verifies that all actions have been completed before the audit is finalised. Completed audits remain on the child’s case file.

6.Supervision Audits

Effective frontline practice is supported and sustained by high quality supervision. This is audited through quarterly audits undertaken by the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead alongside Heads of Service. The audit considers:

  • The quality of recording within supervision;
  • Emotional support;
  • Challenge to thinking and reflection;
  • The quality of decision making;
  • Impact on practice and progress of the child’s plan.

7. Thematic Audits

In addition to the regular schedule of case file and supervision audits the Quality Assurance Unit also co-ordinates thematic audits where concerns have been identified through case file audits, performance data, complaints, or other sources of learning. The thematic audits are completed by a small group of auditors working together. Auditors are chosen from the team of auditors who complete monthly case file audits but can also involve social workers. Thematic audits consider a minimum of 12 cases and are completed on a single day.

8. Targeted Reviews

Targeted reviews are led by a Head of Service supported by the Quality assurance and Audit Lead and a small team of auditors. These reviews are held twice a year. The team conduct a targeted review of a particular aspect of service area or team over one or two days. These reviews consider a wide range of performance data, service/team plans, supervision, complaints and recent audit outcomes. The audit team dip sample and track cases and where possible undertake practice observation in order to evaluate performance and the quality of practice. Key findings from targeted reviews are reported on by the involved Head of Service and the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead and shared within Performance Clinics to ensure that learning is communicated across the service.

9. Observations

Observations of practice provide a good opportunity to gain a robust understanding of the quality of practice. Observations should only be undertaken with the explicit and informed consent of the child and their family. Following observations of practice the observer has an opportunity to speak with the child or their family about their experience of the services they have received and their impact. What has been observed is also discussed with the social worker in order to understand their views, to promote reflective discussion and to inform learning. 

Observation of meetings also provide an opportunity to assess the quality of shared working and decision making within Knowsley and to understand how different staff, teams and agencies are working with children and families.

10. Feedback and Engagement of Children and Families

Engaging children and their families in quality assurance is a key plank in gaining an understanding of practice and how this practice is achieving positive outcomes for children. Feedback is a crucial element of all quality assurance activity so that the lived experiences of children and families and their experiences of services feed directly into how we understand and learn about the quality and impact of practice.

11. Learning and Changing

Following all audit activity co-ordinated by the Quality Assurance Unit, the Quality Assurance and Audit Lead prepares a report or briefing analysing what has been learnt. These reports are shared within monthly Performance Clinics and then disseminated by team managers so that learning from audit is communicated to all colleagues across Children’s Social Care and Early Help. Reports are shared within team meetings and individual audits discussed within supervision.

Audit reports include details on the number of audits completed, the focus of the audits and the overall quality of the cases. Reports reflect the evidence auditors have considered and include recommendations and an action plan of steps to be taken in order to build upon the positive practice that has been identified through audits. Recommendations may include changes to policy or practice guidance, improved use of knowledge and research to inform practice, or the provision of training or tools to support frontline practice. Recommendations inform a programme of Professional Development Events for both social workers and managers.

Learning from audit informs workforce development, service plans and personal development plans.

12. Links to Wider Assurance of Practice

The Quality Assurance and Learning Framework links to audit processes within the wider Children’s Social Care workforce.

The audit process for Early Help and Mash can be found in appendices 2 and 3:

The Framework also informs and links to the Early Help Quality Assurance Framework and the Quality Assurance Framework for Special Educational Needs Disability (SEND). In considering practice within Children’s Services and Early Help all factors that impact on plans and overall outcomes for the child are scrutinised including participation in, and contributions to, Education Health Care Plans (EHCP) and Personal Education Plans (PEP).

The welfare of children and young people is everybody’s business. No service can or should operate in isolation. For this reason the Quality Assurance and Learning Framework should be read and understood in conjunction with the KSCB Multi-Agency Audit Framework. Practitioners working for the Council are frequently and regularly involved in this activity. This is important as when practice and process issues are identified in relation to other services or agencies they can be escalated to the relevant service and/or agency to help inform learning and improvement.

13. Compliance

The success of service delivery in Knowsley Children’s Social Care is measured by improving the outcomes for children and their families. This needs the commitment and support of all managers and their teams to ensure that quality assurance activity is embedded with a clear feedback and remedial action process.


Click here to view Appendix 1: Roles and Responsibilities for all Staff and Managers in the System

Click here to view Appendix 2: Early Help Audit Process

Click here to view Appendix 3: MASH Audit Process

Click here to view Appendix 4: Audit Exemplar

Appendix 5: Audit Tools