Quality Assurance and Learning Framework


This chapter describes the principles and purpose of quality assurance activity. It was reviewed in December 2022.

The framework sets out the principles that underpin Knowsley Quality Assurance and Learning which are informed by the "Signs of Safety" strength based approach to practice that has been adopted across Children's Safeguarding Services. The overall aim of the framework is to support colleagues across Early Help and Children's Social Care to achieve better outcomes for children and to understand what constitutes 'Good / Outstanding' social work practice.


Practice Standards


This chapter was updated locally in December 2022.

1. Principles and Purpose

The framework reflects the key principles that inform Children's Social Care practice. The Quality Assurance framework is:

  • Child centred: the focus of quality assurance will be on the experience, progress and outcomes of children who come into contact with our services and what difference it has made to a child's life;
  • Strength 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: whilst attention will be given to evidence of processes and procedures being adhered to, the proper focus of quality assurance will be upon outcomes achieved for the child;
  • Positive: our approach to quality assurance will be positive - informing and encouraging improvement whilst supporting the development of staff and services;
  • Reflective: our Quality Assurance and Learning Framework is designed to promote reflective practice and shared learning;
  • Part of a learning organisation: the learning taken from our quality assurance activity will inform how we develop future practice and procedures across the wider service.

To ensure that these key principles promote organisational learning, the revised framework reflects what has been learnt by the 'Signs of Safety' approach and learning from the Sector Lead Improvement Programme conducted in 2022. Consideration has also been given to the evaluation report 'You Can't Grow Roses in Concrete' [1] that identifies key factors that support learning.

[1] Munro E, Turnell A & Murphy T. (2016). You Can't Grow Roses in Concrete: Organisational reform to support high quality Signs of Safety practice, Action Research Final Report, Signs of Safety English Innovations Project

The report refers to the 70:20:10 learning model. The model states that the smallest amount of learning comes from formal training (10%). This does not diminish the reality that training remains critical, since it sets the learning content and offers a clear vision of successful practice. However, humans learn in action, so in human services most learning occurs, and practices are habituated, through daily work (70%) as practitioners, supervisors and other leaders put the skills and methods into everyday practice.

While the action of daily work is 70% of learning and habituates how a skill is used, the pace of doing the work means that most learning from action is intuitive and largely unconscious. Improvement and change requires feedback and analysis through structured reflection methods. This is the critical 20% of learning where the individual and group can improve by reflecting on what they are doing. To be effective the reflection must be based on quality timely feedback. The key point of the 70:20:10 learning theory is that feedback and reflection are central to learning and improvement and the Quality Assurance Framework support this methodology of learning and improvement.

Quality Assurance will therefore encompass:


Case file audits provide an invaluable perspective on front line practice. Effective audits can provide insight not only into the quality of recording but also into the quality of the work with the child, the quality of management and support for practitioners and, importantly, the views, experiences and outcomes for the child.

Our approach to auditing in Knowsley will continue to adopt a collaborative approach. It is essential that audits are completed alongside practitioners. This provides the opportunity to engage practitioners, enabling them to understand the importance of the process and how it can help improve practice and children's outcomes. It's an opportunity to reflect and receive feedback between the auditor and practitioner. The audit methodology is designed to be a participative learning process. This should consistently deliver a more robust and detailed picture of the practice, constructed by and with those who have the best intelligence about the case. A collaborative audit methodology that directly involves the responsible practitioners is also far more likely to drive learning and practice improvement. Therefore, all collaborative quality assurance activity through audits, observations and reviews will involve discussion with practitioners.

Children and family feedback is also critical in understanding how our services are experienced and received. Child and family feedback is essential within effective audit practice. In addition, there are a number of both formal and informal processes for obtaining feedback used by practitioners across the service and this is also used to aid our organisational learning. Gathering the views of those who receive services is critical in understanding the impact of interventions and in achieving positive outcomes for children. Therefore, opportunities to obtain feedback will continue to be built upon and embedded in service delivery culture.

The Early Help Children's Social Care Service already has in place a robust system of data collection and performance measures. This system has informed the progress made particularly in relation to compliance. If the right outcome data is collected this can complement the learning that other forms of quality assurance activity bring.

In Knowsley, seven Practice Standards have been created which underpin practice and ensure that all children/young people and their parents/carers received a consistently high service from staff; whatever team they are involved with. The Practice Standards are:

  • Every child/young person and their family/carer will be at the heart of what we do;
  • Every child/young person will have an up-to-date assessment of their individual needs;
  • Every child/young person will have a plan with clear and measurable goals;
  • Every child/young person will have a safe, stable and secure home where they feel happy, and have a positive sense of belonging;
  • Every child/young person will be supported to know and understand their life experiences;
  • Every child/young person and their family/carer’s involvement with services will be clearly recorded;
  • Every child/young person and their family/carer’s record will show clear management oversight & decision making.

In Children’s Services we want our children to be safe and have the best start in life, we want them to achieve their full potential through inclusive education and we want our families to be able to access support that meets their needs in a more effective and efficient way to support them to go on to be independent and thrive. The Quality Assurance system will examine quality of service intervention ensuring that the above standards and outcomes are being achieved.

2. Applying the Framework to Support Learning

The key elements of the Quality Assurance framework include:

  • Collaborative bi-monthly case file audits and thematic audits that assess the quality of recording, practice, outcomes and experiences of children;
  • Peer audits;
  • Direct observation of practice;
  • Service dip and file sampling audits;
  • Feedback from children and families;
  • Feedback from staff;
  • Data Analysis;
  • External Review;
  • Practice Week.


2.1 Collaborative Case File and Thematic Audits

Knowsley Early Help & Children's Social Care aim is to: gain Quality Assurance information from a wide variety of areas, these include:

  • Complete collaborative file audits throughout the year to assess progress in improving practice and identify priorities for learning and development;
  • Complete a programme of thematic audits on issues where there are key or emerging issues such as Domestic Abuse, Homelessness, Child Exploitation. Alternatively, specific audits could also include particular cohorts of children, including those subject to child protection, children looked after or care leavers;
  • Quality assurance to review themed aspects of practice – examples would include children subject to re-referrals, Section 47 enquiries, the quality of pre-proceedings work and/or permanence planning;
  • At the start of the financial year, each year key themes for collaborative audits will be agreed and planned into the QA Programme. There shall additionally be scope for emerging themes to be added to the QA Program throughout the year, informed by intelligence from service areas, workforce, Ofsted, and performance data;
  • Additional service thematic audits will also be completed and overseen by Service Managers;
  • Further deep dive collaborative audits will be completed by the Quality Assurance Service to support wider thematic service developments or emerging areas requiring enhanced audit support.

2.2 Roles and Responsibilities

Bi-monthly audits are completed by a team of auditors that include Service Managers, PMG 1 Graded staff, Independent Reviewing Officers/Child Protection Chairs and the Quality Assurance Team Manager.

It is an expectation that all auditors' complete bimonthly audits as well as contribute to thematic audits as and when required.

The process of moderation will be undertaken by Heads of Service and Assistant Executive Director, where necessary. Each moderator will complete 1-2 audit moderations per collaborative audit. The moderator does not re audit the case file but rather they conduct a reflective discussion with the auditor to gain an understanding of the rationale for the auditors' findings, grading, and conclusions. The moderation will always focus on the experience of the child. The intended outcome of internal moderation is to upskill the audit pool supporting outcome focused auditing, develop consistency in standards and grading of auditing, transparency of decision making and grading, whilst giving senior management oversight of front-line practice to inform ongoing service development.

A Quality Assurance Programme of collaborative audits is decided by the Assistant Executive Director, Head of Service Safeguarding & Quality Assurance (Principal Social Worker) Head of Service Early Help & Child Protection, and Head of Service Children Looked After & Regulated Services.

Following the completion of collaborative or thematic audit activity the Quality Assurance Team Manager or Service Manager compiles a report summarising the learning with recommendations to support practice development. Service audits will also follow this process to ensure consistent approach to strength based audit learning and improvement. Service Managers will compile thematic reports summarising the learning and recommendations to support service developments.

The Safeguarding Quality Assurance Officer will collate action plans from each of the collaborative or thematic audits and support the Quality Assurance Team Manager in monitoring and overseeing progress in closing the loop on learning. Further audit reviews will be scheduled as appropriate to evidence impact and service improvement.

2.3 Service Dip & File Sampling Audit

There is a regular programme of dip/file sampling undertaken by Service Managers. This supports Inspection Improvement developments to evidence impact, as well as examining consistency in practice and outcomes for children and families. Dip samples and file audits assist Service Managers to oversee quality within their services and they may also conduct thematic or joint audits to support wider learning. Reports are produced for these audits which are presented to Heads of Service & DCS Assurance. Such audits also support the Moving Forward meetings that examine Child Protection cases at nine months and Repeat referrals to assist in understanding issues, or emerging patterns as well as to ensure plans are appropriate and making progress for the child. Moving Forward meetings provide additional Senior Management oversight, support and advise on practice as described in Section 4.

2.4 Spotlight on Performance Audits

To enhance the monthly Performance meeting, Spotlight on Performance audits have been introduced to examine a theme selected by the Performance Group and Assistant Executive Director. Spotlights are undertaken by Team Managers from across Early Help and Children's Social Care who complete a short file audit to specifically focus on a set theme using a shorter format to examine:

  • What do you know about this Spotlight in your area?
  • How do you know it?
  • What are the outcomes for children and families?
  • Plans for the next 12 months in this area?

Each Service completes and collates the Spotlight findings and presents strength based findings and areas for improvement at the monthly meeting to examine similarities or differences across the Teams and any agree central areas for development. Services are asked to identify no more than three developmental themes from each month’s spotlight meeting, this information is then utilised to inform service planning.

2.5 Direct Observation

Observation of staff in their everyday work is an important element of quality assuring front line social work. Audits on their own are useful but cannot fully assess the way practitioners work, support and build relationships with children, young people and families. Observation of practice provides a complementary alternative, offering an opportunity to gain a picture of the way that workers work with children and families, their behaviours, outlook and approach.

  • All Team Managers or Social Workers will observe the practice of newly qualified workers in line with local and national Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) policy;
  • All Team Managers will observe the practice of experienced workers at least once every year;
  • All Team Managers will identify any workers within the team in need of support with improving performance. These workers will be observed at least once a year, and more frequently where required;
  • All Team Managers/ASWs to share observations with the worker and undertake a shared reflective review at the next supervision. Shared action plan agreed as necessary;
  • Any learning from observation to be reported to the Service Manager and examined within Performance reviews and Spotlights on Performance meetings;
  • Where appropriate, in the completion of deep dive case audits by QA Team Manager, the auditor should seek opportunities to observe practice;
  • Observations will be a central activity in planned Practice Weeks, and observers will share feedback on observation to practitioner to assist in their practice learning.

2.6 Feedback from Children and Families

Feedback helps us to understand the experiences of children and families, providing an additional layer to the quality assurance system. Feedback is built in as part of collaborative and service case audits. The collaborative audit template has been revised to incorporate family feedback within the format, rather than held separately. This will further support overall outcome analysis as well as supporting the new moderation process.

In addition, regular feedback audits on families' experiences of Signs of Safety will be undertaken. Feedback will seek an understanding of both the individual's views of the service they have received but also on their perception of the difference that interventions have made to their lives.

Compliments and Complaints from children and families are overseen by the Customer Liaison Service within Knowsley, using the Have Your Say – Complaints, Comments, Compliments and Questions Policy and Procedures. The Customer Liaison Service allocates Stage 1 and Stage 2 complaints under the Children Act and produces an action log from learning and development as a result of the any children and families’ complaints. Furthermore, an annual report is produced and presented to Corporate Management Team and shared with Early Help & Children’s Social Care Services to oversee patterns, progress and practice improvement.

2.7 Feedback from Staff

Practitioners have the greatest direct knowledge of the impact of interventions and so their feedback is crucial in understanding how support is leading to improved outcomes for children. The collaborative approach to audit will ensure that practitioner's perspectives are captured through audit discussions, as well as the introduction of practitioner and auditor scalings on certain sections of the new audit template. This allows for greater discussion and reflection within the audit process.

The Local Government Association (LGA) Annual Health Check provides a means through which practitioner's views are shared, providing organisational learning that can lead to change. Reflection sessions, Practitioner Innovation and Operation Group and Principal Social Worker sessions also provide different avenues and forums through which practitioners can share their learning, suggestions and experiences to ensure that frontline practice is understood and supported.

2.8 External Review

The Service welcomes external scrutiny to support quality assurance, review and learning. This includes reviews coordinated by the LGA and the Northwest ADCS forum. At various points in time, the Service will continue to commission external audits as part of testing our audit processes and the robustness of our judgements. For example, in 2022 Knowsley Early Help and Children's Social Care partook in a Sector Led Improvement Programme to review Workforce Development and Quality Assurance, and an external PLO Peer Review was completed to support and review recent PLO developments and ongoing improvements. Learning from the SLIP QA activity informed the review of the Quality Assurance Framework.

2.9 Practice Week Events

Following the Sector Lead Improvement Programme Quality Assurance Framework was reviewed and strengthened to provide leaders with a detailed evaluation of social work practice across service areas. The revised process provides additional mechanisms for leadership scrutiny of frontline practice via the introduction of Practice Weeks within the Quality Assurance Framework.

Practice Week brings together frontline staff and senior managers to examine a specific thematic focus area. The event will serve as a forum for senior leaders and managers to observe and audit frontline practice. It is a strength based activity that also engages staff in wider reflective discussions, service improvements and supports ownership of the required practice developments. The week will showcase frontline practice through audits, observations, reflective sessions and consultations with children &/or families. Whilst building on strength based practice the Practice Week supports learning, wider practice development and focuses on achieving better outcomes for children and families for each specific theme. This in turn will strengthen the quality assurance loop and evidence evaluation of practice improvement and impact.

2.10 Data Analysis

The right measures can support an understanding of whether interventions should be effective in delivering positive outcomes for the child. Measures that focus upon the quality of service and which relate to changes for children and families and their perceptions and experiences of services must be meaningful. Core data sets and performance analysis is examined through Spotlight on Performance, Heads of Service and DCS Assurance meetings.

Audit finding reports and quarterly audit summary reports are produced and presented to Heads of Service to highlight good practice and areas for improvement from all audit activity. Actions are transferred into a central QA Action Tracker which is monitored by the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service to support learning and improvement oversight.

2.11 Governance

All collaborative and thematic audits are presented to the Heads of Service meeting, and action plans are designed and overseen by the Safeguarding Quality Assurance Service who monitor practice improvements.

Every other month Director of Children’s Services Assurance Meetings take place with Assistant Executive Directors and Heads of Service, to have an overview of current service delivery, performance and practice developments. On the alternative month the DCS hold the Improvement Board Meeting to oversee progress of the Inspection Improvement Plan. All collaborative and thematic audit reports are approved via the Heads of Service meeting, and subsequently the DCS Assurance Meeting to ensure analysis of practice are shared with the DCS and Senior Management Team and next steps agreed collectively.

The DCS & AEDs also undertake frontline visits to teams to ensure there is a clear understanding of practice in the inspection improvement journey. Participation in the Practice Week also includes DCS & AEDs, as well as all members of the senior management team, providing them with the opportunity to directly observe frontline practice.

A quarterly Audit Report is completed by the Safeguarding Quality Assurance Service that summarises all quality assurance activity in the period, this is presented to the Elected Member with Children’s Portfolio lead. This report informs Children’s Portfolio Lead of areas of good practice, areas for improvement, and associated Action Plans, providing them the opportunity to have a direct line of sight to practice and scrutinise the service delivery.

In addition, the Principal Social Worker delivers a report to the DCS bi-monthly to ensure they are sighted on the situation for frontline staff, this includes findings from workforce development, exit interview analysis and staff survey information. Any associated improvements or Health Check Action Plans are reported to HOS & DCS Assurance Meeting. The completion of action plans, service developments, and practice improvements are then reported back so that the learning loop is closed, and impact can be evidenced.

2.12 Quality Assurance Impact

The revised framework assists to achieve a robust overview of practice quality and improvement using the core features:


3. Wider Quality Assurance Mechanisms

Quality Assurance extends wider than the Knowsley Quality Assurance Framework and specific services also support quality assurance through mechanisms within their own services and daily practice:

The Youth Offending Service have their own Quality Assurance Policy and QA Team made up of Practitioners and Operational Managers. They take an approach to quality assure and self-assess against the Youth Justice Management Board requirements and Standards, for children in youth justice framework. The YOS QA Policy mirrors similar principles and practice improvement commitments and they replicate or conduct activities similar to certain topics or Practice Week themes to widen strength based learning and improvement from these events.

Knowsley Safeguarding Children Partnership (KSCP) conduct a number of multi-agency audits and reviews. Managers and practitioners from across Education, Early Help and Children's Social Care contribute to and participate in these audits and reviews. Findings are shared by the KSCP and contribute to learning in the service. The service also seeks to learn from both local and national Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews, disseminating learning and examining local practice to identify specific improvement that can be taken from national learning reviews and recommendations.

4. Moving Forward Meetings

Knowsley have introduced Moving Forward Meetings which provide additional senior management oversight, support and advice on practice. The Moving Forward Meetings are divided into two parts, one focuses on Child Protection Cases to examine children and families on Repeat CP Plans or CP Plans of 9 months and the other part supports the QA Framework and examines selected case file audits.

Child Protection examination is overseen by Service Managers from Safeguarding Quality Assurance and Child Protection Service. They meet with the Social Worker, Team Manager and IRO / CP Chair to examine the issues affecting the child and family to explore the reasons for the length of the CP Plan and offer support and advise in respect of moving the family forward. This process also offers a senior management perspective, of scrutiny and advice is provided to Social Workers on interventions and approaches to improve the impact of intervention.

Audit cases are selected that have been rated Inadequate from the collaborative audit programme, but other cases will also be examined to identify good practice and learning which can be shared. This strength based approach will assist in developing a culture of learning from success. These meetings are Chaired by the Head of Service for Safeguarding and Quality Assurance, and relevant Heads of Service also attend this meeting to provide wider senior management engagement and oversight, as well as supporting practitioners and team managers on practice issues in a protected reflective environment.

In respect of case files graded Inadequate during collaborative or thematic audits the following process should be followed:

  1. If the auditor deems the case to be 'inadequate' this should be brought to the attention of the responsible Service Manager;
  2. The Head of Service is responsible for assuring themselves that the child isn't at risk as a result of the inadequate practice;
  3. Cases judged to be 'Inadequate' should be heard at Moving Forward Meeting (Audit) to understand the Inadequate rating and delayed impact for the child and family;
  4. The Moving Forward Panel should consider a review of the social worker's other cases to ensure there aren't any further examples of inadequate practice. This can be done by the relevant Head of Service or Team Manager. Timescale is within 4 weeks of the original case being audited;
  5. If a review of all the social workers cases is undertaken an 'Exception Report' (1 page summary) should be completed for the attention of the Assistant Executive Director;
  6. The 'inadequate' case should be re audited by a Service Manager or QA Team Manager within 3 months of the inadequate audit;
  7. Feedback with family should be revisited as part of this process;
  8. In addition, the case should be reviewed monthly in supervision for 3 months before a review audit is completed by the Service Manager or Quality Assurance Team Manager.

The Moving Forward Meeting will also examine cases audited that are not rated Inadequate, this supports strength based learning and dissemination of good practice to support wider practice improvement.

Appendix A: Collaborative Audit Form

Following the Sector Led Improvement Programme a new collaborative audit form was developed and introduced in Summer 2022.

Click here to view Appendix A: Collaborative Audit Form.