Inspection types

Our specific inspection focus and programme at any one time is agreed with the Scottish Government and published in the Care Inspectorate’s Scrutiny, Assurance and Improvement Plan. We take a number of different approaches to inspection, designed to meet different scrutiny objectives. These include, but are not limited to:

Inspections and joint Inspections: inspections of individual local authorities or partnerships in relation to key priority areas. Local authorities are identified for inspection based on a combination of risk assessment and rotation of scrutiny activity.

Progress reviews: return visits to a local authority or partnership to check progress following a previous inspection and set of recommendations. Progress reviews are usually (but not always) carried out where the original inspection identified significant areas for improvement.

Thematic reviews/inspections: inspections carried out in a limited number of local authority or partnership areas to explore a particular area of policy or practice that is of national interest. These reviews may or may not evaluate the performance of individual authorities or partnerships but are primarily designed to explore the national picture relating to a given theme and make national recommendations.

Supported self-evaluations: we are always keen to support and encourage self-evaluation. We may at times work proactively with identified local authorities and partnerships to support and validate their self-evaluation of particular areas of activity.

Inquiries: this approach uses an abbreviated approach to explore a particular theme or issue across the country. It is usually designed as a discrete piece of work, carried out over a relatively short time to produce a quick report that provides insight into the key issues relating to the theme.

Inspection teams

Our inspection teams have an inspection lead with responsibility for effectively delivering and concluding the individual inspection. The lead is supported by a deputy lead and a team of inspectors drawn from the Care Inspectorate and relevant partner scrutiny bodies. Our inspections may be supported by associate assessors and people with lived experience (inspection volunteers). The administration and organisation of inspection activities is managed by a team of strategic support officers.

The size of an inspection team will be determined by the scope, methodology and planned length of the inspection. Sometimes, additional resources may be allocated for specific parts of the inspection. However, most inspections will have a core team of between six and 10 members.

How resources are deployed across the different activities of the inspection, and the timing of activities, is captured on a plan that we call the inspection footprint.

Inspection methodology

For each set of inspections, we develop a quality indicator framework (QIF). The quality improvement framework outlines what we expect the quality of the service provided to be. The frameworks we use in our strategic inspection work are based on the EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management) excellence model, widely used by organisations for managing change and improving performance. The Health and Social Care Standards are woven throughout the quality indicators.

Overall, the QIF provides a model to support inspection. We examine:

  • performance and the outcomes that services achieve for the children and adults who use them
  • the processes that support service delivery
  • the vision, leadership, management and planning of services.

The quality indicator frameworks are also available to local authorities & partnerships for them to use for self-evaluation purposes.

 Inspection activities

The activities carried out by inspection teams to gather information can differ across inspections. However, there are some activities which have been proven to consistently provide good information and are therefore used regularly as part of inspections. These include:

Information and communication

The local authority or partnership can expect to receive full information about the inspection.

Most inspections provide a written guidance document of some sort, explaining the various stages and activities of the inspection, along with timescales.

In most inspections, we ask the local authority or partnership to nominate a local co-ordinator to manage and co-ordinate the various activities for them.

Throughout the course of the inspection, there are pre-planned meetings between key members of the inspection team and the local authority or partnership. These may be called professional or partnership discussions. Their key functions are: for the inspection team to feedback on findings so far; for the local authority or partnership to reflect on those findings; for the parties to discuss arrangements and plans for the next phase of the inspection.


It is a priority for the Care Inspectorate to support local authorities and partnerships to evaluate their own progress. Most of our inspections ask the local authority or partnership to provide a position statement and supporting evidence at the beginning of the inspection to help inform the inspection team’s understanding and formulate lines of enquiry.

Talking to children and adults who use services

Understanding the experience of people who use social work and social care services is fundamental to inspection, and we use a range of methods to gather the views of both people and unpaid carers. These are likely to include surveys, interviews, events, focus groups, and a range of activities developed to support specific inspections.

Reviewing records

Reading the records of children and adults who use services (also known as file reading) is a rich source of evidence for the inspection teams and is a part of many inspections. It provides understanding of how processes work and gives a picture of how staff interact with people using services.

Support networks

As well as reading records, many inspections include further examination of the care and support journeys experienced by children and adults by meeting with the staff and other significant people who have been part of that journey. This means that inspectors are able to further explore questions that have arisen from reading case records.

Staff surveys

Many inspections include surveys issued to staff. The inspection team often requests the help of the local authority or partnership in distributing the survey and encouraging staff to respond. The arrangements for issuing the survey, and which staff should receive it, will be discussed with the inspection co-ordinator by the inspection lead and strategic support officer.

Interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders

Most inspections involve focus groups or interviews with key stakeholders, including staff, managers, senior leaders, representatives of other statutory and voluntary organisations. Often this takes place towards the end of an inspection as it gives the inspection team a good opportunity to discuss themes and issues that have emerged during other inspection activities.

Inspection reports

Inspection teams use regular team meetings to identify and explore themes that emerge from inspection activities. We make sure that potential findings are triangulated and corroborated through a range of activities before accepting them.

Inspection reports for each strand of inspection activity are tailored to the requirements of that inspection, so there are differences between the reports produced by each strategic inspection team. There will also be differences in the reports produced by each team when they are working on different inspection themes.

However, in general, strategic inspection reports can be expected to contain:

  • a summary of key findings and/or strengths and areas for improvement
  • an analysis of the inspection findings based on the relevant quality indicator framework
  • some form of evaluation of the local authority or partnership’s performance – which may or may not have grades attached
  • recommendations for action and/or improvement.

Quality Assurance

We aim to achieve a high quality for all our work and want it to have maximum value for all our stakeholders and to reflect and help to improve the experience of people who use services. To help us achieve this, each inspection programme has a range of quality assurance arrangements:

Each programme has arrangements for review of the inspection approach and methodology which take account of the learning from each inspection while balancing the need for consistency. A key source of learning is from post inspection questionnaires and feedback from inspection leads and team members. All strategic scrutiny teams are represented on a forum to discuss potential improvements to inspection methodology from experiences across the different workstreams and promote consistency wherever possible. When reading the records of people who use services during inspection, a proportion of the sample is double read to ensure consistency of evaluations and we provide training for all record readers.

At the reporting stage of our inspections, inspection leads present their inspection team’s findings and draft report to a ‘quality and consistency’ panel with representation from each partner scrutiny body for discussion and comment. Reports are then issued to the area inspected for an accuracy check before final editing and publication.

Information governance

Our approach to processing personal data is set out in full in our organisational privacy notice.


The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on social work and social care services across the country. Because of this, most of our strategic inspection work was paused between March 2020 and spring 2021. Since then, some strategic inspections have been able to proceed, but all our programmes have been adjusted to reduce the risk of infection and to reduce the inspection burden on local authorities and partnerships. We continue to be responsive to the trends of the pandemic as we plan for and deliver inspection activities. Some key areas where we have adjusted our activities include:

  • stopping face to face meetings and conducting our business online, with inspectors largely working from home
  • increasing contact with link areas to provide support and assurance
  • relaxing the timescales for local authority and partnership staff completing quality assurance reviews
  • developing and implementing an approach to reviewing case records online, using data sharing platforms
  • developing and implementing an approach to carrying out focus groups, interviews, and engagement with adults and children using telephone and online options.