A leading campaigner for greater transparency over council children’s services has told The MJ he has little confidence in assessments made by watchdog, Ofsted.
John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, also said that ‘checks and balances’ built into local children’s services systems designed to monitor highly-emotional and difficult issues still too often failed families and youngsters.
Historically, Ofsted’s systems for inspection have been shown to be unreliable. The perfect example of that being Haringey, where Ofsted gave it three stars around the time of the [Baby] Peter Connelly case,’ he said. ‘I still do not think that the processes, checks and balances in children’s services function properly. Hence, I do not have much confidence in [Oftsed’s] judgments.’
Mr Hemming’s comments preceded publication of a government-commissioned review of child protection services on 10 May, which has reignited debate over the adequacy of Oftsed’s inspection regime – and central government’s sector oversight.
Professor Eileen Munro urged central government to free local areas from a restrictive, one-size-fits-all approach she claimed prevented councils from focusing on children’s needs. Her study criticises a ‘tick box’ culture which informs the wider inspection regime.
Ofsted today publishes its latest inspection of Doncaster MBC’children and young people’s service.
Ofsted has judged services at the South Yorkshire authority – subject to government intervention since 2009 – to be ‘adequate’ following an inspection this spring.
That represents a significant improvement from the ‘poor’ assessment the watchdog handed Doncaster in December 2010, and a highly-critical review by its current director of children’s services, Chris Pratt, last year, which urged improvements to ‘frontline safeguarding services’.
Ministers ordered an intervention in Doncaster’s children’s services in March 2009, after the deaths of seven children over five years. In April 2010, a wider intervention followed an Audit Commission report warning Doncaster was not properly run.
Progress was initially slow. An internal report by Mr Pratt in June 2010, 12 months after ministers’ initial intervention, warned services were still ‘unacceptably poor’ – and in some areas, ‘getting worse’.
Less than one year later, Doncaster’s safeguarding services have been reviewed more positively. Mr Pratt described the new Ofsted study as a ‘significant milestone in our ongoing journey of improvement’.
He told The MJ the council’s improvements were down to a new strategic approach to children’s services, improved staff training, and a more stable, permanent workforce – including social workers.
But he accepted Doncaster’s service needed to be ‘more consistent’.
We are aware there is still a long way to go. “Adequate” is a far better judgment than past ratings. But it is not good enough for the children and young people of Doncaster,’ he said.
Responding to Mr Hemming’s comments, an Ofsted source said the watchdog had ‘changed dramatically’ its inspection regime following the Baby P case. He argued Ofsted’s findings now more accurately reflect service quality.
Ofsted spokesperson said:’Ofsted simply cannot accept this depiction of our inspection of children’s social care. Ofsted inspections are carried out by experienced professionals who analyse a range of first hand evidence on the ground in children’s social care departments, reviewing live cases, interviewing children and young people, staff and elected members in the authority.
Professor Eileen Munro’s recent review explicitly recognised the contribution of inspection to improving services and Ofsted is now working with the government to develop the implementation of the key proposals in this review.’