Ofsted will press ahead with controversial plans to tighten up the assessment of council children’s services despite concerns among directors.
From this year, councils will undergo unannounced annual safeguarding checks and three-yearly inspections of safeguarding and looked-after children’s services, and receive annual children’s services ratings, based on a performance profile updated every quarter.
The plan for annual safeguarding checks was heavily criticised by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, despite being endorsed by children’s secretary Ed Balls last December in his response to the Baby P case.
Disrupt service delivery
ADCS warned the checks could disrupt service delivery and also criticised the plans for focusing on councils rather than all agencies with safeguarding responsibilities.
Responding to the consultation last week, Ofsted admitted responses to the proposal had been mixed but said it would press ahead with the plan. It said the checks would focus on multi-agency work through case-file sampling and said it would seek to minimise disruption.
The proposed annual performance rating will inform the comprehensive area assessment of councils, which will come into force this year.
Scrap annual assessments
However, a report last week from local government think-tank the Children’s Services Network, based on a survey of council children’s services leaders, called for annual assessments to be scrapped for all but the worst-performing authorities.
The report, co-authored by the Performance Information Reference Group in Education and Children’s Services, said Ofsted’s plans for a performance profile, updated quarterly, would lock authorities into a “cycle” of responding to the demands of inspectors, diverting resources from service improvement.
However, Ofsted said that the plans for a performance profile had been backed by two-thirds of the 102 respondents to the consultation, most of whom were from local authorities.
It said it would work with “key stakeholders” to develop the profile, which will be based on councils’ performance against national indicators on children’s services and findings from inspections.