New inspections reports ‘could mislead the public’
Public confidence in safeguarding could be undermined by aspects of Ofsted’s new unannounced inspections of child protection arrangements in councils, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has warned.
President Kim Bromley-Derry told the ADCS annual conference last week that terminology used in inspection reports could lead the public to think a council’s whole safeguarding system was inadequate when this was not the case.
Under the inspections, which began last month, councils’ performance is rated under three headings: strengths, areas for improvement and serious concerns.
Past ADCS president Maggie Atkinson said the organisation disagreed with what could be rated as a serious concern under the system.
She said one of the first nine councils inspected had completed an initial assessment within the current seven-day deadline, but part of the paperwork was carried out on the eighth day and that this had been counted as a serious concern by the inspectorate.
“The fact that you have done the paperwork on day eight when you could have done it at tea time on day seven is devaluing the language on which we benchmark ourselves,” she said.
Any children’s services department deemed to have a serious concern receives a letter stating this from Ofsted. These are public documents.
“The worry is if a local authority receives a letter of serious concern and the letter is in the public domain the public may see that and think that the whole safeguarding system is of concern when it’s not,” said Bromley-Derry (pictured).
Of the nine councils a number have been found to have serious concerns but they have only received letters in private draft format so far. ADCS wants to resolve the issue before the final letters are sent and made available to the public.
It is in dialogue with Ofsted about the issue.
The unannounced inspections have been highlighted by children’s secretary Ed Balls as a key plank in the government’s efforts to improve safeguarding in the wake of the baby Peter case. However ADCS has previously raised concerns that they would place disproportionate burdens on authorities.
About 40 local authorities are set to have unannounced inspections by the end of September and all councils will undergo the process within the next year.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “We make no apology for making protection of children our primary concern and as such highlighting where we have found concerns during an inspection. However, no final letters have been published at this stage and we are currently considering the precise wording contained in the letters so as to convey accurately the extent and seriousness of any weaknesses we have identified.”