The row between Ofsted and directors of children’s services over unannounced inspections has flared up again after Ofsted announced it was changing some of its guidance for inspectors.
In an e-mail update sent to directors of children’s services the inspectorate said it would be changing the definition of what would be considered an “area of priority action” as of 1 April this year. The term would now apply only to “serious failings which place children at risk of inadequate protection and of significant harm”.
However, the change also means that any council with areas for priority action will be graded as “poorly performing” in the annual rating of children’s services.
President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services Kim Bromley-Derry said directors were concerned about how the new rule would be applied to those councils who had already had an unannounced inspection and were angry at the lack of consultation.
“It is not so much the changes that are being proposed but the way that the changes have been made, with little discussion with the sector, that is of concern,” he said. “Given that Ofsted is trying to address some of our concerns about the framework, it is a little odd that it has proceeded to make changes without in-depth consultation.”
John Goldup, Ofsted’s development director for social care, said he was “mystified” by Bromley-Derry’s comments.
“We have been discussing this with ADCS since before Christmas,” he said, adding that not only had there been three meetings with the ADCS on the topic but also five regional conferences to which all local authorities had been invited.
“In all of these discussions there was strong agreement that it would be helpful to introduce a much tighter definition of what constitutes an area for priority action and a much more transparent criterion for the impact of such a judgement on the overall rating of children’s services,” Goldup said.
He added that the inspectorate would now review all areas for priority action identified between December and April to determine those which met the new definition.
“This will ensure that exactly the same rules are applied to every single local authority when it comes to the 2010 children’s services ratings,” he said.
Bromley-Derry responded: “We have been talking to Ofsted about the need for a change in the definitions and more clarity in how the outcomes of the unannounced inspection affect the CAA rating each year. In those meetings, we were encouraged that Ofsted were willing to listen and to acknowledge that there was scope for improvement. But that is not the same as talking to us about the detail of the changes such as what should constitute an area for priority action, when it would be appropriate for that to limit the whole department to a poor score and when any changes should be brought in.”