Ofsted damaging morale and performance with ‘futile’ judgements, says ADCS

Inspecting and looking for failure is not the right way to help services improve, warns ADCS president

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Director’s of children’s services have launched another attack on Ofsted’s stricter inspection regime, accusing the watchdog of damaging council morale and performance through “futile” and “inappropriate” judgements.

During a session on inspecting services for children, Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), set out his scepticism about the efficacy of Ofsted’s inspection framework, based on ‘one-word’ judgements’.

There is no evidence, Webb said, that tougher inspections actually improve services and outcomes for children. He asked former ADCS president and Ofsted social care director Debbie Jones, also speaking at the session, to consider whether the current inspection framework is “the right way to help services improve”.

“Inspecting and looking for failure is not the right way,” Webb told delegates. “It is inappropriate for Ofsted to raise the bar without any evidence or research to show that its inspection regime actually helps services to improve.”

He added: “Ofsted has no external evaluation of its inspection expertise [that I know of] so it’s a serious of professional judgements.” And if the result of these judgements is to rate more councils inadequate then “that’s not necessarily helpful at all,” he said. He also criticised Ofsted’s ratings for being too simplistic. “It’s facile to sum up a complex system with a limiting one-word judgement.”

Debbie Jones defended Ofsted’s framework, telling delegates that she recognised the impact negative judgements can have on morale, but had found “all the evidence tells us that children and young people want a true evaluation of services”.

“We have a legal duty to monitor progress, not deliver solutions,” she said. “We have a responsibility to give a clear and simple picture.”

One delegate, a manager in a safeguarding team who did not wish to be named, told Community Care: “Once a council or service has been rated inadequate you see staff leave and it’s really hard to recruit good people. The rating becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

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