Department for Education ‘alarmingly reluctant’ to improve outcomes for children

Public Accounts Committee accuses DfE of limiting its own responsibility rather than maximising opportunities for children in care

Public Accounts Committee Chair Margaret Hodge Photo: Richard Gardner/Rex

The Department for Education is ‘alarmingly reluctant’ to help improve services for children in care, a damning Public Accounts Committee report has found.

Committee chair Margaret Hodge accused the department of trying to “water down its responsibility for holding local authorities to account” and focusing “on limiting its responsibility rather than maximising opportunities for children in care”.

Hodge’s accusations referred to a revised accountability statement published earlier this year by the Department for Education (DfE), which removed all references to it holding a council to account for its children in care outcomes.

It also downplayed the DfE’s role in leading the sector to improve.

Inquiry report

The statement was published the week after the committee took evidence for its children in care inquiry, when MPs criticised the department for those exact points.

Hodge’s comments came as the committee published its inquiry report, Children in Care, which is based on the views of key stakeholders including the national director of the Care Leavers Association, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and lead members of Ofsted.

All were asked to evaluate whether the DfE is helping to improve services for children in care.

The committee recommended the DfE either reinstates its responsibility for holding councils to account for their performance or makes it clearer how these duties are being fulfilled when it publishes a new statement.

‘Leaving poor services to fester’

“In view of the department having ignored our obvious interest when publishing its revised statement in January 2015, we expect the department to publish a revised statement in the near future, which takes account of our concerns,” the recommendations read.

The committee’s report also noted that, currently, too many children in care are moved from placement to placement too often, while too few are placed close to their homes.

Hodge also criticised the DfE for “leaving poor services to fester”, and said it only reacts to problems after Ofsted has identified them.

How frequently Ofsted inspects children’s services should be reconsidered, the committee recommended, while the DfE should also explore involving the watchdog in improving councils’ performance between inspections.

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