Children’s minister Edward Timpson has appointed a private company to help West Berkshire’s failing children’s services improve.
In a letter Timpson instructed the council it must work with consultancy Exploring Choices “until some such time that [he] is satisfied this is no longer required”.
Inadequate inspection rating
The improvement notice issued yesterday comes after an Ofsted inspection in May found the council’s children’s service were inadequate.
However, West Berkshire’s director of children’s services, Rachael Wardell, said the improvement notice had been drawn up in conjunction with the council and was “light touch”.
“The letter did not contain a requirement for us to have an improvement board, which I think makes us unique. To me that’s a really positive sign that the DfE trusts us get it right.
“The improvement advisers are people we are already working with [since after the Ofsted report]. We are pleased to be working with them. They provide external challenge and support.
High staff turnover
Ofsted inspectors found West Berkshire’s staff turnover was high and the council was over-reliant on agency staff to fill in the gaps.
The report said: “Too many children have experienced unacceptable drift and delay in having their needs met.
“A significant proportion of child protection enquiries, assessments and plans for children are poor.”
The minister’s letter said the council must agree an improvement plan with Exploring Choices by September 25.
The plan should include actions to improve leadership and governance, the quality and delivery of practice and the stability of the social work workforce.
Private consultancy firm
Exploring Choices is a consultancy set up by a group of former teachers, including Heather Rushton who was previously a director at the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes (C4EO), part of the National Children’s Bureau.
Wardell said there had already been improvements since the report was published.
“We haven’t lost anyone from the service since the inspection and our agency rate is going down. We haven’t seen the very damaging things that often happen after an inspection. Often in local authorities [after a bad inspection] there is a culture of blame and scapegoating and we have been very clear that isn’t going to happen.”
Timpson said if the council is “unwilling or unable” to comply with the improvement notice, the department may use its powers of intervention to “direct the council to enter appropriate arrangement to secure the improvements required in children’s services”. It was by this process that Doncaster and Slough were instructed to move their children’s services into trusts.