Inspection shake-up heralds greater focus on children in care in schools

Schools’ performance in relation to children in care will come under greater scrutiny under changes proposed by the new Chief Inspector of Schools.

Christine Gilbert, who took up her role at Ofsted in October, has written to directors of children’s services explaining that changes to the children’s inspection process will mean a greater focus on groups of children and young people most at risk, including children in care, children on the child protection register, and children with learning difficulties or disabilities.

Under the joint area review system introduced in September 2005, inspectors had not always been able to report in sufficient detail on particular issues and challenges or focus enough on the outcomes for some of the most vulnerable groups of children, Gilbert said.

Her annual report published last week identified aspects of services for many of these groups as the areas most frequently in need of improvement. Gilbert highlighted the education of children in care as a particular “cause for concern”.

“The poor levels of attainment and attendance in school of many children in care are simply unacceptable,” she said, launching the report. “These children are inadequately supported in almost half of local authorities. We intend to strengthen our inspection of children’s services by focusing more sharply on this vulnerable group of children.”

The inspection changes mean that joint area reviews will be narrower and will no longer provide, on their own, the grade for a council’s children’s services. Instead, all councils will have an annual performance assessment as well, which will be wider in their coverage than at present.

Gilbert insisted the changes should reduce the demand on local authorities and their partners when joint area review fieldwork was undertaken, and reduce duplication between the assessment and review processes. The current joint area review programme is scheduled to end in December 2008.

Contact the author: Lauren Revans


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