The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has criticised plans for unannounced annual safeguarding inspections of councils, despite ministers making them a key plank of their response to the Baby P case.
The association warned the proposed annual one-day visits assessing child protection arrangements may “disrupt vital service delivery” while the methodology could lack “sophistication”.
Though consultation on the proposal has only just closed and the inspectorate is considering responses, it seems certain to be adopted in some form from next year.
Ed Balls on response to Baby P
Speaking last week following the damning joint area review of Haringey, north London, sparked by the Baby P case, children’s secretary Ed Balls included the plan in a list of measures to improve safeguarding nationally.
He said: “Ofsted has decided that each year they will undertake an unannounced inspection visit of safeguarding practice in every area of the country.”
Under the plans, each area will receive a three-yearly, announced inspection on outcomes for looked-after children and safeguarding, with each element graded on Ofsted’s four-point scale (outstanding, good, satisfactory, inadequate).
In intervening years, inspectors will carry out an ungraded one-day, unannounced visit to assess safeguarding, which could include speaking to duty managers, sampling case files and holding a meeting with the director of children’s services.
The full three-yearly inspection could be brought forward if the annual visit identifies concerns.
But in ADCS’s consultation response, standards, performance and inspection committee chair Marion Davis said unannounced visits may lead to disruption of services because local authorities needed notice to implement the necessary “support”.
She said that the association doubted whether the annual visits would take account of “the complexity of the environment in which work is carried out”.
The proposals were also focused on local authorities and failed to “take into consideration how local partners are working together in an area to safeguard children and young people”, she added.
A spokesperson for Ofsted said it “recognises that good partnership working between all relevant agencies is key to safeguarding children” and insisted that all visits would provide “assurance that specified agencies are working together effectively”.
The row comes with Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert due to give evidence tomorrow in front of the House of Commons’ children, schools and families select committee.
She is expected to face criticism for the ‘good’ rating received by Haringey Council in its annual performance assessment last year, just months after Baby P’s death in August 2007. Unlike the recent joint area review, the APA did not involve any field work.