Ofsted must rethink how it inspects children’s services

The man brought in to support Haringey Council in the aftermath of the Baby P case has said Ofsted must rethink how it inspects children’s services.

John Coughlan said the current focus on inspections “could derail everything that’s good about what’s going on” in the sector.

He was speaking at this year’s National Children and Adult Services Conference in Harrogate in his capacity as chair of the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services’ (C4EO) safeguarding advisory group.

Coughlan said watchdogs like Ofsted needed to reconsider the process of their inspections.

“We need to ask ourselves, are we auditing or inspecting in order to improve? The experience of inspection now is an audit of records. We’re not doing anything in the inspection to improve the quality of practice.”

Coughlan said the current levels of inspection were turning social services into a “spectator sport”.

“It’s a very crowded terrace and at the moments there’s a sense that there are more watchers than players,” he said to an audience of social workers, who applauded and nodded in approval.

“The typical chant for spectators of course is, ‘you don’t know what you’re doing,’” he continued. “But then the response there would be, ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.’”

As well as his role at C4EO, Coughlan is currently director of children’s services at Hampshire County Council, which received a critical Oftsed report in September.

Following the Baby P scandal, the Department for Children, Schools and Families asked Coughlan to support senior management in Haringey’s children’s services department.

In 2007, Coughlan became the first joint president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

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