Row between directors and Ofsted escalates

The row between local authorities and Ofsted escalated today, with directors challenging the watchdog to radically change its inspection models.

The day before Ofsted publishes its annual report, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) attacked the watchdog claiming the “system is not working” and demanding major changes to both the model of inspection and how it is funded.

However, Ofsted hit back claiming: “We will not shy away from expressing our findings when we see shortcomings, even if this is uncomfortable for the professionals delivering services”.

ADCS president Kim Bromley-Derry said the new unnannounced inspections and draft performance profiles from comprehensive area assessements (CAA’s), produced by the Audit Commission and Ofsted, had been the “last straw” for many directors.

“We want to be inspected, to be judged on what we do well and what we don’t – but we need a system that admits its limitations, acknowledges the expertise of those working in the sector and clearly articulates both the challenges and the improvements in language the public understands.”

The ADCS has demanded, in the short term, that Ofsted clarify how judgements are reached in a range of inspection frameworks and in the evaluation of serious case reviews. In the longer term, the body wants a focus on the role of peer support and review to drive improvement with the outcomes inspected by Ofsted. Regional improvement funds should be redirected to fund a peer-led improvement model.

Bromley-Derry added that attempts to succinctly describe children and young people’s services in CAA’s had resulted in sentences that did not make sense and would not help the public understand how well services were doing. He called for greater consistency in the new area profiles and results presented in a “meaningful” way.

However, a spokeswoman for Ofsted said the inspectorate was “absolutely confident in the processes we use and the very high quality of our inspectors; we will let our evidence (in tomorrow’s annual report) speak for itself”.

She also said it was wrong to say Ofsted lacked experience or understanding of social care, pointing out the vast majority of staff transferred over from the Commission for Social Care Inspection when Ofsted took on the responsibility.

The demands from directors and councillors were published at the same time as criticism from a former chief inspector at Ofsted, Sir Mike Tomlinson. He told The Guardian that he was worried that the watchdog’s inspection regime relied too heavily on “data and tick-box systems”.

Tomlinson, now a government adviser, said the question needed to be asked and answered as to whether Ofsted had the appropriate skills and experience to carry out its agenda.

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