Ofsted slammed by Howard League chief over inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has accused Ofsted of being “naïve” and “blithely uncritical” in its inspection of a secure training centre (STC) in Kent.

In a letter to Ofsted’s chief inspector, the prison charity’s chief executive, Frances Crook, outlined serious concerns over the watchdog’s procedures during an unannounced inspection of Medway STC. The privately-run institution holds children aged 12 to 14.

“The report reads like an apologia for the private company running the institution and is so superficial as to be almost meaningless,” Crook wrote.

Crook criticised inspectors for showing “little evidence” that children held in Medway STC were consulted about their views, and called the watchdog “naïve” for its “assumption that children will feel able to speak freely in a jail setting.”

“There is little evidence that children are consulted in the inspections, nor that children who have been held who might be more able to speak freely when no longer in a custodial setting have been consulted,” she added.

She also condemned the report for being “blithely uncritical” of the controversial issue of physical restraining children and young people in the secure estate.

“It seems extraordinary that inspectors could be so complacent about the use of physical restraint on children when it has been such a controversial topic following the deaths of two children,” Crook wrote.

An Ofsted spokesperson said the watchdog was reviewing its inspection methods for STCs and would “consider the points raised by the Howard League for Penal Reform as part of that process”.

Of Crook’s remarks, the spokesperson added: “Ofsted strongly refutes any suggestion that we do not take the use of physical restraint seriously. Inspectors pay particular attention to this and review individual incidents and talk to young people involved. The inspectors who inspect secure training centres are very experienced and have a record of challenging poor practice.

“Inspectors spend as much time as possible with young people during inspections, in addition to collecting information from young people and their parents in pre-inspection questionnaires. Inspectors also review exit questionnaires and consider information provided by managers, reviews of statistical information and records, and CCTV footage to get a rounded picture of what a centre is like for a young person.”

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