Concerns over ‘tougher’ Ofsted inspection regime

Ofsted has raised the bar for its children's services inspections, according to council leaders.

Child protection inspections have been unannounced since May (Pic: RunPhoto/Getty)

Local authorities have admitted they are worried their children’s services departments could be rated down by Ofsted under the watchdog’s new, ‘tougher’ inspection regime.

Community Care understands a number of councils are concerned about how their departments will fare under Ofsted’s beefed-up inspection programme, which includes no-notice inspections.

One senior local authority source told Community Care that Ofsted inspectors have hinted it will be “much more difficult” to get good or excellent ratings in the future.

The chief executive of Sandwell council, who has this week announced plans to recruit private sector help to improve the authority’s children’s services, said the move was partly driven by Ofsted’s changing inspection framework.

Jan Britton said: “I’m acutely conscious we are improving, but what I’m worried about is that we may not be improving fast enough to stay ahead of what I believe is a rising bar from Ofsted.

“Unless we find a way of improving the pace of improvment then we risk being overtaken by that rising bar from Ofsted.”

He pointed to media reports last week that suggested five of the 24 local authorities whose safeguarding and looked-after children’s services have been inspected by Ofsted in the past four months have shown some level of inadequacy.

“That’s quite a high proportion,” he said. “I think we are in a transition phase with Ofsted using the old regime with elements of the new before it comes into force next year.”

He continued: “While we were much heartened by our recent inspection, we are aiming to get a good or an excellent rating to ensure we have that certainty. The negative consequences of an inadequate rating from Ofsted again would, I think, really set us back in terms of morale.”

Earlier this week Kingston council lost control of its child protection responsibilities following an Ofsted inspection, which judged its children’s services to be inadequate. It is understood the rating came as a big shock to the previously excellent-rated authority.

Bruce McDonald, the authority’s chief executive, said: “We do not know if the inspection was any more rigorous to reflect a new regime at Ofsted, but Kingston completely accepts the findings of the report.

“The inspection was thorough and involved a ‘forensic’ level of scrutiny of recent case work, but we take the view that transparent public scrutiny of our services is an important process in driving up standards of safeguarding for young people.”

Debbie Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said it was difficult to judge whether inspections are getting harder, “as the same authority will not experience a second inspection under the same framework”.

“Skilled inspectors who follow evidence and focus on the journey of the child will provide local authorities with important feedback on performance that can drive improvement, as long as the process is transparent and robust,” she said.

Community Care is awaiting a reponse from Ofsted.

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