One word Ofsted judgements ‘ludicrous’, says top children’s director

Association of Directors of Children's Services president calls for narrative judgements used by coroners to improve inspections of children's services

Ofsted should work with councils to reach a narrative judgement at the end of inspections similar to those sometimes given by coroners, the chief of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said yesterday.

“Coroners faced with potentially conflicting evidence and little indication of causation will deliver a narrative verdict,” said Andrew Webb, addressing delegates at the annual ADCS conference.

“If a process is good enough for a coroner, it should be good enough for an Ofsted inspector.”

Webb said this would be an improvement on the current regime, under which the regulator “simply passes judgement and walks away”.

The current inspection regime needed urgent reform because it did not reflect the complexity of safeguarding systems, he said.

“There are so many factors that influence the journey of the child and these will change over time. To try and sum all that up and make a judgement about the entire system with just one word is ludicrous,” he later told Community Care.

He admitted there was no likelihood of developing a narrative judgement approach in the immediate future, but called for an “urgent start to a dialogue” so that this time next year the sector could approach inspections in a completely different way.

Webb also stressed that ADCS continues to support the development of a multi-agency multi-inspectorate regime to look at the quality of safeguarding.

Plans for multi-agency child protection inspections were scrapped in April after concerns were raised about the accountability of some of the agencies involved.

Webb said they had been “trying for the right prize”, but the timescales were too tight, and he reaffirmed his commitment to a multi-agency approach.

“At the moment, to judge the safeguarding system on the basis of reviewing the local authority is too narrow,” he said.

Following his keynote speech to the conference, children’s minister Edward Timpson told delegates: “My own view is that we should still strive to move towards a more integrated approach to inspections.”

On the question of whether Ofsted judgements should be narrative, Timpson said: “That is one I suspect Sir Michael Wilshaw (chief inspector of Ofsted) will want to take up.”

Wilshaw is due to address delegates this morning.

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