Ofsted has come under heavy criticism from MPs who have accused the inspectorate of trying to ‘save face’ during its 2014 emergency inspection of Rotherham.
Speaking at a Communities and Local Government Select Committee hearing, Clive Betts MP described how – in the wake of Professor Alexis Jay’s report that revealed over 1,400 children had suffered sexual exploitation in the area – the inspectorate, “came in, produced their report and said to the secretary of state ‘we want you to intervene’. Didn’t that look a bit like Ofsted trying to save face rather than anything else?”
Debbie Jones, Ofsted’s director of social care, defended the inspection. “When we went in we inspected according to our current framework, we were sufficiently concerned with what we found to feel it was necessary in the middle of the inspection…to write to the secretary of state,” she said.
Questioning the fact that Ofsted has not taken this approach with another authority (under the current framework), Betts asked: “So it’s just a coincidence that this happened to happen in an authority which had just had a report externally by Professor Jay?”
If inspectors had seen what they saw in Rotherham in any other authority, they would not have hesitated to express the same concerns, Jones assured MPs.
Ofsted’s failure to identify the scale of the problem in Rotherham during prior inspections was due to the frameworks they were operating under, Jones explained.
These frameworks “were developed according to the policies, the issues that were of concern at the time” and did not focus on child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the same way the current framework does, she said.
Ofsted were accused of having “designed a system that failed to spot the rape of children” by Simon Danczuk MP, who added that they used the framework “in an attempt to convince the public that they were doing an effective job in examining whether the services were good or not”.
Referring to the 2006 joint area review by Ofsted, which found that young children in the region were being kept safe, Danczuk brought up Professor Jay’s description of Ofsted providing “false reassurance”.
Ofsted were: “Convincing the public, councillors, council officers, everybody that children were safe. They weren’t safe, they were being raped,” Danczuk said.
Jones warned that these criticisms could misconstrue “the responsibility and accountability that is on senior officers within a local authority in any given time”. Drawing on her experience as a former director of children’s services, Jones said: “I think that any director that relies purely and exclusively on what the inspectorates say and do are not doing the job they should be doing”.
Under significant pressure from MPs, Jones apologised on behalf of Ofsted for failing the children of Rotherham, “of course we’re sorry, we’re sorry along with I’m sure everyone else who has been in front of this committee,” she said.