Local government bosses have branded Ofsted’s plans to start new multi-agency child safeguarding inspections this autumn as lacking in clarity and running the risk of drawing staff way from frontline child protection work.
In a joint response to Ofsted’s proposals to introduce ‘joint targeted area inspections’ this autumn, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Local Government Association and the council chief executives’ group Solace also question whether these assessments will be as useful to local agencies as the current thematic inspections.
While welcoming the use of narrative rather than graded judgements and Ofsted’s recognition that the responsibility for safeguarding children extends beyond local authorities, the response is withering about the detail of the inspectorate’s plans.
“There has been a complete lack of transparency and clarity regarding the rationale, framework and longevity of the programme of joint targeted area inspections,” says the response before criticising the tight timescale and lack of opportunities for local agencies to comment on the plans.
The response also warns that joint targeted area inspections will place a heavy inspection burden on local government and duplicates key parts of the single inspection framework.
“It is simply not proportionate to retain the single inspection framework, commence a multi-agency joint targeted area inspection, a single-agency joint targeted area inspection focused only on the local authority, and begin a new inspection of SEND provision within the same short timeframe,” says the response.
Such a burden, it warns, will “draw staff and senior leaders away from frontline activity to service inspection”.
“We have previously called for an inspection regime that takes into account the contributions of all safeguarding partners to achieving better outcomes for children and young people,” said Alison O’Sullivan, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.
“Sadly the complexity of this work is not yet reflected in these plans and I am not convinced that the joint targeted area inspection will add to our understanding of issues such as child sexual exploitation, radicalisation or disruption of gangs.”
Other criticisms in the response include the unclearness of Ofsted’s quality assurance processes for the new inspections and the watchdog’s plan to only notify local safeguarding children’s boards about when these inspections will happen rather than the agencies that will be inspected.