DfE commissioner ends oversight of ‘inadequate’ council following progress

Unpublished report expressing 'considerable confidence' in progress at Wakefield follows positive Ofsted monitoring visits to West Yorkshire council

Wakefield (image: Tim Green / Wikimedia Commons)

An independent commissioner will cease to oversee progress at Wakefield children’s services after reporting that his services are no longer required.

In his latest report to the Department for Education (DfE), commissioner Peter Dwyer expressed ‘considerable confidence’ in the inadequate-rated authority’s potential for improving its Ofsted grade, the council said in a statement.

The evaluation – which has not been made public – follows on from a positive second monitoring visit by inspectors last October.

In its letter following that visit, Ofsted noted ‘steady progress’ at the West Yorkshire authority.

Inspectors praised efforts to stabilise the social work workforce, which had seen caseloads drop and enabled a renewed focus on social work basics.

That observation marked a strong turnaround from the situation reported by Ofsted at its last full inspection.

‘Too few social workers’

In summer 2018, inspectors found there were “too few social workers” to deliver a safe service, with newly-qualified practitioners carrying out work “with little understanding and no guidance about what they were supposed to be doing”.

Ofsted’s report graded Wakefield children’s services ‘inadequate’ in all areas.

The appointment of Dwyer, a former director of children’s services at North Yorkshire council, followed soon afterwards.

Progress was initially bumpy, with elected members expressing concern last year that an elderly IT system was hampering social workers and could hold back some aspects of Wakefield’s improvement journey.

But, following a £4m investment in children’s services, and the recruitment of more than 50 full-time staff, the situation improved significantly by the time of Ofsted’s autumn visit.

‘Relentless ambition’

Wakefield council’s statement said Dwyer had highlighted children’s services’ “relentless” ambition around driving improvements, and found that “important progress” had been made in terms of the tools available to social workers with which to help families.

The authority’s corporate director for children and young people, Beate Wagner, said: “The government’s decision is testament to the confidence in our improvement to date and the plans in place for continued and sustainable transformation to our services.

Margaret Isherwood, Wakefield’s cabinet member for children and young people, added that Dwyer’s final report demonstrated a recognition of “vast improvements” already made and strong plans in place to continue that path.

“The commissioner’s invaluable support and feedback has been key to our transformation journey, helping to reinforce where we need to focus,” Isherwood said. “The recognition that oversight is no longer required gives further confidence that we are on track and moving at a sustainable pace.”

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