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Ofsted’s ‘outdated one-dimensional’ approach to school inspections slammed in report

Ofsted’s ‘outdated one-dimensional’ approach to school inspections slammed in report

🕔29.Apr 2015

A new study which describes Ofsted as an “outdated body operating with a one-dimensional approach” will cheer up Birmingham city council’s children’s social services department, which has borne the brunt of savage attacks by the watchdog, reports Paul Dale.

The paper written by local government consultancy group iMPOWER says Ofsted’s inspections often do not help children at all and can have a “catastrophic” impact on local authorities.

Suggesting that there is a “fundamental disconnect” between the watchdog and local government, the study says critical Ofsted reports on the performance of schools and councils often heighten anxiety and can lead to considerable workforce turbulence.

Last year Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw described Birmingham as a “national disgrace” and one of the worst places in the developed world to bring up children.

With a third of children in the city living in poverty, Sir Michael blamed the council for a “failure of corporate governance on a grand scale”.

He continued to take a close interest in Birmingham by personally presiding over the inspections of schools involved in the Trojan Horse affair – an alleged plot by hardline Muslim governors and teachers to take over the running of inner city schools. He accused the council of turning a blind eye to infiltration and of failing to support schools in protecting children from extremism.

iMPOWER’s report – ‘Breaking the Lock’ – sets out four main areas of concern over the performance of Ofsted:

  • The impact of the single word judgement ‘inadequate’ from Ofsted can have a catastrophic spiralling effect on a local authority, turning a poorly performing authority into a broken one
  • The rise in family breakdown as a leading cause of children needing support is exposing fundamental weaknesses in the current model of children’s services
  • A national shortage of social workers means that struggling councils are overly reliant on agency staff costing more money and leading to less consistency of support for vulnerable children
  • Children’s services and Ofsted need to collaboratively modernise to reflect the reality of the public sector’s financial climate and the growing complexity of needs that vulnerable families have.

The study backs steps taken by authorities like Birmingham city council to turn around children’s social care, which has been in special measures for more than five years. The council is now working to a recovery plan overseen by Children’s Commissioner Lord Norman Warner.

In particular, the study says the multi-agency approach favoured by Birmingham and earlier intervention to help children before problems develop is the right approach.

The report also calls for the newly elected government in May to make improving the safeguarding of vulnerable children a core priority of its first 100 days in office and recommends setting up a Royal Commission into the protection of vulnerable children and young people. The study notes:

Many people reading this paper won’t be surprised that this has placed us at odds with Ofsted, which appears to be looking at children’s services through a one dimensional lens.

Partly, this is because of an outdated approach to inspection that fails to appreciate the role that partner agencies can play in delivering better outcomes for children and families, while also helping to ensure safe access to services for children in need or at risk of being in need.

It is also because they have so far proved unwilling to acknowledge that wider public spending pressures are forcing councils to be more innovative when it comes to approaches and models. This reality is therefore not reflected in their assessment of local government’s ability to deliver safe and good quality support and protection for vulnerable children.

iMPOWER says that for many children coming into the care system interventions have either come too late or been ineffective for too long. When children finally enter the care system the long term damage has already been done and it would be “nigh on impossible for the care system to alone to add such value that those children go on to achieve in line with those children who have not had such a difficult start to life”.

The study concludes:

The real focus of the argument should therefore be on improving the quality and timeliness of the interventions so that we capture those at risk much earlier.

If we formalise the universal and universal plus services as part of a wider early intervetion offer, pulling in people such as health visitors and school nurses, teachers and GPs, we will be better able to target our resources so that we intervene in the right way at the right time.

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