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‘Too slow to improve, still very poor’, Ofsted slams Birmingham children’s services, again

‘Too slow to improve, still very poor’, Ofsted slams Birmingham children’s services, again

🕔05.Jul 2016

The latest Ofsted inspection of Birmingham’s children’s services appears to blow a hole through claims by city council leaders that the failing department will soon be moving out of special measures.

The independent watchdog is as critical as ever of the council’s efforts and has decided that services to help and protect vulnerable children in Birmingham remain “very poor”.

Inspectors visited the council last month and, in common with previous visits since 2010, identified “serious and widespread failings in the quality of services to children and families”.

This inspection may take on fresh significance since it had a special focus on the council’s new system of multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASH) which is supposed to make cross-agency decision making with regard to vulnerable children faster and better.

Ofsted Inspector Linda Steele, who led the inspection, pulled no punches in a letter to Peter Hay, the council’s strategic director for people:

Despite their acknowledgement of historical failings senior leaders of children’s social care have not made changes quickly enough. The result of this is that services to help and protect vulnerable children remain very poor.

Senior leaders have been too slow to take required action and have only very recently started to implement the critical changes required to effectively protect and support the most vulnerable children in Birmingham.

The quality and standard of practice and services for children remains too variable and is not consistently of a good enough standard.

She accepted there had been some progress within specific areas of children’s social care including social work practice, but these improvements “are not sufficiently widespread, robust or embedded”.

The letter continues:

The disabled children’s team does not identify or manage risks effectively and children are not seen by social workers sufficiently regularly.

Arrangements to identify, manage, and intervene where children and young people are at risk of child sexual exploitation are not consistently effective. Birmingham city council is failing to ensure children are always kept safe and not enough is being done to protect children from potential harm.

Too many children with a statement of educational need or an education, health and care plan are not receiving a formal education and some of the city’s most vulnerable young people are not receiving the help and support they need.

Significant numbers of children are missing from education. Delays in establishing the whereabouts of children mean that staff are not complying with the council’s own procedures and risks of children falling beneath the council’s radar may increase.

Strategic leadership of safeguarding children in schools is weak and lacks sufficient rigour. The executive director for education acknowledges this and is realistic about the magnitude of the problem. However, the procedures put in place to reduce risks to children have had limited impact.

The inspection found that over 50 children with a statement of special educational need or education and health care plan are not receiving full-time education. One child has not received any formal education since December 2013 and some of the 50 children have never been visited by council officers.

There are also “insufficiently robust checks” carried out on children whose parents have elected for them to be educated at home. Home visits by council staff “do not include a sufficient or rigorous consideration of safeguarding but instead focus on the delivery of subjects and examination”.

The inspection report is the latest salvo in a long-running battle between Ofsted and the council.

Earlier this year Birmingham cabinet member for children’s services, Brigid Jones, told Chamberlain Files that Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw had “an unhealthy obsession with the city” and has behaved “appallingly” with unwarranted and “vitriolic” attacks on children’s social care that are unjustified and damaging to the reputation of Birmingham.

Cllr Jones claimed that improvements were being made and children’s services was “very close” to getting out of special measures. Since then, plans have been revealed to place children’s services into a voluntary trust.

Birmingham city council will stage a 60-minute debate on children’s services at next Tuesday’s full council meeting (July 12).

A report prepared for the meeting by council leader John Clancy, Cllr Jones, strategic director Peter Hay and chief executive Mark Rogers, states that Ofsted’s visit “revealed some weaknesses in relation to the safeguarding of children in education”.

The report promises to “remedy urgently” the plight of significant numbers of pupils permanently excluded from schools and not provided with “their educational entitlement”.

However, Cllr Clancy, Cllr Jones, Mr Hay and Mr Rogers insist the general trend this year for children’s services has been on track and list several pluses:

  • Over the past 12 months there has been an improvement in the overall inspection outcomes of many schools in Birmingham.
  • At the beginning of April 2015, there were 32 schools in special measures. As of February 2016 this has reduced to 30.
  • There has been a rise in schools rated as Good or Outstanding (from 335 as of March 2015, to 344 as of March 2016).
  • As of March 2016, 83% of LA maintained schools are rated as Good or Outstanding (up from 81% a year ago) – with 69 per cent of academies and Free Schools rated as Good/Outstanding.

The report continues:

Safeguarding training and development for staff across the system is strong, embedded and of high quality.

There are robust plans to develop the function with a proactive focus on engaging schools with the UNICEF Rights Respecting Schools Award, supporting schools to pro-actively weave the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child through the life of the school, and to adopt a train the trainer approach to ensure business continuity with 60 schools and multi-agency partners trained to deliver Prevent training

Key officers are making a huge difference. The Resilience Advisor and the Safeguarding Advisor work together very effectively to bridge and broker support for schools and blend skill sets to ensure that bespoke support is available across universal, targeted and specialist responses. They are held in very high regard by everyone we spoke with.

The report to the full council states that although significant improvements have been made it is clear that some current practice does not stand up to scrutiny, including leadership of safeguarding within education services, children with Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) and children out of school and not receiving education.

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