Main area of concern is area reviews


Ofsted received a critical triple whammy this week.

  First, Ofsted’s ex chief inspector, Sir Mike Tomlinson, suggested that the body is overstretched ,after it took on the role of inspecting children’s services.  Tomlinson told the Guardian on 23 November: “The question needs to be asked and answered as to whether Ofsted has the appropriate skills and experience to carry out its agenda. Inspection systems that rely too heavily on data and tick-box systems is not what we need. I worry we are heading that way.”

 Secondly, John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, challenged the way Ofsted has added to pressure on schools. He said: ‘It’s brought in a climate of great anxiety because you don’t know whether the inspector will trick you on safeguarding.’

 Then the Association of Directors of Children’s Services issued a statement arguing that   the current inspection regime was ‘not fit for purpose’.  They want Ofsted to clarify how judgments are reached in a range of inspection frameworks (child protection, schools, children’s homes) and in the evaluation of serious case reviews. They also want Ofsted to identify problems facing service delivery nationally and use this knowledge to inform the development of national policy, rather than criticizing local authorities for problems outside of their control. In addition they want Ofsted to improve connections between the inspectorates involved in the Comprehensive Area Assessment so that the quality of services are consistently judged across a local area.

 The main focus of criticism falls on Ofsted’s local area inspections. The charge is that the current inspection model, including the Comprehensive Area Assessment, is based on a flawed methodology, wastes time and resources and fails to describe local authority performance in a way that the public can understand. They go on to say that “the time is ripe” to explore a new model that addresses these flaws.  What seems to have prompted this genuine anger is the annual performance profile and rating, drafts of which have been sent to local authorities before publication in mid‐December.  The performance profile seeks to reduce the results of numerous inspections and data collection to four short paragraphs and to arrive at an overall score.

 However, Kim Bromley‐Derry, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said:  “To try and describe the wide range of services provided for children and young people in one side of A4 is ridiculous in itself, but worse, in many of the examples that we have seen, there are sentences that don’t make sense even when you understand the jargon. I just can’t see how it will help the public to understand what we do and how well we do it.”

In a statement the Local Government Association pitches in too ,with calls on Ofsted to set out a new improvement plan to win back the public’s confidence. It accuses the watchdog of being too concerned about its own reputation and so punitive in inspections of child protection services that it has prompted a significant rise of children being taken into care – an increase of 9% in the last year. These increases are putting the systems that protect children under extra pressure and making it harder to identify the children at the greatest risk of harm, the LGA claims.

  Critics charge that Ofsted has become too big, bureaucratic and unwieldy stretching its resources and expertise too thin. There are particular concerns over its inspections of social services departments where its inspections appear to have badly failed recently in a couple of authorities, at least ,to identify systemic weaknesses. But there are also some criticisms highlighted in its approach to schools inspections. Lawnswood school in Leeds, a rapidly improving school with a good reputation, was penalised for instance  after a survey suggested that 1.3% of parents reported their child did not “feel safe” there. A second school was judged to be inadequate because inspectors said the fence around the playground was low enough for children to be abducted and another failed because inspectors were offered coffee before they were asked for identification. The attacks came as the DCSF Select committee is shortly to deliver its report on accountability. It is thought that the report will say that Ofsted’s inspectors aren’t trained properly and inspections focus too much on exam data. The view is that schools in poor areas were “aggrieved” that even when they had improved they could still be failed because of low exam results.

 The Tories seem to agree with the analysis that Ofsted has just become too big for its own good and should get back to the basics. They intend scaling down Ofsteds activities, giving it a narrower, better targeted focus and remit, should they win power. 

 To add to its current travails Ofsted has recently had to admit making a “deeply regrettable error” by not disclosing an inspection report to the court reviewing Sharon Shoesmith’s sacking.  The 70-page handwritten notes were from an inspection after Peter’s death.  High Court Judge Mr Justice Foskett gave Ofsted 14 days to ensure no other documents in the case were withheld. Ofsted said it had “nothing to hide”. 

 A spokesman for Ofsted sought to  play down the criticism: ‘We are disappointed to hear the ADCS criticisms but have to say that their views just don’t accord with what we are being told by directors and frontline social workers who have actually experienced our children’s services inspections. The feedback we are getting is much more positive.’  In the meantime, the Conservatives seem to  have abandoned plans to introduce more “dawn raid” school inspections.The party announced last month that it intended to free up Ofsted’s time to allow it to “extend ‘no-notice’ inspections” if it wins next year’s general election.

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