The government is considering taking failing children’s services out of local control at a handful of councils, local government children’s services chief David Simmonds has said.
David Simmonds said council services that have repeatedly received inadequate grades by Ofsted were candidates for government intervention. Image: Lucie Carlier
Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said council services that have repeatedly received inadequate grades by Ofsted were those the government was likely to consider for similar intervention to that proposed for Doncaster.
In July, the government published plans to strip control of Doncaster’s children’s services from the authority, and place it under an independent trust for up to ten years.
Simmonds said councils that persistently failed to improve their children’s services were being scrutinised by the government and could face similar action.
Ofsted has graded 20 local authorities inadequate for overall effectiveness of safeguarding and child protection since 2009 (see list below). Simmonds indicated the government was considering more acute intervention in about five of these.
“It’s pretty obvious from the conversations I’ve had with ministers and senior officials that as well as the Ofsted list of children’s services that are causing general concern, there will be a harder-core list where both Ofsted and the Department for Education are concerned that they [the local authority] haven’t managed to turn the situation around despite the number of interventions. Doncaster was first on that list,” said Simmonds.
“I think there are two or three councils in the country, maybe a couple more, where if problems are persisting for five or more years despite the opportunities of re-inspection, government support and intervention and sector-led support, then the government will legitimately be saying, ‘What do we need to do?’”
In addition, Simmonds said there is "a relatively small number of councils" that repeatedly slip into the Ofsted inadequate grade before just about clawing their way out.
He said of these: “Those are the ones where it’s a legitimate question – the same as you’d ask for any service – what is the best way of sorting that out?”
Simmonds said restructuring a service by putting it at “arm’s length” from the rest of a council could give it an opportunity to effectively “do the restructuring they need to do, the practice development they need to do and financial restructuring before it moves back into the local authority”.
“It isn’t as revolutionary as it sounds to say the service would be partially or entirely delivered at arm’s length,” he added.
Kingston University professor of social work Ray Jones, agreed that Ofsted judgments indicated which children’s services were currently under most government scrutiny.
But he warned that removing the services from the rest of the authority was not always the best solution.
“Ofsted has not been a consistent inspectorate – standards have changed and sometimes Ofsted has been too robust [in its judgments] within the resources available,” said Jones. “Some of these authorities have not been given time to improve.”
“If the reason that child protection is inadequate is because of politics and culture within the council, then maybe it is necessary to take it away from the council,” Jones continued.
“But this is only on rare occasions. Where that’s not the case then I see no reason or benefit from setting up a trust.”
Doncaster Council submitted its response to the DfE’s proposals earlier this week.
The DfE said it would not speculate on the suggestions.
Since June 2009, Ofsted has given 20 local authorities a grade of "inadequate" for overall effectiveness of safeguarding and child protection. These are (in alphabetical order):