Nearly half of councils see fall in children's services rating under tougher Ofsted inspections

By Derren Hayes

| 23 January 2015

Three quarters of children's services departments assessed under Ofsted's single inspection framework have been rated in the bottom two grades, with nearly half inspected so far seeing a fall in their judgment compared with previous performance.

Ofsted has inspected 47 children's services under its single inspection framework since November 2013. Picture: Phil Adams

The findings come as two further authorities – Waltham Forest in London and St Helens in Lancashire – this week became the latest to receive an overall “requires improvement” judgment for children’s social care services from the inspectorate.

With almost a third of English authorities having now undergone the tougher Ofsted inspection, analysis by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) shows 44 per cent of children’s services departments have seen their rating fall, while just 17 per cent have seen it rise.

Of the 41 councils whose judgments have been published by Ofsted up to 20 January, 10 have been rated “good”, 24 “requires improvement” and seven “inadequate”. None have been rated “outstanding”, the highest grade.

A further five authorities have been inspected and are awaiting a judgment.

At a recent communities and local government select committee hearing, Ofsted social care chief Debbie Jones told MPs 75 per cent of councils visited so far were below “good”, the rating that the inspectorate now deems the required standard.

The high number of authorities in the lowest two grades bears out concerns raised by the ADCS at the time of the framework’s launch in November 2013 that it would lead to a fall in inspection ratings.

Then ADCS president Andrew Webb said at the time that the single framework – which reclassified “adequate” under the previous inspection regime as “requires improvement” – unfairly moved the goalposts for councils in a way more akin to an “Orwellian world”.

The London Borough of Waltham Forest, which was inspected in November last year, received the requires improvement judgment for the three key areas of child protection, looked-after children and permanence, and leadership. This was also the grade for adoption and care leaver services.

Inspectors highlighted “inconsistent” social work practice, which, along with the high turnover of social work staff, was found to be leading to delays in follow up child protection work. These factors are also affecting the quality of service for looked-after children, it added.

Ofsted called for urgent action on better intelligence gathering on children missing from home; greater promotion of private fostering; and that assessment teams have “sufficient capacity” to do their work in a timely way.  

Meanwhile, St Helens Council was also judged as “requires improvement” across the three key judgment areas as well as its performance on adoption and care leavers.

A lack of focus on early help support, too many child protection enquiries being undertaken, and slow adoption services were highlighted as weaknesses by inspectors.

Priorities for action include improving the educational attainment of looked-after children and care leavers, better understanding of thresholds, and improving systems for gathering and analysing information on missing children.

Ofsted plans to complete the three-year inspection cycle of all 152 English local authorities by November 2016.

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