Labour: Ofsted has 'lost touch' on children's social care

By Neil Puffett

| 21 April 2015

Labour will launch a consultation on the future of Ofsted if it wins the general election, with the party claiming the inspectorate has "lost touch" on children's social care.

Labour's shadow children's minister Steve McCabe questions whether Ofsted should be responsible for inspecting children's services. Picture: Office of Steve McCabe

Speaking exclusively to CYP Now as part of an interview due to be published next Tuesday (28 April), shadow children’s minister Steve McCabe said he is not convinced the inspectorate should continue in its current form.

Figures published last month showed that out of the 43 children’s services inspections carried out in 2013/14, only 10 councils were rated as "good", with seven rated "inadequate" and 26 "requires improvement".

Asked whether the statistics are a true reflection of performance, McCabe said Ofsted “seems to have lost touch” on children's social social care, adding that children’s services departments are under “enormous pressure”.

“As a Birmingham MP I’m only too aware of how enormous the pressure is,” he said.

“Whether the Ofsted approach is adding anything beneficial is highly debatable.

“It seems to pride itself on riding into town, having a press conference, and then riding out.

“It seems to have lost touch.”

McCabe said Ofsted’s remit has “expanded beyond all recognition” and announced that Labour will consult on its future should it form the next government.

“We need to narrow the focus of Ofsted and decide whether or not they are the best people to inspect children’s services at all,” he said.

“We want to consult properly. I’m sceptical they can continue in their present form.

“It is an expensive operation and I’m not convinced about the quality of their work.”

Labour has previously pledged to carry out “far reaching reform” of Ofsted, but the party’s public comments about the inspectorate have focused on the need for changes to be made to its school inspection functions.

Calls for Ofsted's social care functions to be reformed appear to be gathering pace.

Last month a joint policy paper published by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), the Local Government Association (LGA) and council chief executives’ group Solace, recommends Ofsted’s single inspection framework is “stood down” because it is “no longer fit for purpose”.

News of a potential consultation on the future of Ofsted’s social care functions comes less than a week after it emerged that Ofsted’s director of social care Debbie Jones is leaving her post.

Jones, a former director of children’s services at Lambeth Council, will leave the organisation next month, little more than 18 months after she took up post.

Leading figures within the sector have suggested that Ofsted must take into the account the need for change when deciding on a replacement.

Andy Elvin, chief executive of the fostering and adoption charity The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (Tact) said Ofsted should be prepared to consider new ideas.

“Over the past year the ADCS, LGA and Solace have made some strong arguments about the inspection regimes so an interesting candidate for the job might be Alan Wood [former ADCS president].

“He would certainly provide a fresh perspective regarding how best to ensure the inspection regime actually contributes to better outcomes for children, young people and their families.”  

Former ADCS president during 2013/14, Andrew Webb, speaking in a personal capacity, said Ofsted has never had so little credibility with children's professionals as it does now.

“Its methodology and practice have recently been roundly criticised by two parliamentary select committees; its own leadership has acknowledged that its school inspections are unreliable," he said.

“LGA, Solace and ADCS have just published a report that says they have no confidence in the single inspection framework.

“In my opinion, Sir Michael Wilshaw should follow Debbie Jones's lead and move aside to give the incoming government an opportunity to create an inspection body that can both develop evidence-informed methods and aim to have a more proportionate impact on practice.

“I would put my money on an internal candidate [replacing Jones] and a restructuring."

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