Nicky Morgan appoints commissioner at council given 'inadequate' Ofsted rating

By Neil Puffett

| 20 July 2015

The Department for Education (DfE) has appointed a commissioner to oversee improvements within children's services at Sunderland Council after the department was rated "inadequate" by Ofsted.

The Department for Education has drafted in Nick Whitfield as commissioner of children's services at Sunderland Council. Picture: Phil Adams

The inspection found that there was "corporate failure" by senior leaders and managers that potentially left children and young people at risk.

During the inspection, 21 children’s cases – around one in 10 of all cases studied by inspectors – were referred back to the local authority to request that action be taken to ensure the children's needs were met.
 
Following the inspection, Ofsted's chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wrote to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to recommend immediate action be taken.

The DfE wrote to Sunderland today, stating that Nick Whitfield, who is chief executive and director of children's services at Achieving for Children, a social enterprise providing children's services in the London boroughs of Kingston and Richmond, has been appointed as commissioner for children’s services in Sunderland.

The letter states that the council must agree on an improvement plan for children's services with Whitfield by 7 September.

During the inspection of Sunderland it was found that there were:

  • High caseloads – meaning that workers are unable to undertake key tasks to provide effective support to children.
  • A high number of unallocated cases where the extent and seriousness of the issues affecting children are not known.
  • Services for children missing from home, care, education or at risk of child sexual exploitation were "insufficient and poorly co-ordinated".
  • Services for care leavers were "particularly poor", with some care leavers living in "unsatisfactory and sometimes unsafe circumstances".

An Ofsted spokesman said the inspection report highlights "widespread and serious failings" in Sunderland City Council’s services for children and young people.

"As a result, children are potentially at risk of harm," the spokesman added.
 
“Inspectors identified serious weaknesses in basic child protection practice and oversight of services for care leavers, alongside poor leadership at all levels.

"In addition, the local safeguarding children board is failing in its statutory duty to effectively monitor how well local agencies are safeguarding the welfare of children.
 
“Such was his concern, Sir Michael [Wilshaw] wrote to the Secretary of State to highlight the serious weaknesses in care and protection given to vulnerable children in the area, and to request that swift remedial action be taken.”

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