DfE considers intervening at West Midlands council

By Joe Lepper

| 23 September 2015

The Department for Education is considering whether to intervene in the running of a council's children's services that has been subject to three damning Ofsted reports in the past two years.

In June, Ofsted rated Sandwell's children's services as "inadequate". Image: Sandwell Council

A team of DfE officials is assessing whether Sandwell Council is capable of turning the poor performance of its children’s services around before it considers its “next steps”, according to a DfE spokesman.

If the council is deemed to be incapable of improving children’s services, then ministers could appoint an independent commissioner to take charge of the department – as has happened in Doncaster, Slough and Birmingham over the past two years – or draft in a team of experts from another council.

In June, Ofsted found Sandwell’s children’s services to be "inadequate", with inspectors being particularly critical of thresholds for social work intervention and the way the council dealt with cases of children who are missing and at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE).

The Ofsted report followed inadequate judgments for its looked-after children’s services in August 2013 and its child protection work in April 2013.

A DfE spokesman said: “We are very concerned by the outcome of the recent inspection of Sandwell children’s services, which again found them to be inadequate. We have commissioned an assessment of the council’s capacity to improve. This will also provide recommendations on how to secure and sustain the necessary improvements in children’s services.”

Since June, the council has put in place a two-year improvement plan to address concerns raised by Ofsted.

Commenting on the DfE assessment, Simon Hackett, Sandwell Council's cabinet member for children's services, said: "We welcome this assessment and the opportunity it provides to show the steps we are taking to continue improving our children's services."

The last judgment by Ofsted was criticised by Kingston University professor of social work Ray Jones, who was drafted in by the government in 2013 to oversee improvements at the council.

He told CYP Now in June that he believed the judgment was flawed and Sandwell’s children’s services was “well on the journey” to improving.

In late 2012, the council appointed private sector improvement company Impower to help turn around children's services under a 30-month £1.15m contract, and installed Simon White as director of children's services.

Meanwhile, at neighbouring Birmingham City Council, the government is still considering how to respond to a report by Lord Warner, who was appointed as independent children’s commissioner for the city in March 2014 after its children’s services was also handed an inadequate rating from Ofsted.
Lord Warner left the council at the end of May when his contract ended, but the council still does not know whether another commissioner will be appointed or the government will end its intervention.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Lord Warner has completed his report, which is now being considered by ministers. We continue to work with Birmingham before we make a decision on any next steps. That announcement will be made in due course."

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