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COMMENT - STAR STRUCK INSPECTORS MAY BLUR GOOD PRACTICE

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Both education and social service departments are bracing themselves for yet another mode of assessment. ...
Both education and social service departments are bracing themselves for yet another mode of assessment.

Best value, Social Services Inspectorate and Ofsted reports, joint reviews and the plethora of other available measuring tools have not satisfied the government's appetite for its league table-style judgment.

The imminent star-rating system for social services and the Department for Education and Skills' planned new system of measuring education departments' performance have set pulses racing.

These new measures will be inter-linked with the forthcoming comprehensive performance assessment for all councils.

On both counts the jury is out on how fair, equitable and transparent these new ratings will be.

The star-rating system has been welcomed in principle by social services directors and the Local Government Association, which argued for a more inclusive system than the crude performance assessment framework indicators.

But directors are nervous. There is concern over how information is presented and whether the framework to rate social services will translate into a true reflection of success and failure.

It is anticipated the majority of departments will end up in the one-star category when so called 'blocking' performance indicators are applied. These are areas which are deemed so important as to obscure other areas of good practice. If, as predicted, around 60% of councils end up in this category it will be difficult to see how useful the information will be.

Only councils with a three-star rating for their social services departments will be eligible for the CPA's top-performing status.

Education departments are concerned their ranking should not be given the same weighting as the CPA rating for social services. They argue education departments provide less direct services as a vast amount has been delegated to schools.

Any new system is expected to incorporate a measurement for the political strategy and the performance of elected members.

But it remains questionable whether these assessments will actually add to the improvement programme and provide real value for either councils or the public.

Broad-brush ratings, when bad, could lower the whole council's CPA rating, without recognising where good practice occurs. The danger is there will not be anything to distinguish these councils from those which are truly failing.

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