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NEW RATINGS THREATEN TO SHOOT DOWN RISING STARS

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By Suzanne Simmons-Lewis ...
By Suzanne Simmons-Lewis

A system to rate education departments' performance is being devised to fit in with the forthcoming comprehensive performance assessment.

The rankings are being developed as the government prepares to announce the star ratings for social services departments next week. Both systems are being worked on as the debate over the weightings of individual departments in the CPA placings continues.

It is understood the Department for Education & Skills is working with Oftsed on the new criteria, and details of the system are expected to be published soon.

In social services, it is expected less than a handful of departments will be in the highest scoring category, which is needed for councils to be considered top performers in the CPA (LGC, 25 January).

Most departments are expected to fall into the one-star category. A few surprises are also expected - some councils with good Social Services Inspectorate/ Audit Commission joint reviews may not fare so well under in this system.

In education, Ofsted currently rates departments on a scale of one to seven, seven being the poorest, but the information is confidential and is only made known to senior education officers.

School standards minister Stephen Timms said: 'As part of the CPA process we recognise the need to have a public assessment of education and that will be part of the overall system once it is in place.'

Former chief inspector Mike Tomlinson recently said the current Ofsted grading alone was not a reliable tool to compare 'cheese with cheese', but a system being developed for benchmarking based on the analysis of data from schools could be developed for this purpose (LGC, 26 April).

A senior education source said details of the new system, still to be thrashed out, have not been helped by tensions between the centralising DfES and the DTLR, which is more willing to loosen its grip on councils.

The star-rating system for social services departments will see each receiving a rating from zero to three stars - the latter being the highest score.

Overall, the Association of Directors of Social Services and the Local Government Association are happy with the methodology used to rank departments.

But concern has been raised over an element of the assessment dubbed 'blockers'. In this system, social services departments will be rated against around 50 indicators, about a dozen of which are non-negotiable. If a council does not do well in these categories, it will be given a one-star rating regardless of its success against the others. This may paint an unrealistic picture of the condition of social services departments.

Tony Hunter, chair of the ADSS standards and performance committee, said: 'The new system must be based on fairness, credibility and transparency. We are concerned that the barriers to performance may give a false picture of overall achievements.

'To gain real credibility, all stakeholders will need to have confidence in the system and how it operates in practice. It is important, when ratings are released, that the information is not used in an overly castigating way.'

There is debate over how department ratings should be weighted in the overall CPA. Education directors have argued that, unlike social services departments, they do not provide as many direct services so less emphasis should be given to education.

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