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Three basic blunders to think about

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Local government children’s services remain in the news.

Ofsted’s 2012-13 social care report finds “a climate of turbulence, increased workloads and intense scrutiny of children’s social care”.

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw attributed poor performance to “too much leadership volatility in social care”. A third of local authorities have had a change of director of children’s services in the past year.

The recently published The Blunders of our Governments, by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe, charts the cock-ups that governments have made.

Page after page chronicles the many blunders made since the 1970s resulting from illogical policy making.

Education and children’s services come off lightly. The Individual Learning Account fiasco is described in detail, the ill-fated Labour government scheme to enable those without vocational qualifications to access skills training. A short chapter at the end is devoted to the coalition government, and education secretary Michael Gove’s three attempts to ‘reform’ GCSEs.

Many reasons are given for the blunders, but practical strategies for avoiding them are few. Careful deliberation before policy making is one solution, although easier said than done. Producing a catalogue of children’s services blunders over the past three years is tricky because the government that made them is still in office.

However, as a start, here are three to think about.

Schools had long complained that they were not satisfied with the careers guidance latterly provided by Connexions Services. A swift decision was made to give responsibility to schools and remove the money from local authorities, which led to the closure of services. However, Ofsted found in the summer that three-quarters of schools were not implementing their duty to provide impartial careers advice adequately.

Three years after the decision to dismantle the school organisation system, we still don’t have a complete set of regulations and guidance to enable local authorities to commission schools to ensure that there are sufficient places. Cuts to the capital budget have been the major factor in the shortfall of school places, but the absence of a coherent policy has not helped.

And back to that Ofsted report: it surely was a blunder to use a single word judgment for Ofsted local authority inspections. It may give Ofsted great headlines but it does not help local authorities uild up strong management teams. A narrative judgment, as advocated by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, enables local authorities to work with local partners to secure the improvements we all want.

John Fowler, policy manager, Local Government Information Unit

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