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Children's services bosses called for 'ramping down' of peer support

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Children’s services bosses have called for a “ramping down” of sector-led improvement work as they seek to influence Ofsted’s own efforts to help struggling authorities to improve.

The suggestion is part of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ response to the shock announcement in April that £8.5m in government funding for sector-led improvement was being axed. The ADCS’s response is revealed in letter sent by its president Andrew Webb to Children’s Improvement Board director Colin Hilton. This claims that its members needed more time to influence Ofsted’s improvement work because the watchdog lacked sufficient experience for the improvement role.

“Ofsted workforce is largely not well equipped either to lead on strategic, whole-system change, or to provide guidance on operational improvement activity,” said the letter, which was sent at the end of May.

“We wish to see greater involvement of attached DCSs and other senior local authority officers in inspection, including specifically in moderation and calibration of graded outcomes and more importantly in the ensuing improvement action planning.”

The association “would support a ramping down of DCS involvement in other existing SLI [sector-led improvement] activity”, it added.

Such a move has sparked concern within the LGA, according to the minutes of the sector body’s children and young people’s board.

“Members were worried that ADCS appeared to be aligning itself with the role that Ofsted set out for its own improvement functions rather than looking to the political and corporate leadership of children’s services to deliver improvement work.”

Asked about the concerns, Mr Webb told LGC: “Directors of children’s services are very stretched; we can’t do everything. If we are going to respond to Ofsted’s decision to get more engaged in improvement, what are we going to stop doing?”

He added: “We know Ofsted’s inspectorate doesn’t include people with significant experience at DCS and assistant DCS level. So if they’re going into improvement with their existing workforce, which is by and large former teachers and middle managers, why don’t we get in alongside them?”

The ADCS has agreed a memorandum of understanding with the LGA and Solace about the future of sector-led improvement in children’s services which will published shortly, an ADCS spokeswoman said.

Asked about the ADCS’ claim that it was not well equipped for its role, an Ofsted spokeswoman said: “From January 2013, Ofsted has operated under a more focused regional structure so we are better equipped to provide guidance and support to local authorities and provide closer scrutiny of their duty to promote the educational fulfilment of every child.

“Ofsted welcomes contributions from all interested parties and will take into account the views of DCSs in particular, as we believe this will aid improvement and offer children the best chance of a good education, regardless of where they live.  Earlier this year, we involved LAs’ representatives in our development of the inspection framework and will also involve them in our evaluation of this framework and inspection model later this year.”

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