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Exclusive: 'Punitive' Ofsted inspections lead to worse ratings

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More than twice as many councils have been rated worse under Ofsted’s new-style children’s services inspections as have been assessed as improved, exclusive LGC analysis reveals.

The revelation comes as an LGC survey revealed the depth of concern about the regulator’s new “punitive” regime, and as one of the most senior directors of children’s services labelled its new inspections “phenomenally expensive” and “not fit for purpose”.

LGC analysed the 22 reports published since November 2013, when a single inspection replaced separate inspections for child protection and safeguarding and looked-after children. Our research shows only four councils – Essex, Staffordshire and North Yorkshire CCs and Herefordshire Council – have upped their overall rating against their most recent assessment.

By contrast, 10 received a worse rating than before.

In total, eight councils were rated ‘good’, four ‘inadequate’ and 10 as ‘requires improvement’. None were rated outstanding.

The findings come as an LGC poll of 236 chief executives and senior officers from top-tier councils revealed concerns about the new inspection regime.

“Ofsted is increasingly becoming an irrelevance to members with most local authorities found to need improvement,” one said. “Members’ view is increasingly, ‘We knew that’. [There is] little added value from Ofsted under the new framework.”

An officer facing an imminent inspection suspected the new framework would be “quite punitive”, something they claimed other councils already inspected under the new regime had experienced.

Another said the framework was “limited” and did not look at all the important areas. “It is very weak on early intervention and partnership working,” they said.  

A further complaint was that Ofsted’s regime changed too frequently, “so an improving service can still do badly in the inspection process”.

Despite concerns about the new framework, a majority of officers were satisfied with their current Ofsted rating. While 57% were confident their council’s current Ofsted rating was an accurate reflection of the quality of their services, 11% were doubtful, with the remaining 32% unsure.

LGC understands councillors on the LGA’s children and young people board are due to discuss the impact of the new Ofsted inspection framework at a meeting today.

Andrew Webb, immediate past president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and corporate director of services for people at Stockport MBC, told LGC he was concerned about the new system.

“Every time they [Ofsted] claim to raise the bar, in fact all they are doing is moving the goalposts,” he said. “The consistency of this inspection regime has been called into question but it’s very early days for it.

“Whilst we are aware Ofsted are taking our concerns into account, we are still not satisfied. This inspection regime is still not fit for the purpose for which they claim it is being used.”

Mr Webb also suggested the inspection framework was “phenomenally expensive”, claiming one relatively small council estimated the cost of lost officer time during an inspection to be £100,000. 

An Ofsted spokesman said its framework put the child at the centre and had a clear focus on outcomes for children and young people.

“Local authorities must aspire to deliver a good service, and that is the minimum that children and young people deserve,” he said.

“[London School of Economics’] professor Eileen Munro’s contribution to our evaluation of the first 11 inspections said our framework was ambitious, but was looking at the right aspects of work and so could help drive forward meaningful improvement in children’s services.

“We have further developed our improvement offer to local authorities and will continue to work with those that are not yet good or better. We will listen to constructive ideas about how children’s services’ standards can be raised.”

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