The children’s services watchdog has been fiercely criticised by a council chief and consultant during a child protection debate at the Local Government Association conference today.
Ofsted inspectors were accused of visiting authorities with their minds already made up about the quality of councils’ services and dealing with rating reviews like a “kangaroo court”.
These claims were levelled against the inspectorate in a strongly worded speech by Amanda Kelly, a director of Impower, a consultancy which advises many authorities on how to improve their children’s services.
Ms Kelly said Ofsted in its current state “isn’t a force for good. I don’t think it is protecting children. I don’t feel confident that we can put our trust in Ofsted; we do need to look at alternative models”.
She described the “burden” of the inspection process as “huge” and questioned whether the current means of official inspections could be considered “value for money” in a time of austerity.
“Councils put extra staff on the ground to get ready for Ofsted and pay a lot to consultants to prepare to get ready for inspections,” she told delegates. “It stops people doing their jobs.”
Ms Kelly also criticised what she described as a “hypothesis-driven” approach to inspection, adopted by some Ofsted officials.
“It feels like inspectors have already decided the outcome before they pitch up,” she added.
“They have done their analysis beforehand, come with a view and set out to prove it.”
She described the complaints procedure – in which councils can challenge inspection results - as “as close to a kangaroo court as I’ve come across”.
“It felt as if they weren’t listening. It seemed like they came back and hit a bit harder. They were defensive.”
Jo Miller, chief executive of Doncaster MBC, told delegates the “crude categories” of Ofsted ratings were an “oversimplification” which fed reputation damaging media headlines.
She urged local authorities to come up with their own credible “self-improvement” regime to replace the one currently operated by Ofsted.
“Why are we waiting for Ofsted to tell us the state of our services? Why allow residents to see the state of our services through that Ofsted lens?”