Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Ofsted should be split

I was very sorry to hear that the Government has apparently decided not to split Ofsted.  

Children and Young People Now identifies two reasons being put forward in support of this decision:

  1. Structural change is less important than the quality of inspectors and inspection methods
  2. A single inspectorate is necessary to mirror the structure of local council services.
(“Ofsted survives calls for it to be split”, 28 June 2011

The first reason is better than the second. Every-one would agree that in the final analysis it is the quality and competence of personnel that matters. But the question is whether the right people will be recruited and retained if they have to work in a small corner of a large organisation which is culturally distinct and which operates according to a different knowledge base. Understanding schools is quite different to understanding child protection.

The second reason is really quite silly. There is no reason at all why the structure of inspectorates must reflect the structure of local council services. Apart from anything else it is not the case that all local authorities have similar structures. And we certainly wouldn't expect that the structure of (say) the Nuclear Inspectorate would have to change because some of the companies it inspects had diversified into other activities, like retailing or financial services!!

Furthermore this reason contradicts the first, which insists that structures are really not very important. And it seems to miss an important point completely: effective inspection comes about because inspectors are knowledgeable about what they are inspecting, not because what they are inspecting has a particular organisational structure.

The problem with Ofsted inspecting child protection services, as I see it, is that they have inappropriately attempted to subsume child protection inspection under inspection methodologies which are designed for school inspection, and they have failed to develop any kind of knowledge centre about child protection best practice. These are singular failures which are reflected in inspection reports which are often uninformative and formulaic.
I think the government will rue the day it decided on this course of action. What is required is an inspectorate for child protection which is not limply configured to arbitrary organisational boundaries, but an inspectorate which can develop and focus its expertise on the issue of child protection across a range of organisational and professional boundaries. That would truly support multi-agency "working together".