Thursday, 4 August 2011

Ofsted - at it again

With all the talk of a new approach to inspecting child protection services, I would have expected the inspectorate, Ofsted, to have started to change its ways. There is, however, little evidence of any new approach in the recently published report of an unannounced inspection in the London Borough of Waltham Forest - - June 2011.

The problem with this report is that it is critical without being specific and that it points to shortcomings but with no analysis of the likely causes. The inspector writes that “children were placed at risk of inadequate protection” which sounds like it should mean something until you begin to think about it! Is she trying to say that some children were inadequately protected or that they could have been if some condition had been different or that there was some systematic organisational failing? It just isn’t clear. And how is ‘risk of inadequate protection' defined and measured? We simply don’t know. I wonder if the inspector does?

My guess is that this is an example of ‘inspection-speak’ – a kind of language that inspectors use to avoid saying anything which might be too helpful. The report continues in similar vein. Apparently “planning and analysis of emerging risks was poor”. But what is an ‘emerging risk’, as opposed not a non-emerging risk, and how was the analysis poor? Then we are told that the “… failure to effectively engage children and young people led to an incomplete understanding of the risks to them …”. But there is no hint here about the difference between ‘effective’ and ineffective ‘engagement’ (whatever that means) and no explanation of what is meant by ‘an incomplete understanding of the risks’ – is any-one’s understanding ever complete?

We are told, however, that as “… a result protection plans were inadequate leaving them (presumably the children, not the plans) at continued risk of harm”. (Page 4, Area for priority action). But there is no information provided about how or why the plans were inadequate or any hint about how they might be improved.

It is all a bit like saying that a plane has crashed because of a mechanical failure or a human error, but failing to say what sort of mechanical failure or human error was involved. It may be obvious and it may be true, but it isn’t very helpful. And it doesn’t help people make the improvements that result in increased safety – which is what matters.

If inspection of child protection is to stay with Ofsted, which as I understand it is now Government policy, the very least that Ofsted could do is to raise its game. Ofsted inspectors need to get away from glib uninformative inspection reports written in bureaucratic gobbledygook. They need to begin to produce reports that are informative, insightful and analytic.