Birmingham’s latest Ofsted report certainly makes for unhappy reading.
I also found the quality of the Ofsted report itself very disappointing.
Like many other Ofsted reports this one puts the boot in,
but offers hardly any analysis or insight. It simply does not provide an
adequate explanation of what is going wrong in Birmingham.
The inspector says:
standing and historical corporate and political failures continue to impact
upon the current political and professional leadership of children’s services
in Birmingham. In addition, inadequate strategic partnership arrangements have
underminded (sic) a range of initiatives to improve services."(Paragraph
3, page 3)
doesn’t tell us a lot – in fact it tells us nothing that wasn’t already very
obvious. And the rest of the report continues in a we-are-here-because-we-are-here-because-we-are-here-because … vein
simply deploring the woes of Birmingham without any real intellectual effort to
understand why they have come about or how they can be put right.
report’s formulaic recommendations I find utterly unhelpful. I won’t bore you
with the long list but the first two (both requiring ‘priority and immediate
action’!) should be enough to convey the flavour of it all:
operational and senior management arrangements so that there is sufficient
capacity and experience to tackle the deficiencies in the service.”(Paragraph
24, page 7)
that strategic and operational management oversight is effective, including
supervision and that case file audit arrangements are robust so that workers
have a full understanding of their roles and responsibilities and deliver work
of a consistently high standard.” (Paragraph 24, page 7)
inspector might just have well said, “Put it all right and be quick about it.”
never begin to tackle the issue of under-performing children’s services
authorities if all we (do I mean ‘Ofsted?) do is point the finger of blame and
to call for robust action, effective and coherent strategy and use other sorts of buzz words and vague concepts
to make it sound like we know what we are talking about. And to blithely
continue to do so when nobody seems to have any explanation of why things are different in Birmingham
is not just unhelpful, it is wrong. Management messes do not just happen. They
can be explained. And usually they have to be explained to be put right.
the other consequence of wagging the finger of blame so robustly (I just love that Ofstedism) is that public stigma is robustly attached to the authority. Struggling
to recruit staff, it is now lumbered with persuading people to risk their
careers by joining an ‘inadequate’ employer.
pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-boot-straps approach will not work. And there is
no evidence that by turning the whole operation over to a third party
organisation any improvement can be achieved.
only obvious solution I can see is to inject resources and expertise from
outside at the operational level. Perhaps a mobile force of experienced
practitioners and front line managers could be deployed to reduce backlogs and
analogy of fighting a forest fire comes to mind. A team of fire fighters have
been battling against a blaze that has got out of control. They are tired,
dispirited and they risk being overwhelmed. Do we start wagging fingers and
calling for more robust management or
a more strategic approach? Of course we don’t. We bring in
fresh reinforcements, transport in more water and more appliances, perhaps
deploy fire-fighting aircraft and try to stop the blaze before it reaches the