Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Demanding, fault-finding, hard-to-please, censorious – call it what you will Ofsted needs to re-think its approach to inspecting children’s services

It’s just one criticism in a much longer letter, which, to be fair, does cite strengths as well as weaknesses. But I was more than irritated to read the following paragraph penned by an Ofsted inspector:

“Children are seen regularly and are seen alone by social workers who know them well. The views of children and young people are identified and reflected well in assessments and care planning arrangements. However, social workers are routinely seeing children during school hours. Whilst this is with the permission of the school staff, children are thus missing lessons which has the potential to adversely affect their educational outcomes.” 

Would the inspector, I wonder, have made the same comment about children seeing their family doctors, or having hospital appointments, during school hours? I suspect not. Nor does the inspector appear to reflect on the fact that Children’s Services in Great Britain are funded largely on the assumption that the staff should work office hours, not evenings and weekends. Not to mention the fact that school is often the only safe place for a child to talk about their home experiences without fear of being overheard by family members.

The inspector’s comments have the ring of barrel-scraping; dredging-up just one more thing to taunt an authority already struggling to overcome a judgement of ‘inadequate’.  And they display a self-righteous disregard for the realities of service provision in the age of austerity. Cash-strapped councils might welcome suggestions from Ofsted about how to work more effectively, but to be told to find resources which simply don’t exist is like receiving a slap-in-the-face.

Ofsted has never struck the right note with its heavy-handed and unthinking this-is-wrong-put-it-right approach to inspecting children’s services. Challenging hard-pressed services to do the impossible is not a good recipe for improvement. Rather it is a formula for destroying morale and frustrating positive action.