Saturday, 1 April 2017

Ofsted – beyond the pale

The body which inspects children’s social care services in England, Ofsted, is primarily an inspector of schools. For reasons which have never been entirely clear to me, the responsibility for children’s social care inspection was passed to Ofsted more than ten years ago. I think Ofsted has never really got to grips with that responsibility. It continues to be more about judgement and blame and less about analysis and improvement than it should be. It isn’t helping ‘failing’ authorities improve and it seems at times to be basking in their ‘failures’. Too often Ofsted wags its judging finger and proclaims: “This is wrong, put it right”. Why things are wrong or how they can be put right is something that we don’t hear a lot about from Ofsted. Sadly, I think it doesn’t know.

There’s a lot wrong with Ofsted. It’s director of social care inspection, Eleanor Schooling, is a former teacher. She may know a lot about local government, but she has never had to stand on a doorstep on a cold winter’s night to explain that she’s calling about an allegation of child abuse. I think that creates a credibility problem.

Ofsted’s former head, the combative Sir Michael Wilshaw, is also a former teacher. He never gave me the impression that he understood much about children’s social care. His main message seemed to be that good schools were good because they had good head teachers. Ergo, children’s services departments would be good if only they had good directors. ‘Simplistic’ is the word that comes to mind.

Anyway, they have now replaced Sir Michael with somebody, Amanda Spielman, who is neither a teacher nor a social worker but an accountant! It was salutary to hear the House of Commons Education Committee comment that:

“Ms Spielman’s responses on child protection were particularly troubling and did not inspire confidence that she grasped the importance of Ofsted’s inspections in preventing children being held at risk through service failure.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement!

Now we learn that Ofsted is planning to focus its schools inspections by eavesdropping on ‘unsubstantiated gossip’ on Twitter and Facebook to help decide whether an inspection is required.

Now that is getting seriously silly. Whoever came up with this cunning wheeze should be directed towards some sort of training course in how to act sensibly! And we have to ask ourselves the $64,000 question: “Should an organisation which seems to have lost its grip of reality continue to have responsibility for inspecting safety critical children’s services, where service failings do not just result in setting the tongues of Internet trolls wagging, but can actually result in children dying when they shouldn’t.