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08.07.16

Birmingham children’s services still not up to standard – Ofsted head

Children’s services in Birmingham have not adequately improved despite concerns and there is still a risk of extremism being taught in schools, the head of Ofsted has said.

In a letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Ofsted chief inspector, said that Ofsted’s latest monthly monitoring inspection found that Birmingham children’s services, which have failed seven inspections by the regulator in the last decade, had failed to improve.

Wilshaw said that services to help and protect vulnerable children “remain very poor”, vulnerable children do not always receive an effective assessment, intervention thresholds are unclear, practice between social care professionals is inconsistent and processes for tracking the whereabouts of children missing from education are inadequate.

In a strongly worded letter, Sir Michael said: “I have previously remarked that this long and shocking track record of inadequate provision represents a failure of corporate governance on a grand scale.

“I regret to inform you that I have seen nothing in the intervening period to alter this view. Birmingham’s political leaders, in my opinion, have consistently shown themselves to be incapable of delivering the urgent and sustained change required to improve the safety and well-being of the city’s vulnerable children.”

Birmingham children’s services are now due to be taken over by an independent voluntary trust, but Sir Michael said that Morgan must “ensure that this trust is, indeed, independent and not influenced by those in the local authority who have demonstrated such incompetence over many years”.

In 2014, Ofsted also criticised Birmingham authorities for failing to support schools in safeguarding children from radicalisation and extremism.

Sir Michael said that although many of the schools had now improved, the situation remained “fragile” and headteachers were not receiving adequate support to deal with the issue and intimidation from local communities.

He also said that Birmingham was failing to check the whereabouts of children missing from education. Between September 2015 and January 2016, the council removed 253 children from its list of missing children without locating their whereabouts. In addition, council inspectors were failing to check the welfare of children who were being home schooled.

Sir Michael warned that these problems were not confined to Birmingham, saying “I remain worried about the capacity of a number of councils to address the particular risks that pertain to their local populations and to ensure the safety of all children in their area, irrespective of the type of education they are receiving.”

He said that Morgan should allow Ofsted to appoint an inspector to any local authority area where the government considers that children are at a greater risk of radicalisation or their safety is being put in jeopardy by poor safeguarding practices.

Brigid Jones, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for children, families and schools, said: “Given that no one from the political leadership has been interviewed in an Ofsted inspection since 2014, and that it has changed quite significantly since then, we found the comments in Sir Michael’s letter to be a surprise. Our doors are always open should Ofsted wish to talk to us about their concerns directly.

“We have 800 dedicated social workers and a similarly committed wider team of professionals who support and work alongside them. They deserve recognition and credit for all they’ve done so far in the improvement journey.

“In terms of the chief inspector’s comments on schools in Birmingham, we note what is being said but contend they don’t fully reflect the feedback that we receive from teachers, our education commissioner and the positive views of other government departments on our work on extremism.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “Although Birmingham city council has made some improvements to the way it runs its children’s services, we know this progress has not gone far enough, fast enough, and Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter reinforces that.

“That’s why we have already announced we are working with the council on the development of a voluntary trust to make sure children and families in Birmingham receive the best possible care and support. On top of this, we are delivering a comprehensive package of reforms to radically improve child protection and the raise the status of social work.”

(Image c. Steve N)

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