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Lack of council strategy, ambition and oversight ‘failing children’, says Ofsted

Disadvantaged children are not receiving support in the earliest years because of a lack of a co-ordinated strategy in some local authorities, according to a new Ofsted report.

Ofsted’s survey of local authorities found that although some local authorities had developed effective strategies for supporting disadvantaged children, there was still a lack of co-ordination between services and clear goals for success.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of Ofsted, said that some local authorities showed “a discernible lack of ambition” in their strategies to support disadvantaged children.

He added: “Any potential for improving the prospects of the most disadvantaged young children was too often thwarted by weak leadership, ineffective managerial oversight, duplication and inefficiency. In these councils, government funding was not being used in a sufficiently targeted, co-ordinated way to make a difference.”

Ofsted said that all the leaders they spoke to were concerned about a lack of clarity about what success in helping disadvantaged children means.

Leaders said they didn’t understand what they key term ‘school readiness’ meant, and Ofsted said there was a lack of understanding of how health and social care elements contribute to school achievement.

It said that nine of the fifteen local authorities visited did not have a “co-ordinated” and “strategic” approach to tackling the issues faced by disadvantaged children and their families.

In all the local authorities, around a quarter of children were missing out on early assessments of their health, learning and development, and only two had a system for knowing whether children who had received the assessments would be identified as disadvantaged.

A third of eligible children not taking free places

In particular, Ofsted raised concerns around the take-up of free early education for two-year-olds from low income families.

Being disadvantaged is considerably detrimental to children, with just over half of disadvantaged children reaching the educational attainment level expected by age five.

Although there was a 10% increase in the number of children taking up the places, 80,000 children, or a third of those eligible, did not take up their places.

This means that a potential investment of £200m has failed to reach the children it was intended for.

Ofsted said that councils should publish their strategies for meeting the needs of disadvantaged children, work with schools and early years setting to ensure that there is sufficient take-up of free places, and improve information sharing between different services.

It also raised concerns about the early years pupil premium for disadvantaged three and four year olds.

The review said that just under half of 43 schools and early years settings visited had not identified the pupils who would receive the premium, because local authority protocols and delays in payment were hindering the process. Ofsted recommended councils devolve the funding quickly to schools.

It also said that the Department for Education should review how local authorities are held accountable for their services to disadvantaged children and provide a common definition of disadvantaged children that includes health and social indicators.

PSE contacted the Local Government Association and the Department for Education for a statement but they did not reply at the time of publication.


Cllr Roy Perry, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said: “Councils are doing all they can to help this important group because there is clear evidence that access to high quality childcare and early education improves a child's life chances. The report notes that in most places, councils have been effective in encouraging parents to take advantage of the offer of free places for disadvantaged two-year-olds.

 “There remains a challenge to engage and build trust with families living in deprived areas in order to increase the take-up. However, funding for key improvement work, including early intervention, has reduced considerably in recent years and it’s important that parental trust is built up through other services for disadvantaged families, particularly where funding pressures have taken their toll.

 “We are now working with government on the implementation of the extra 15 hours free childcare for working parents, however, we still await confirmation of the early years funding formula for next year. This kind of uncertainty makes it very difficult for councils to work with their providers to plan future provision and is likely to place additional pressures on both councils and providers.”

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