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LGA warns inadequate ratings make it harder to improve children’s services

Problems in children’s services are being made worse by inadequate ratings from Ofsted, local councils have warned as they call for multi-agency inspections.

The Local Government Association (LGA) warned that new analysis, conducted for the LGA by iMPOWER Consulting, showed that ‘inadequate’ ratings could inadvertently make competition harder by causing declining morale, staff resignations and negative publicity that discourages high-quality staff from joining permanently.

Under government proposals laid out last year, children’s services judged inadequate will face takeover by high-performing authorities, experts or charities if they don’t improve within six months.

In response to an Ofsted consultation which closed today, the LGA and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace) said that Ofsted’s proposals to make re-inspections after inadequate ratings more proportionate by focusing them on the identified areas of weakness didn’t go far enough. They called for the current single inspection framework to be replaced by sector-led, multi-agency inspections that will make sure councils can use the process to turn around under-performing services.

Cllr Roy Perry, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said: “We need a new inspection framework that looks at the contributions of all agencies involved and supports councils to improve, providing a narrative rather than a simplistic rating that cannot take into account the complexities of the service.

“Good local authorities are best placed to support other councils to turn around their services, helping to implement the changes needed to provide the best possible care and protection for our most vulnerable children.”

The framework proposed by the LGA and Solace would involve unannounced inspections of ‘front door’ – contact, referral and assessment – arrangements across all agencies involved, which would trigger full inspections if they found serious concerns, and thematic studies to identify and share good practice across the sector.

Graeme McDonald, director of Solace, and a member of PSE’s editorial board, said: “It is vital that councils provide the best possible support and protection for children in need, and that they should be challenged and supported to raise their standards where this is not the case.

“However, the current Ofsted inspection regime has often hindered rather than helped these efforts; typically having a disproportionate impact on the local authority and failing to appreciate the many agencies that all play a part in a child's welfare. The reforms proposed by Ofsted do not, as yet, go far enough to remedy this.”

Last year PSE interviewed Alison O’Sullivan, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, about the challenges facing the sector.


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