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Two authorities blasted for ‘inadequate’ children’s services

Today’s latest round of Ofsted reports has exposed failing children’s services in two separate authorities.

Sandwell MBC has been lambasted by inspectors despite plans from the government to have services for children and young people transferred from the council to a specific trust after serious concerns about quality.

Buckinghamshire County Council has also been labelled ‘inadequate’ in the recent report, after failing to improve on its poor 2014 rating.

Both authorities were criticised for individual failures, with neither of the two scoring above ‘inadequate’ on any of Ofsted’s three categories, although Buckinghamshire achieved a 'good' rating in the adoption performance subcategory.

The regulator initially hit Sandwell with a damning report in 2015 and, although the council seemed to be making improvement, former education secretary Justine Greening felt outside help was needed to bring the organisation up to scratch.

Since then, and with the new trust still preparing to begin its work in April this year, progress has stalled almost completely, with some services actually deteriorating – prompting Ofsted to call out “widespread and serious failures” across the council.

“Most of the recommendations from the Ofsted 2015 inspection have not been fully met and some services have declined in effectiveness,” the report reads. “The pace of change to address service deficits has been too slow. Only in recent months, with the appointment of a new senior management team, has the trajectory of improvement quickened.

“However, the basic elements of good social work practice are not yet in place, for example effective management oversight, a robust response to risk, and timely and thorough assessment and plans.”

Cllr Simon Hackett, cabinet member for children’s services at Sandwell, said the service “isn’t where it needs to be” and registered his disappointment with the rating.

“While it's clear that there is much more work to do, Ofsted also recognised the beginning of change in the service that will make sure Sandwell Children's Trust has the foundations in place to succeed,” he continued.

“The trust is the future of children’s services in Sandwell. It will give us a fresh start and the opportunity to achieve real change. It cannot succeed without the council's full support which I will make sure it receives.”

Sandwell MBC is responsible for around 80,000 children living in the area, with approximately 30% of those living in poverty and 21% entitled to free school meals.

Inspectors made a range of improvement recommendations, including advancing processes for management oversight and decision-making – points which were also put forward during the last inspection.

Services in Buckinghamshire have also had chances to improve, although inspectors found the response to previous reports was “inconsistent and too slow.”

Inspectors did point to the leadership of the county council, suggesting the recent appointment of new directors and managers within children’s services had provided a strong team which was “committed to accelerating the pace of improvements for children.”

However, they also mentioned “serious shortfalls in some parts of the service” and an unsuccessful response to previous criticisms.

Buckinghamshire’s cabinet member for children’s services, Warren Whyte, said: “I am extremely disappointed and concerned with the outcome, and the council fully accepts the findings of the report.

“It is clear that some of our services are still not good enough yet and the pace of improvement in some key areas has been too slow. It is our collective responsibility to make sure that we put this right.

“It is important that we do not lose sight of the strengths inspectors highlight and the improvements we have already delivered, and our continued commitment to improve.”

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