Page last updated at 00:12 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Watchdog Ofsted accused of stoking child safety fears

Writing a report
The education watchdog has also been criticised by the Conservatives

Local government leaders have accused Ofsted of "feeding people's fears" over child safety, rather than improving child protection in England.

The watchdog was more interested in "protecting its own reputation" than providing a "calm, measured voice", the Local Government Association said.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "There can be no hiding place for poor practice."

Ofsted, which covers formal education and children's services and childcare, is due to deliver its annual report.

The report is usually an occasion for the chief inspector to highlight the failures and successes in schools and children's services.

Independent?

However, ahead of its publication, Shireen Ritchie, chairwoman of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said Ofsted needed to be "independent, and to offer conclusions based on facts and research rather than being influenced by external events".

She said inspectors could not "sit on the sidelines and offer tick-box judgements".

"The LGA believes Ofsted has become too concerned about protecting its own reputation and places a disproportionate emphasis on publicly highlighting weaknesses in child protection without adequately reflecting the huge amount of good work being done by councils across the country," says an LGA statement.

This publicity creates a risk-averse culture, says the LGA, which means that health professionals and police are overloading social services with extra work - making it harder to identify genuine cases.

It says there have been 47% increase in care applications in the three months to September 2009 compared with the same period last year.

And there has been a 9% increase in children being taken into care in the last year.

The local government body does not mention the publicity that followed the death of Baby Peter.

But earlier this month Ofsted admitted to a "serious and deeply regrettable error" in failing to disclose potential evidence in a High Court case involving Sharon Shoesmith, the former head of children's services at Haringey council.

Ms Shoesmith was dismissed from her post following a damning inspection report, after the trial of those responsible for the death of the 17-month-old child.

'Meaningless'

Ofsted is also under fire from the Association of Directors of Children's Services.

It claims that the the forthcoming annual performance profiles of local authorities are "not fit for purpose" and their assessments of children's services are "brief almost to the point of meaninglessness".

In response to the criticisms, Ofsted said it was "concerned about its reputation - a reputation for frankness and fearlessness and making a difference to children's lives".

"We would be failing in our duty if we did not highlight what works and where improvements are needed. We make no apology for this."

A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Robust, high quality, independent inspection is, of course, a vital part of ensuring that children's services around the country are the best they can possibly be."

"It is important too that Ofsted and colleagues delivering children's services have a shared appreciation and understanding of the inspection process.

"This is the first year of the Comprehensive Area Assessments to which ADCS refer and after publication of the results on 10 December, the DCSF will work with Ofsted and ADCS to help identify lessons from this first round of assessments."

Shadow Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "Ofsted urgently needs to improve. We cannot have a situation where inspectors are more concerned with bureaucratic process than with outcomes.

"We need inspections that tell us how well children are being educated and cared for, not just how many government boxes departments of children's services have ticked.

"At the moment the system seems to spend too much time protecting itself and not enough time protecting the interests of children," said Mr Loughton.



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SEE ALSO
Ofsted admits Baby P report error
10 Nov 09 |  London
Child safety services criticised
06 Nov 09 |  Nottinghamshire

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