Ofsted faces criticism over botched inspection
Ofsted’s controversial new framework for rating child protection and care services has been criticised after one of the first inspections was found to be “seriously flawed”.
CYP Now has learned that despite initially being told it had achieved an overall “good” rating, Sheffield Council was later informed by Ofsted that a further inspection visit would be required because the initial findings were flawed.
Following the additional visit the authority’s overall rating was judged to be “requires improvement”.
So far five inspection reports using the new framework have been published. More have been carried out but are awaiting publication.
Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said inconsistency in the quality of inspections carried out so far is “extremely concerning”.
“I think the experience of local authorities in the first phase is that Ofsted needs to do quite a lot of work to ensure it is operating consistently,” he said.
“You always expect teething problems when you introduce a new inspection regime.
“But the consequence of inspectors that are new to the process and inconsistency in the quality is extremely concerning given the inspections are subject to limiting judgments.
“What we have seen in some parts of the country with the previous regime is that the Ofsted judgment can have a negative effect on the stability of the workforce and that is a key issue in improving quality.”
Jayne Ludlam, executive director for children, young people and families at Sheffield Council, said that although the inspection proved to be a valuable learning tool for staff and management, she feels the authority was harshly judged.
She told CYP Now that initial feedback from Ofsted following the inspection – which ran from 19 November to 11 December – was that five areas were “good” and one area (the sub-category of adoption performance) “required improvement”, but the overall grade was “good”.
However, following moderation the overall judgment was lowered to “requires improvement”.
Ludlam said she challenged the decision, only to be told by Ofsted that they had now deemed the inspection to be flawed, and an additional three-day visit would commence the following day (28 January).
“We had the national lead and two senior inspectors with us, who took a very different approach to the first inspection – they were more focused on documents, and took a forensic approach,” she says.
“The initial inspection was very immersed in practice, the inspectors went out with staff and got to know the city very well.
“I felt it was fair, challenging and balanced.
“During the re-inspection, the inspectors just sat looking at documents.
“They judged three areas as ‘good’, and two [the sub category of adoption performance, as well as the key judgment category of children looked after and achieving permanence] as ‘requires improvement’, with an overall grade of ‘requires improvement’.
“It feels we have been very harshly judged.”
The inspection framework has proved controversial since its conception.
Sector leaders have previously raised fears that the new “requires improvement” rating – which replaced the “adequate” grade under the previous inspection frameworks – will sap morale and result in more councils appearing to be underperforming on child protection.
The first set of single inspection reports are to be reviewed by Professor Eileen Munro of the London School of Economics.
An Ofsted protocol sets out how to deal with the “very rare” occasions when inspections are “considered to be so seriously flawed that they are deemed to be incomplete”.
It states that inspections can be considered flawed if:
- Key judgments that might affect the overall outcome of the inspection are given orally by the lead inspector at final feedback to the provider or stated in the written report, and are not substantiated by evidence gathered and recorded by the inspection team
- The conduct of the inspection is such that the evidence gathered and recorded cannot be relied upon to provide a fair and accurate view of the provider, in whole or in part
- The inspector or inspection team has not gathered sufficient evidence or evidence of sufficient quality to allow it to obtain a fair and accurate view of the provider, in whole or in part
Ofsted has been contacted for comment.