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Tougher Ofsted inspections reveal visible fall in children's services ratings in 3 out of 4 councils

Over half of children’s services departments assessed under Ofsted’s single inspection framework have been rated in the bottom two grades, with nearly half inspected so far seeing a fall in their judgement compared with previous performance.

Since November 2013 Ofsted has assessed 47 children's services under its single inspection framework.

Two further authorities – Waltham Forest in London and St Helens in Lancashire – have become the latest given a “requires improvement” judgment for children’s social care services.

Almost a third of English authorities have now undergone the tougher Ofsted inspection. According to the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), 44 per cent of children’s services departments have seen their rating fall, while just 17 per cent have seen it rise.

Of the 41 councils whose judgments have been published by Ofsted up to 20 January, 10 have been rated “good”, 24 “requires improvement” and seven “inadequate”. None have been rated “outstanding”, the highest grade. 

A further five authorities have been inspected and are awaiting a judgment. 

Ofsted social care chief Debbie Jones has told MPs 3 out of 4 councils visited so far were below “good”, the rating that the inspectorate now deems the minimum standard. 

The high number of authorities in the lowest two grades bears out concerns raised by the ADCS at the time of the framework’s launch in November 2013 that it would lead to a fall in inspection ratings. 

Then ADCS president Andrew Webb said at the time that the single framework – which reclassified “adequate” under the previous inspection regime as “requires improvement” – unfairly moved the goalposts for councils in a way more akin to an “Orwellian world”.

The London Borough of Waltham Forest, inspected in November last year, received the necessary improvement judgment for the three key areas of child protection, looked-after children and permanence, and leadership. This was also the grade for adoption and care leaver services.

Inspectors highlighted “inconsistent” social work practice, which, along with the high turnover of social work staff, was found to be leading to delays in follow up child protection work. These factors are also affecting service quality for children in care. 

Ofsted demanded immediate action to improve intelligence gathering on children missing from home; better promote private fostering; and for assessment teams to have “sufficient capacity” to do their work efficiently.  

At the same time, St Helens Council was judged as “requires improvement” across the three key judgment areas as well as its performance on adoption and care leavers.

Inspectors highlighted weaknesses such as a lack of focus on early help support, too many child protection enquiries being undertaken, and slow adoption services. 

Priorities for action include improving the educational attainment of looked-after children and care leavers, increased understanding of thresholds, and improving systems for gathering and analysing information on missing children. 

Ofsted plans to complete the three-year inspection cycle of all 152 English local authorities by November 2016.