‘Baby P spot-checks’ raise council fears

Author: By Michael Savage and Richard Garner

The initial findings by the watchdog Ofsted, which have not yet been published, disclose that “serious concerns” have been found in six out of nine councils spot-checked so far, The Independent understands. None of the councils has been named. “As the letters to authorities have not yet been published we cannot give any further information at this point,” a spokesman for Ofsted said.

It raises concerns that flaws in the provision of children’s services are more widespread than first feared. A source familiar with the inspections said the results would make uncomfortable reading for those involved. But the findings have provoked a backlash against Ofsted among social workers, many of whom believe the organisation is using alarmist language and attempting to “cover its own back” after the Baby P scandal. Others have accused it of lacking the skills to inspect children’s services.

Several councils are said to be challenging the findings, arguing that the “serious concerns” refer to failing to meet some bureaucratic deadlines, rather than failing to keep children safe under their watch. Marion Davis, director of children’s services for Warwickshire County Council, said that the term was being applied indiscriminately. “Many of those ‘serious concerns’ have been about process, such as what is recorded on computers, and not things that impact directly on children’s well being,” she said. “Ofsted must find a way of distinguishing between the two.”

A spokeswoman for the Local Government Association accused Ofsted of making “sweeping judgements from afar” while failing to help councils improve services.

Ofsted has agreed to tone down the language it uses in describing the failings it found during the “no notice spot checks” when it publishes the reports. “We have listened to the concerns about how we describe what we find on the unannounced inspections and, as a result, where we find that practice or systems do not minimise immediate risk for young people, we will highlight areas for priority action,” a spokeswoman said. “Ultimately we will do all in our power to ensure that children are getting the level of protection they deserve.”

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