Ofsted under fresh attack over child protection policy

Ofsted today faces calls for a radical overhaul to restore public confidence amid fresh accusations that it is so concerned with protecting its own reputation that it is failing to properly protect children.

The embattled children’s services watchdog is subject to a barrage of new criticisms from local government leaders and the National Union of Teachers a day after a chorus of complaints from children’s services chiefs, headteachers, MPs and a former head of Ofsted, Sir Mike Tomlinson.

Ofsted’s chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, is to answer those criticisms today when she presents its annual report.

Ofsted expanded two years ago to include the inspection of children’s services. Since then it has introduced controversial new inspection regimes for local authorities and schools and been the target of intense criticism over the way it dealt with Haringey children’s services after the death of Baby P.

In a statement released today the Local Government Association calls on Ofsted to set out a new improvement plan to win back the public’s confidence. It accuses the watchdog of being too concerned about its own reputation and so punitive in inspections of child protection services that it has prompted a significant rise of children being taken into care – an increase of 9% in the last year. These increases are putting the systems that protect children under extra pressure and making it harder to identify the children at the greatest risk of harm, the LGA claims.

Shireen Ritchie, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “The time when an inspector could sit on the sidelines and offer tick-box judgments is long past. Ofsted, or any future social work inspection body, must provide advice and answers to problems which will help councils and other public bodies keep all children as safe as possible.”

Separately it has emerged that Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, wrote to the chief inspector last week claiming that Ofsted is “engendering an atmosphere of fear” in schools. She said schools were being graded so harshly on relatively minor details there was now a risk of a large increase in the number of failing schools. The letter, seen by the Guardian, says: “It would appear that the new inspection arrangements are not only proving extremely unpopular with and unfair to schools, but they are also in danger of giving the general public the erroneous impression that school standards are in serious decline.”

Responding to the LGA’s comments, Ofsted said in a statement: “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 … there can be no hiding place for poor practice.”