Nursery abuse inquiry highlights inspection system flaws
An inquiry into the Vanessa George child abuse case has highlighted a number of flaws in the inspection framework for nurseries.
Ms George was jailed last year for a minimum of seven years after admitting abusing young children at Little Ted’s, the Plymouth nursery where she worked, and photographing the abuse.
The serious case review by Plymouth Safeguarding Children Board found the nursery to be an ‘ideal’ place for Ms George to abuse, with safeguarding frameworks that were not fit for purpose, unclear lines of accountability and governance and an environment where outside challenge and support was not always welcomed.
Little Ted’s nursery, a not-for-profit setting owned by a committee of trustees, was closed in June 2009 when George was arrested. A new pre-school called Greenshoots opened at the site two months ago.
The review found that George was considered to be in a position of power within the staff group at the nursery, and had gained a position of trust with the manager, who allowed her to babysit for her foster children. This meant that staff who had become concerned about her behaviour, which included showing indecent images of adults on her phone and using crude language, felt that they were unable to challenge her.
George was recruited by the nursery manager without a formal interview because the nursery manager knew George and her two children. She was described as a popular member of staff whose behaviour seemed to change from December 2008, when she ‘seemed always to be on the internet, and chasing men.’
The review found that there was no formal mechanism for Early Years Advisory teams to report their concerns to Ofsted, if they do not reach the threshold of a breach of regulations. In 2008, just months before George began abusing children, the nursery was inspected by Ofsted and awarded a ‘good’ rating for protecting children from harm or neglect.
However, by the end of March 2009, the nursery was rated red on the council’s RAG system, because of concerns over management, quality, inclusion and sustainability.
The review highlights the limitations of the EYFS in providing a framework for inspecting the safeguarding capabilities of the nursery. It argues that Ofsted does not inspect the culture of a setting, but that unsafe cultures are known to be places where child sexual abuse is more likely.
The review questions whether the inspection framework is fit for purpose with regard to safeguarding, as there are no requirements specified in relation to staff supervision, safeguarding training, the nature of staff interviews and the lack of attention to the overall culture of an organisation.
The report raises further concerns over guidance around staff supervision. It says that guidance for Ofsted inspectors states that they should satisfy themselves with arrangements for staff supervision, but gives no further detail as to what these arrangements should be. It says that formal supervision processes may have provided an opportunity for staff to explore their concerns about George’s conduct.
INTER AGENCY CONFUSION
The inquiry also found a lack of communication between Plymouth’s early years advisory team and children’s social care, and that foster children were being encouraged to attend the nursery at the same time that the early years service had significant concerns about the quality of the provision. The report says that this confusion had contributed to an overall culture of lax systems that had allowed George to carry out her crimes.
A statement from Ofsted said, ‘Ofsted has already implemented a number of changes in the way we work as a result of this review and to address the recommendations made. It said it had improved its complaints process and the way it shared information with local authorities’.
The Serious Case Review Executive Summary can be downloaded here .