Child experts ‘concerned over CAA’_2

5 Feb 09
Children’s services professionals have raised major concerns about whether the new local inspection regime is fit for purpose

06 February 2009

By Vivienne Russell

Children's services professionals have raised major concerns about whether the new local inspection regime is fit for purpose.

Comprehensive Area Assessments are due to come into force in April. But a survey published this week revealed that local authority managers responsible for providing children's services have major worries about the amount of red tape involved, and fear that local priorities will be overridden by Whitehall diktats.

The survey was conducted by the Local Government Information Unit's Children Services Network. The findings were published on February 3 in a joint report with the Performance Information Reference Group in Education and Children's Services (Pirge).

Fitter for the future? The new accountability framework showed that more than half of local authorities do not agree that the new national indicators – a main element of the CAA – will provide reliable and robust assessments.

Some respondents criticised the emphasis national indicators placed on educational attainment at the expense of enjoying school. They highlighted Key Stage 3 test results for 14-year-olds, which have since been ditched by Schools Secretary Ed Balls.

There were also concerns about Local Area Agreements. Almost half (48%) of the survey's respondents said unrealistic deadlines were being set.

Chris Waterman, a member of Pirge and its former chair, told Public Finance: 'The CAA is a high-stakes venture which we have to get right. The process needs to be credible with both government and local authorities: this will only be achieved by close collaboration and excellent quality control.'

The report calls for the implementation of the CAA to be closely monitored by both local representatives and independent researchers.

It also suggests the CAA should be conducted just once every three years rather than annually, and that a greater emphasis should be placed on peer reviews.

Jasmine Ali, head of the LGIU's children services network, said inspections of council children's services should 'move away from a paper-based system to focus on a more qualitative approach'.


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