Rotherham: Ofsted’s credibility on the line, say MPs

17 Mar 15

Ineffective inspections from Ofsted contributed to the failure to tackle child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and the watchdog may be offering false assurance to authorities across England that similar problems do not exist in their localities, MPs have said.

Child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was exposed in a report from former chief social work adviser to the Scottish Government, Alexis Jay. Examining Ofsted’s work in this area, the communities and local government committee said the watchdog’s credibility was now on the line.

Its inspection framework lacked sufficient focus on child sexual exploitation in 2007 and 2008 and there was a reliance on appearance and paperwork rather than examining whether policies to protect children were working on the ground, the committee said.

Inspections were too short and narrowly focused to enable inspectors to uncover the extent of the problem, the MPs concluded. Council officers’ efforts to combat child sexual exploitation were not examined, while inspections failed to pick up the incompetence that distorted social care services.

Committee chair Clive Betts said the perpetrators bear ultimate responsibility for the sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham, but the ineffectiveness of Ofsted’s inspections contributed to a failure to expose the extent of the problem.
‘The shortcomings in Ofsted’s inspection arrangements until 2013 leave serious concerns that organised child sexual exploitation in other local authorities may have been missed,’ he said.

‘Ofsted’s credibility is now on the line. It says its new inspection arrangements will pick up child sexual exploitation. Ofsted now needs to re-inspect all local authorities in England at the earliest opportunity to ensure councils have identified and are tackling child sexual exploitation in their communities.’

The committee is calling on Ofsted to develop an ‘escalation policy’ that will set out action taken when a local authority is unable to show evidence of improvement.

The committee was concerned that Ofsted was too reactive, attuned to look for known types of failure rather than having the vision and flexibility to spot emerging problems in children’s social care, Betts added.

‘We are also concerned that, as a non-ministerial department, Ofsted may not be sufficiently accountable for its performance, being left to mark its own exams and decide internally what lessons to draw and what changes may be necessary.’
Responding to the report, an Ofsted spokesman said: ‘We welcome the report and the committee’s recognition that the changes we have made since 2012 strengthen our ability to uncover where children are at risk.

‘We know we didn’t get it right historically in Rotherham and have apologised for those mistakes.’

Did you enjoy this article?