iMPOWER recently slammed the Government’s independent auditing unit Ofsted for the unreasonable consequences of its audits on service providers, finding that its “inadequate” assessment means that local organisations find themselves in a vicious self-destructive cycle that inhibits self-improvement.
In a recent report from iMPOWER (‘Breaking The Lock’), a consultancy specialised in the public sector, the effects of Ofsted* audits of local authority children’s services is considered with respect to the impact such inspections have on both the institution and the people under its care. The findings from the advisors point out that while auditing of local authority services is part and parcel with institutional life, the manner and effects of such an inspection produce by Ofsted inspections often involve a “one-dimensional lens” and that a single judgement of inadequate can trigger a "catastrophic spiralling effect" on a local authority.
With key challenges faced by councils as they attempt to deal with sever budgetary constraints, the inspections does little to describe the overall progress or challenges facing local councils, nor does it provide appropriate balance for the detail that may be present in a report. iMPOWER remarks that councils that have had a negative inspection quickly find themselves in a vicious cycle, with increased work volumes (up to a 50% increase for institutions often already overwhelmed), decreased capacity for interventions (leaving children at risk), and higher staff turnovers (requiring more handovers to agency workforces, at higher costs).
The consequence of such a cycle results in “systematic shock”, where the local authorities’ children’s services falls apart. “This occurs when local systems break down and each agent retreats away from children’s services. The service is seen as an unreliable partner to be avoided and, as such, catastrophic failures can often ensue,” says report author Amanda Kelly describes.
In response to the criticism of their inspections Ofsted replied: “We make no apology for carrying out robust inspections of local authority services on behalf of the children and young people who use them. The independent scrutiny which Ofsted provides is essential. However, it is right that the inspectorate is itself scrutinised and we welcome this debate.”
* Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. The unit inspects and regulates services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. Ofsted is a non-ministerial department.