CLG Committee: Rotherham highlights a failure of Ofsted inspection

17 March 2015

In spite of repeated inspections, Ofsted failed to detect either the evidence, or the knowledge within the council, of large-scale child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, says the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee in their new report. The report points to an Ofsted inspection framework lacking sufficient focus on child sexual exploitation and a reporting regime which risks offering false assurance to authorities across England that events in Rotherham are not being repeated in their localities.

Ofsted inspections

The Committee finds Ofsted inspections failed to get under the skin of what was happening at Rotherham Council, adopting an approach relying too much on appearance and paperwork rather than examining whether policies to protect children were working on the ground. Ofsted inspectors didn’t probe council officers enough about their efforts to combat child sexual exploitation and failed to pick up on the professional jealousy and incompetence that distorted the operation of Children’s Social Care in Rotherham. The Committee also believes that a ‘silo’ mentality at Ofsted in 2007 and 2008, and probably later, hampered the organisation’s efforts to expose child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. The Committee finds Ofsted inspections up to 2012 were too short and narrowly focussed to enable inspectors to uncover the extent of the problem.

Chair's quote

"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 and to detect Rotherham Council’s on-going and tragic inability to combat it on the ground. 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.

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."

Work with local authorities and other regulators

Given the pattern of systemic failure and deterioration in children's services which started to emerge in Rotherham from 2000, the Committee believes Ofsted needs a clear escalation policy so action can be taken when a local authority is unable to show evidence of improvement. The Committee welcomes the recent changes at Ofsted, including the creation of a specialist team with expertise of child sexual exploitation, and hopes these will result in substantial improvements.

The Committee was concerned about the length of time it was taking to achieve ‘joined-up’ arrangements between Ofsted and other inspection regimes such as police and health to tackle child sexual exploitation. The process that emerges has to provide for in-depth examination.

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the CLG Committee, said

"As a Committee, we are concerned that Ofsted is 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. Ofsted needs to accelerate the progress of joined-up inspections to ensure they really get under the skin of what is happening in local authorities. 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."

Louise Casey's report

The Committee also took evidence from Louise Casey and concludes that her report on Rotherham not only got under the skin of the authority but, in contrast to Ofsted’s findings, had a directness which could not be misconstrued.

The Committee finds that, faced with the denial of the evidence in the Jay Report and the findings in the Casey Report, there was no reasonable prospect of Rotherham itself putting its own house in order and that the Secretary of State was justified in appointing commissioners to take over the executive functions of Rotherham Council. But Rotherham has to get on a course back to full and effective democratic accountability quickly. As part of the process of returning Rotherham to democratic control, the Committee recommends the Government ask Louise Casey to undertake a further inspection to establish that children’s services at Rotherham are operating satisfactorily.

The Committee said South Yorkshire Police would benefit from an inspection into its handling of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham along the lines of that conducted by Louise Casey.

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the CLG Committee, said

"The shocking news that South Yorkshire Police may have known that hundreds of girls were at risk of ongoing sexual abuse in Sheffield but failed to investigate many allegations broke after the Committee agreed its report last week. In the Committee’s evidence session with Louise Casey, I asked about the position of the police. She said that the police have to step up and accept the same level of responsibility as the local authority. I fully agree.

I am therefore pleased that in response to my suggestion on 13 March Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, announced a full ‘Casey-like’ county-wide inspection of South Yorkshire Police to get to an accepted understanding about the past and whether things have changed. I hope this will be the first step to restoring public confidence that the police can tackle child sexual exploitation."

The Committee finds that position of Roger Stone, the former Leader of the Council, was wholly untenable. Mr Stone’s awareness of the problem of child sexual exploitation from 2004/05 and the culture in the Council, highlighted by Professor Jay and Louise Casey and which prevented tackling the problem, meant he had no alternative other than to resign and to apologise.

Further information

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