Over 100 of the 152 local authorities in England are providing a good or excellent service to children and young people, according to the annual children’s services ratings published in December 2009. The publication of the ratings coincided with the launch of the new joint inspectorate Oneplace website, which gives an independent overview of local public services.
The annual rating is a wide-ranging and robust assessment of each council’s performance in relation to children’s services for which they have strategic or operational responsibilities (either alone or in partnership with other agencies) and the difference they are making to children’s lives. It is strongly based on evidence from inspections thus placing an emphasis on the direct observation of professional practice, for example, child protection services and safeguarding, childcare, schools, children’s homes and provision in the learning and skills sector, as well as through getting the views of children and young people using those services, and interactions during inspection with managers and other stakeholders.
The children’s services rating forms an important component of the joint inspectorate Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA), which also brings together the views and findings of a further five independent inspectorates: the Audit Commission, Care Quality Commission and Her Majesty's Inspectorates of Constabulary, Prisons and Probation. The Assessment looks at how well local services such as councils, health, police, fire and rescue services in each of the 152 areas work together to meet their priorities and make use of the resources available to them. Councils are graded on a four-point scale: 1 denotes performs poorly, 2 is performs adequately, 3 means performs well and 4 is performs excellently. The CAA results can be found on the Oneplace website at www.direct.gov.uk/oneplace
‘We are also using more first hand inspection evidence, gathered by a range of highly knowledgeable and experienced inspectors looking at services and settings, from schools and childcare, to services for vulnerable children, and those for young people in colleges and sixth forms’
Ofsted’s children’s services ratings for 2009 show that 10 councils are providing excellent services for children and young people (significantly exceeding minimum requirements), 93 are offering good services (exceeding minimum requirements) and 40 are performing adequately (meeting only minimum requirements). Nine councils are performing poorly overall (not meeting minimum requirements), due mainly to weaknesses in safeguarding children.
The local authorities of Blackburn with Darwen, Camden, City of London, Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston-upon-Thames, Lewisham, Richmond-upon-Thames, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth, and York were judged to be performing excellently. Characteristics of these best performing councils include:
- Children generally get off to a good start in early years and continue to do well throughout each stage of their education
- Councils engage effectively with children and families and involve them in decision making
- The majority of services are good and achieve good or outstanding outcomes for children, young people and families
- Provision is good or better for children and young people whose circumstances may make them vulnerable
- The best councils have very good quality assurance and strong performance management.
‘These results show that the majority of councils are doing a good job and the vast majority are at least satisfactory’
Commenting on the ratings, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert said, ‘Ofsted’s new inspection system gives us the clearest picture yet of what is happening on the ground for children and young people where they live.
‘In this first year of our new approach, I have made it clear that we have raised expectations for local authorities. We are considering a wider range of services and outcomes for children and young people, and in that sense we are being more demanding. We are also using more first-hand inspection evidence, gathered by a range of highly knowledgeable and experienced inspectors looking at services and settings, from schools and childcare, to services for vulnerable children, and those for young people in colleges and sixth forms. Particular emphasis is given to frontline evidence from the new inspections of child protection, safeguarding and services for looked after children in local authorities introduced in June 2009.
‘These results show that the majority of councils are doing a good job and the vast majority are at least satisfactory. A very small minority are performing poorly, in large part because they are not ensuring that children are as safe as possible.
‘Inspectors have made judgements in a rounded way, balancing all the evidence. Within each of the four levels there are likely to be stronger and weaker aspects of provision. For example, a rating of 'excellent' does not indicate that everything is perfect. Similarly, within a judgement of 'performs poorly', it is possible that some aspects of the overall service are adequate or even good and, indeed already improving.
‘However, those councils which are performing excellently must be commended. Their achievement is highly significant, not just for the children and young people they serve but because they have shown that it can be done. Those which are good should be inspired to excellence, and those which are satisfactory should look for best practice to accelerate improvement. The small number of poorly performing authorities must renew their determination to improve, in the knowledge that it is both possible and necessary.’