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Ofsted criticised over sexual abuse

Children's care watchdog Ofsted failed to uncover widespread sexual abuse in Rotherham because it took the word of local authority staff, MPs have found.

The Communities and Local Government Committee said inspectors focused on whether paperwork was in order rather than examining the practical care of youngsters.

The cross-party group also cautioned that Ofsted still appeared to be a "reactive organisation" instead of one that would detect the "next class of serious failure".

The committee has been looking at the institutional problems that allowed more than 1,400 children to be subjected to rape, violence and trafficking in the area over a 16-year period.

Its report concluded that Ofsted's inquiries had been "too short and narrowly focused", and relied on the "appearance of, and paperwork describing, Rotherham's systems rather than the actuality".

"It did not effectively check the policies with practical examples that could demonstrate evidence that the policies were working," the report said.

Too much trust was put in what staff said about the danger to young people.

"These officers do not appear to have passed on the concerns Risky Business raised about child sexual exploitation and Ofsted does not appear to have probed beyond what it was told," the report said. "It failed to penetrate the professional jealousy and incompetence that distorted the operation of Children's Social Care in Rotherham."

As an organisation, Ofsted at the time was "culturally and operationally functioning in impenetrable silos" which hampered recognition of child abuse rings.

The committee accepted that the new inspection arrangements were "broader and deeper" than those before 2012, but suggested they were still too targeted towards "known problems".

Chairman 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 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".

"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."

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."

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Where the Government found evidence of failure to protect young people in Rotherham, we did not hesitate to take action, first by asking Louise Casey to conduct a thorough inspection and then, in the light of her evidence, sending in commissioners to take over all of the executive functions of the council.

"We are confident their rapid improvement plan will quickly begin to turn Rotherham's failing services around."


From Belfast Telegraph