Focus fixed on improving lives of vulnerable young people

By on 09/12/2009 in News

Birmingham City Council today said that the Council, with health and police partners, remains focused on protecting the lives of vulnerable children after Ofsted repeated its “inadequate” rating for safeguarding children.

The Authority said it was “disappointed” the inspection body has not shifted from the judgement initially delivered last year, despite a raft of improvements made since and Ofsted's own acknowledgement of more effective leadership from senior managers.

This progress has been praised recently by both the Government Minister of State for Children Dawn Primarolo and Ofsted's own inspection team, which made an unannounced visit last month.

Ofsted's annual assessment considers performance relating to the Government's Every Child Matters agenda (being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and achieving economic wellbeing).

Due to a greater emphasis this year on the staying safe” safeguarding element, the repeat inadequate judgement for staying safe has seen Children's Services overall given a “performing poorly” rating.

This comes despite Birmingham achieving its best ever exam results this year, with GCSE attainment above the national average, making the city the best-performing big urban authority in the country.

It also flies in the face of Ofsted's confirmation that “Performance against a large majority of national indicators, including those for staying safe and enjoying and achieving, is improving and at least as good as that in similar areas”.

Cllr Les Lawrence, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families, said: “It is disappointing to see that Ofsted has applied its 'performing poorly' judgement to all of children's services.

“We believe this is unfair. We have not had a full inspection in 2009 and this fails to take account of the tremendous strides we have made in the last year. It seems to be more a product of Ofsted's new way of assessing services than a balanced reflection of the successes and challenges we face in Birmingham.

“Both Ofsted's own inspectors and the Government Minister of State for Children have praised our progress, which makes this pronouncement all the more perplexing.

“I also find the rating odd coming during a year when we consolidated our position as the best major urban authority for educational attainment, with above national average results in GCSEs and excellent results at the Foundation Stage.

“However, we will not let this put us off. Our focus remains resolutely fixed on our action plan for putting in place the improvement measures that will make a real and lasting difference to safeguarding the lives of young people in this city.”

Tony Howell, Strategic Director for Children, Young People and Families, added: “We have put a huge amount of effort into addressing the issues within Children's Social Care.

“We know there is more to be done and are not complacent. But there is now a genuine feeling of change and progress within the service which this Ofsted pronouncement does not recognise.

“To staff working within Children's Social Care and across the Children's Directorate, I would like to say a huge thank you for their dedication and commitment during what has been a difficult year and urge them not to be disheartened by this.”

The Children, Young People and Families directorate will find out early next year if it is to be removed from an Improvement Notice issued by the Government in February in the wake of Ofsted's initial “inadequate” rating for safeguarding last December.

Improvements already made include:
• Senior management strengthened to lead improvements.
• “Rapid improvement workshops” run with all managers.
• A learning and development team established to embed skills, training and career paths.
• Working in closer partnership with other agencies that share responsibility for duty of care of children such as the health service and police.
• Work started with Primary Care Trusts to ensure health visitors fully understand their role in safeguarding children.
• Reception into Care panels formed. Every child potentially coming into the care system is now considered by the panel chaired by a senior social worker and including a teacher and lawyer.
• Greater focus on fostering backed by recruitment of foster carers campaign and greater pay.
• Procedures and practice standards reviewed. Some 800 staff have gone through a training programme to apply that training.
• 16 teams of social workers currently being brought together into a fit-for-purpose new building called Lifford House in Stirchley addressing poor accommodation issues highlighted.
• Working with two city universities to improve quality and relevance of training.
• Recruitment of social workers campaign launched targeting Ireland.

Last month Minister for Children Dawn Primarolo praised progress made in delivering the changes to improve Children's Social Care.

She said: “It is evident that in Birmingham there is a high level of political and management will to commit resources to deliver sustainable improvements to keep children safe.

“I last reviewed performance three months ago and I am pleased to see that there continues to be sustained improvement.”

Earlier this year Education Secretary Ed Balls also praised Birmingham for “embracing its responsibilities” in driving down the number of National Challenge Schools with less than 30 per cent of pupils gaining five A* to Cs including English and mathematics.

The figure halved from 20 previously to ten this year.

Birmingham outperforms all other major urban authorities for exam results.

This year also saw a six per cent leap in the proportion of 16-year-olds gaining five or more GCSEs at A* to C to 72 per cent, two points above the national average.

There were also significant improvements in early years and among pupils at risk of under-achievement, with 47 per cent of children living in the most disadvantaged areas achieving a good level of development compared with 42 per cent for England.
ENDS
Further information from Shahid Naqvi 0121 303 3635.

Notes to Editors

• Last year Ofsted judged Birmingham City Council's Children's Services as “adequate” overall in its Annual Performance Assessment published December 2008.
• The inspection body made judgements based on data collated for the period between April 1 2007 and March 31, 2008.
• Only the “Staying Safe” element of the inspection, which relates to the safeguarding area of Children's Social Care, was rated as “inadequate” in 2008.
• Ofsted has changed its assessment methodology again this year and in doing so has acknowledged there are consequently significant gaps in its performance profile data. Ofsted has therefore decided to interpret performance bands “with flexibility”.
• One of the Ofsted changes is to place greater emphasis on aspects of social care than on the fuller Every Child Matters agenda on which all local authorities and their partners have been working since the Children Act 2004.
• The inspection regime also now gives only one out of a possible four overall ratings (performs excellently, performs well, performs adequately, performs poorly), unlike in previous years when all five areas of the Every Child Matters agenda plus “capacity to improve” were judged separately with an overall rating of the service provided.
• Birmingham's Children's Social Care was given a year's improvement notice by the Government in February which led to the authority being provided with a package of additional support.
• Earlier this month the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the Authority had made “real improvements in children's social care in recent months” and claimed the Council “clearly demonstrated that it has the political and corporate will to improve services further and embed the work the Council has started under the terms of the DCSF Improvement Notice”.
• Ofsted made a short unannounced visit last month to Birmingham, but inspectors focused on the specific area of referrals and assessments in children's social care. The findings were broadly positive.

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