Thursday, 27 February 2014

Ofsted and safeguarding

"Procedures for safeguarding pupils are robust; staff and the designated governor are well informed about child protection. Good practice in multi-agency work to support individual pupils is an example of the school's effective partnership work."

Any primary school headteacher would be pleased to have safeguarding at his school described this way in an OFSTED report. The parents will be reassured by such a ringing endorsement of good practice.

There’s just one small problem. Those words were written by OFSTED about Little Heath Primary, the school attended by Daniel Pelka. Less than a year later he was dead, his emaciation, hunger and visible bruises noticed but unreported by the school as child protection concerns. The Serious Case Review, after detailing all the symptoms that were noticed but not passed on, stated the following:

"The system within the school to respond to safeguarding concerns was therefore dysfunctional at this time. The schools own safeguarding and child protection policy does not make it clear what the internal arrangements were for reporting and recording concerns."

This is a very different conclusion from OFSTED’s, albeit with the benefit of hindsight. There is no reason to think that safeguarding suddenly went bad in the intervening period. There was no change of headteacher (who was also the designated teacher for safeguarding) and no change of policy in the intervening time. Given that Daniel died, it is clear that OFSTED missed some shockingly bad practice.

Five minutes’ perusal of the school’s safeguarding policy should have alerted the inspectors. Good practice is very difficult to achieve without clear written procedures, and the procedures were nonexistent.

Ten months after Daniel’s death, OFSTED went back and inspected the school again. This is what they then said:

“The arrangements for the safeguarding of pupils meet requirements. The school carries out the necessary checks on adults to ensure that they are suitable to work with children.”

There was no mention of any lessons learned or changes of procedure that had been made. There was not even any mention of Daniel or his death. From the report there's no evidence that OFSTED invoked its additional procedures for inspecting a school where a serious safeguarding incident has occurred or a child has died, no reason to think that the inspectors were even aware that Daniel had been a pupil at the school.

And no lessons had been learned and no procedures had been changed. The same child protection policy, issued in 2009, was still in use at the time of the second OFSTED inspection. OFSTED missed the bad practice - again.

We can’t even go back and look in detail at what was missed and why. As I understand it, six months after a report is issued, the inspectors’ original notes are destroyed. So nobody, not even OFSTED itself, can see what they actually looked at during the inspection. Effectively, the death of Daniel and the school's safeguarding failures have been expunged from OFSTED's records of the school.

This is just one school which I have chosen to describe in some detail, but it is one example out of many. I have read quite a few other Serious Case Reviews, such as Hillside First School where Nigel Leat abused for 14 years, and Bishop Bell Academy where Jeremy Forrest taught until he abducted a pupil to France. There is a recurring theme of schools having seriously deficient arrangements for recording and reporting child protection concerns, deficiencies missed by OFSTED, sometimes in several successive inspections.

In addition, I have obtained the safeguarding policies for 114 of Coventry’s schools, almost every school in the city. Only about a third contain clearly stated procedures for internal reporting of child protection concerns, passing on those reports to external agencies, and proper record-keeping. By my estimation, about 14% were as bad as Little Heath or worse. I’ve also looked at their most recent OFSTED reports. OFSTED doesn’t have a bad word to say about safeguarding at any of them! This is not a past problem now resolved by improved practice, it appears that OFSTED is even now giving good reports to schools with bad safeguarding arrangements.

The available evidence suggests that OFSTED's threadbare safeguarding inspections do not reliably recognise even appallingly bad safeguarding practice. That is a matter of serious concern to us all. If OFSTED cannot assure good safeguarding in schools, perhaps the job should be given to a separate agency which can.

(This article originally appeared a week ago in CYP Now magazine.)