How can a school be judged to be “outstanding” and 12 months latter the same school, with the same teachers, the same head and the same governors, be reassessed as “inadequate”?
‘Some inspectors in health describe the process as more like a “lynch mob” than done by professional regulators’
How can a local authority children’s service be judged to be “serving most children well, with good prospects for improvements”, and then, following a death in care, be placed in special measures?
How come some social service departments end up in special measures and others, also low on the performance table, do not?
The suspicion is that reports are subject to ministerial interference. I am aware of inspection reports, shared in draft with the organisation for factual accuracy, which initially appear to indicate a good or satisfactory service, but when published, have changed in tone, inflating minor criticisms into major concerns, and with a final judgment of “poor” or “inadequate”.
Doing what’s expected
The inspectors may have rigorously followed their tick box process; the quotes from service users, staff and partner agencies may be valid, albeit out of context; their performance data may be accurate, if selective; but the final judgement needs to be signed off by their boss, who knows what the minister expects.
Chief inspectors receive frequent briefings from senior civil servants explaining what the minister expects. Ministers have been accused of sending in inspectors to find the evidence to support their view that a hospital board is resisting centralising services; the school would be better off as an academy; or that the local authority is opposing opening up services to the private sector.
This has led some inspectors in health to describe the process as more like a “lynch mob” than done by professional regulators.
‘Ministers must resist the temptation to interfere in inspections and stop using them to promote a party political agenda’
Whether it’s Ofsted or the Care Quality Commissions, inspectors’ judgments are frequently dismissed as arbitrary and subjective. In reply, the inspectors accuse hospitals and schools of being defensive and more concerned with protecting their reputation than addressing areas for improvement.
Inspectors say they are given insufficient time to undertake inspections. What you get is not management consultants advising on how to improve services, but a snapshot of a service and a distilling of a lot of complex information into a very simplistic statement, to which too much importance is then attached.
Ministers must resist the temptation to interfere in inspections and stop using them to promote a party political agenda.
Inspectors need to be seen as impartial and should be resourced to undertake in-depth inspections over three weeks, not three days.
Hospitals, social services and schools need to accept positive criticism. But the whole process would be more beneficial to service users, patients and parents if the outcome was a list of strengths and areas for improvements, not a one-word judgment.