Independent councillors call for Ofsted reassurance and action after 'inadequate' rating

Independent councillors have called for more ‘accountability’ after South Tyneside Council's children’s services department was rated ‘inadequate’ earlier this year.

However leading Labour representatives stressed they reacted “very quickly” and are making “real strides” in carrying out improvement plans which they are taking “very seriously”.

The “inadequate” verdict was delivered by Ofsted following visits in December 2022 and February 2023, with inspectors saying there had been a decline in the quality of services since its last full inspection in 2017, when it was rated “good”.

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The rating was confirmed publicly in May, with South Tyneside Council chiefs reassuring they “moved quickly” to address the issues raised and stressing they were “well on the way with their journey of improvement”.

Cllr Glenn Thompson.Cllr Glenn Thompson.
Cllr Glenn Thompson.

However at the latest full council meeting, independent councillors criticised the local authority for the rating and the “lack of accountability” from leading representatives.

Independent councillor Glenn Thompson raised the topic of the “inadequate” Ofsted report, noting it highlighted “some serious concerning issues”.

He said: “As far as accountability goes, political accountability and responsibility relies unambiguously with the leader of children’s services.

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“Where is that accountability, where is that responsibility, there’s no apology that anyone in here has seen nine months after that report.”

He also pointed to concerns raised in the Ofsted report which stated there had “been a deterioration in the strategic oversight and understanding” of how social work practice affected young people and cases of “children being placed in unregistered children’s homes”.

Fellow independent councillor Paul Brenen added: “I cannot see us moving forward as a council until this [accountability] happens, we are simply burying our heads in the sand and hoping people will forget it.”

Cllr Adam Ellison, Labour cabinet member for children, young people and families, responded by stating an improvement board has been overseeing “real strides” made by the council.

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Speaking at the meeting, he said: “There was political leadership and the leadership of the council that acted very quickly upon receiving that information that there were concerns.

“We have reacted and we are doing the right things for the children and young people that we have in our care.

“We are taking it really seriously and we’ve reacted very quickly to try and change that.”

The concerns were raised at the meeting following a report on the local authority’s “vision for fostering”, which highlighted steps taken to give children in care a “healthy and successful life in a safe and nurturing home”.

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Labour’s councillor Tracey Dixon, council leader, accused the independent representatives of “grandstanding” by bringing the Ofsted rating up on a report which it had “nothing at all to do” with.

She added: “This council acted and responded immediately following the inspection and the draft feedback we received. I’ve already mentioned my apologies.

“This council puts children, puts adults, puts families and the very forefront of what we are wanting to do.”

The Ofsted report, published in May, stated the council “took timely and decisive action to address emerging findings during the inspection in December” and had already made “significant changes” in its bid to deliver the best services possible.

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The latest meeting of the council’s children and adults safeguarding panel received further updates from local authority chiefs on actions taken following the Ofsted inspection results.

Steve Reddy, council interim director of children’s services, said work is being carried out in line with an improvement plan shared with Ofsted, with a “positive meeting” with the regulator taking place in July 2023.

He noted key partner agencies and their senior representatives on the improvement board are committed to making changes together and supporting improvement.

He added: “The staff are really committed to the borough and town and committed to the improvement, and really want to turn things around really quickly.”

The meeting heard Ofsted quarterly monitoring visits will start November 2023, with another full inspection expected in “about 12 months”.