Ofsted has been told it must reinspect hundreds of local authorities in England after a Commons Select Committee report criticised Ofsted’s failure to detect evidence of widespread child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham.
The communities and local government (CLG) select committee said it was clear that CSE will have been missed in other parts of the country because Ofsted’s inspection procedures did not have the ‘vision and flexibility to spot emerging problems’, between 2007 and 2012.
Chair of the CLG committee, MP Clive Betts said that: ‘Ofsted’s credibility is now on the line’ and said: ‘Given the inability of Ofsted to recognise organised child sexual exploitation until 2012-13, is it possible there are more Rotherhams waiting to be found?’
The Jay report last year revealed that at least 1,400 children had been sexually exploited in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013. Prof Alexis Jay, the former chief inspector of social work in Scotland, accused police and council leaders in the South Yorkshire town of ‘blatant’ failures to protect these children, and yet numerous inspections by Ofsted during that time failed to pick up on the problem.
In August 2012, two years before the Jay report, Ofsted deemed Rotherham’s child protection procedures ‘adequate’. Two months after the report was published last year, Ofsted downgraded the authority to ‘inadequate’, with inspectors reporting ‘widespread or serious failures that result in children being harmed or at risk of harm’.
The report points to an Ofsted inspection framework lacking sufficient focus on CSE and a reporting regime that risks offering false assurance to authorities across England that events in Rotherham are not being repeated in their localities.
The committee recommends that Ofsted inspect all local authorities not already visited since the watchdog tightened its procedures in 2013. Ofsted has carried out 43 inspections under the current framework.
Clive Betts wrote: ‘We have serious concerns that the shortcomings in Ofsted’s inspection arrangements until 2013 may mean that organised child sexual exploitation in other local authorities in England was missed. We are clear that Ofsted missed child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and, on the basis of the way it was operating from 2007 to 2012, we are also clear that it will have missed child sexual exploitation in many other local authorities. It should therefore inspect all local authorities in England.’
An Ofsted spokesperson 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.’
The committee also said South Yorkshire police would benefit from an inspection into its handling of CSE in Rotherham.