Child sexual exploitation in Rotherham: Ofsted and further government issues - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Roger Stone, former Leader of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council

1.  Having carefully listened to, and read, Mr Stone's evidence we are clear that in the light of the findings of Professor Jay and Louise Casey, which we fully accept, the authority which he led failed to protect the children of Rotherham from organised sexual exploitation. In these circumstances as Leader—and given that he was aware of the child sexual exploitation from 2004/05 and given the culture in the Council which prevented the follow through and tackling of child sexual exploitation on the scale it was occurring in Rotherham—Mr Stone's position was wholly untenable. Therefore he had no alternative other than to resign and to apologise. (Paragraph 4)

Why did Ofsted not detect and expose Rotherham's failure to address child sexual exploitation?

2.  The first weakness in Ofsted's approach was that it relied on the appearance of, and paperwork describing, Rotherham's systems rather than the actuality. It did not effectively check the policies with practical examples that could demonstrate evidence that the policies were working. (Paragraph 13)

3.  The second weakness in Ofsted's approach was that it relied on what the officers at Rotherham told it. These officers do not appear to have passed on the concerns Risky Business raised about child sexual exploitation and Ofsted does not appear to have probed beyond what it was told and it failed to penetrate the professional jealousy and incompetence that distorted the operation of Children's Social Care in Rotherham. (Paragraph 16)

4.  The third reason is that the 'frameworks' used by Ofsted in inspections from 2007 to 2012 relied on an approach narrowly focussed on structured processes that did not include enquiry for, or into, organised child sexual exploitation. (Paragraph 18)

5.  Mr Hart's evidence leaves us with a picture of Ofsted as an organisation in 2007 and 2008, and probably later, that was culturally and operationally functioning in impenetrable silos. This regrettable situation is the fourth reason why the noticing or exposing of organised child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was hampered. (Paragraph 22)

6.  The fifth reason why Ofsted failed to notice child sexual exploitation in Rotherham is that its inspections were too short and narrowly focused. (Paragraph 24)

Changes from 2012

7.  The recent changes which Ofsted has made to the inspection regime appear to be an improvement, though the Local Government Association has voiced concern that the role of councillors in challenging within the system has been ignored. We recognise Ofsted's assurance, albeit with a caveat, that the new arrangements, which are both broader and deeper than those before 2012, should not let child sexual exploitation such as that in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxfordshire and other places slip by undetected. We have, however, a lingering concern that Ofsted is still a reactive organisation that will only detect known problems, and that it will not be the body that identifies the next, as yet undetected, class of serious failure. (Paragraph 29)

The interpretation of Ofsted's assessments

8.  We conclude that Ofsted's rating of 'adequate' was ambiguous and open to misinterpretation. To Ofsted, it meant that improvement was required and we welcome Ofsted's redefinition and clarification of the meaning of an authority assessed as falling into this category. To a person unfamiliar with Ofsted's methods of operations—and this could include councillors carrying out the vital work of scrutinising their officers and services—the term could be represented or interpreted as meaning satisfactory. Rotherham appears to have gone a step further and interpreted it as indicating a 'strong' performance. (Paragraph 34)

Adequacy of Ofsted's inspections

9.  In our view Ofsted's inspections of Rotherham were too episodic and disconnected to produce a clear picture of steady decline in Children's Social Care that would be noticed let alone acted upon by the Council. Nor did they link to the internal processes of scrutiny which, we consider, need to be strengthened. (Paragraph 39)

10.  We accept that it is neither Ofsted's job to run local authorities' children's services nor a good use of tight resources for it to follow up in detail what each authority has done to address every finding in an inspection. Rotherham shows, however, that it cannot stand back when the welfare and safety of children are at risk. In our view Ofsted needs to assess an authority's ability to operate the inspection process as it should function: that is to test the findings and see through improvements. A pattern of systemic failure and deterioration in children's services started to emerge in Rotherham from 2000 and it carried on. Where an authority is incapable of making improvements, Ofsted needs to take measures to assist it and, if necessary, ensure the improvements are systematically and comprehensively carried out. If this is not happening, then there needs to be a clear escalation policy. It cannot be left to chance. (Paragraph 43)

11.  While we encourage Ofsted to assist those local authorities where serious deficiencies have occurred to improve. Ofsted has within its organisational structure and arrangements to keep the process of improvement separate from that of inspection, to ensure public confidence in the independence and integrity of the inspection process. (Paragraph 45)

Linking with other inspectorates

12.  Debbie Jones and John Goldup are clearly right that it is necessary to look at issues such as child sexual exploitation in a 'joined-up way' across inspection regimes, and to be effective the process needs to be able to dig deep into an authority. What concerns us is the length of time taken to achieve the join and the need to ensure that the process that emerges can focus on an issue and examine it in depth. Work started in 2012 but a pilot looking at two authorities was only due to report in February 2015. We must put on record our concern at the slow progress. (Paragraph 49)

Child sexual exploitation in other local authorities

13.  We note that Ofsted's annual report on social care 2013-14 acknowledged that changes were needed in the way it carried out its responsibilities in respect of child sexual exploitation and that changes are underway, including the creation of a specialist team with expertise in child sexual exploitation and coordination with other inspectorates. We hope these changes will result in substantial improvements in Ofsted's inspections of children's services. 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. (Paragraph 53)

2014 Inspection of Rotherham

14.  We accept that Ofsted's 2014 inspection of Rotherham was necessary and prudent in the light of the findings in the Jay Report. However, Professor Jay had done the job for Ofsted. It was as if having been told the answer to the question Ofsted was bound to come up with the correct answer when it took the examination. Eventually coming up with the correct answer does not wipe out Ofsted's past record. (Paragraph 57)


15.  This is not the report in which to make recommendations about the accountability of Ofsted. That would require a much bigger inquiry. But as a committee new to scrutinising non-ministerial departments we make two points. First, without calling former officials it would have been difficult getting as far as we did in this inquiry. Second, we must put on record a concern that the balance between independence and accountability in the face of the failure to detect organised child sexual exploitation at Rotherham and dysfunction of the local authority may need adjustment. The past officers were more open and prepared to admit past mistakes than the officer currently in post. On the basis of the evidence we took concerning Rotherham we are uneasy that Ofsted should be left to mark its own examinations and decide internally what lessons to draw and changes to make. (Paragraph 60)

The approach of the Casey Report

16.  Contrasting Louise Casey's approach with that of Ofsted we concluded that her Report not only got under the skin of the authority but had a directness which could not be misconstrued. For example, her handling of the question of race, a sensitive and complex issue, was both penetrating and instructive. (Paragraph 61)

Rotherham's state of denial

17.  In our view, faced with the denial of the evidence in the Jay Report and the findings in the Casey Report we cannot see that there was any reasonable prospect of Rotherham itself putting its own house in order. We conclude that the Secretary of State was justified in appointing commissioners to take over the executive functions of Rotherham Council. (Paragraph 64)

18.  We conclude that, faced with an ineffective council administration and an ingrained culture of denial and bullying and sexist and intimidating behaviour, the Improvement Board operating in an advisory role would have had an uphill, if not impossible, struggle to facilitate any significant and timely improvement at Rotherham. (Paragraph 67)

The Improvement Board and the return to democratic control

19.  We consider that the Government's intervention in Rotherham must have a definite end point and strategy for returning the authority to democratic control. We welcome the Secretary of State's assurance that the services which can be passed back to local council control will be reviewed regularly. (Paragraph 69)

20.  We consider that the Improvement Board, which has been in place and operating since September 2014, has built up knowledge and expertise which should be of benefit in ensuring a smooth and effective return to local democratic control in Rotherham. We recommend that the commissioners now in place in Rotherham consider using the Improvement Board to facilitate this process. (Paragraph 71)

21.  We recommend to the Government that as part of the process of returning Rotherham to full democratic control Louise Casey undertake a further inspection to establish that children's services at Rotherham are operating satisfactorily. (Paragraph 72)

The conduct of former council officers

22.  We welcome the action taken by Rotherham Council to start examination of the conduct of present and past employees, both those within a profession subject to a regulating body, such as the Health and Care Professions Council, and those who are not. The process now needs to be completed by the commissioners and, if necessary, by those local authorities for whom past senior employees from Rotherham now work. (Paragraph 74)

Consequences where "wilful neglect" established

23.  If Parliament does extend "wilful neglect" to cover children's social care we conclude that if any officer or councillor is found guilty of such an offence that should be automatic grounds for dismissal or disqualification. (Paragraph 75)

Scrutiny within local government

24.  The Jay and Casey Reports reveal a deeply concerning failure to scrutinise children's services in Rotherham. We recommend that local democratic control cannot be restored in Rotherham without an effective system of scrutiny in place.
(Paragraph 77)

25.  We conclude that the Jay and Casey Reports and the PwC report on Tower Hamlets, have raised for us disturbing questions about the effectiveness, capacity and function of local government scrutiny, which our successor committee in the next parliament may wish to examine. (Paragraph 78)

26.  We conclude that the experience of whistle-blowers at Rotherham was the antithesis of what a good whistle-blowers policy should be. (Paragraph 80)

South Yorkshire Police

27.  In our view South Yorkshire Police would benefit from an inspection into its handling of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham along the lines of that conducted by Louise Casey. It would ensure that the Police are fully held to account.
(Paragraph 82)  

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Prepared 17 March 2015