Birmingham, Bradford and Luton are unable to protect children missing from education from harm, exploitation or extremist ideologies, Ofsted warn.
In a letter to Nicky Morgan, the secretary of education, the chief executive of Ofsted reports Birmingham City Council is ‘still failing its children - particularly its most vulnerable.’
Sir Michael Wilshaw notes that the processes for tracking the whereabouts of children missing from education are inadequate.
Among a number of problems, he highlighted that, ‘Inspectors also found that staff are too slow in checking the whereabouts of children missing from education.’
‘Too few children are traced and those who remain missing are simply being removed from the council’s records.’
Ofsted discovered between September 2015 and January 2016 the council removed 253 children from their list of missing children without locating their whereabouts.
Birmingham’s children’s services department has failed seven Ofsted inspections over the last ten years and inspectors have seen ‘little tangible improvement’ during that period, despite a succession of new commissioners being put in place.
Sir Wilshaw notes this ‘long and shocking track record of inadequate provision represents a failure of corporate governance on a grand scale.’
He also acknowledged recent announcements that the management of Birmingham’s children’s services will be handed over to an independent voluntary trust.
But he added: ‘I would urge you to ensure that this trust is, indeed, independent and not influenced by those in the local authority who have demonstrated such incompetence over many years.’
The letter also reports similar concerns regarding the protection of children in Luton and Bradford.
Ofsted found, according to Sir Wilshaw, ‘troubling gaps’ in the knowledge of the councils in these areas when it came to discharging their ‘Prevent’ duties, which are designed to tackle extremist ideologies.
It also reports similar gaps regarding the monitoring of home-educated children, the number of children attending unregistered schools, and the whereabouts of pupils who have been removed from school rolls.
Referring to Birmingham, Bradford and Luton, Sir Wilshaw concluded: ‘I am particularly concerned about the failure of these local authorities to address the problem of children missing from education and to satisfy themselves that these children are not being exposed to harm, exploitation or the risk of falling under the influence of extremist views.’
Responding to Sir Wilshaw’s letter, Cllr Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children, families and schools, said: ‘We recently received a short monitoring visit from Ofsted and last week received the letter about its findings.
‘We are only now beginning the third year of the improvement journey that the Government and our commissioners agreed with us and the report broadly reflects where we think we are, and where we expected to be at this stage.’
The councillor added: ‘Given that no-one from the political leadership has been interviewed in an Ofsted inspection since 2014, and that it has changed quite significantly since then, we found the comments in Sir Michael’s letter to be a surprise.
‘Our doors are always open should Ofsted wish to talk to us about their concerns directly.’
Welcoming what she described as ‘external challenge’ from Ofsted, Bradford Council leader Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe said: ‘Since the initial meeting with Sir Michael, we have already taken action across the areas identified to tighten our processes and have invited open scrutiny of our practice in this area.
‘Sir Michael was only able to spend 45 minutes in Bradford for the meeting. I emailed him afterwards to invite him for a return visit.’
‘We have kept Ofsted informed of our progress but the offer is still open if he would like to visit again and take a closer look for himself at the action we are taking,’ the councillor added.
Chief executive of Luton, Trevor Holden, told The MJ Sir Michael’s criticism was a ‘direct contradiction’ to a series of previous Ofsted statements.