March 17: Ofsted failure on child abuse

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WHEN so much depends on the reliability of Ofsted – from parents’ choice of schools to teachers’ careers to the safety of children – it is deeply worrying that the inspectors’ judgment was found so wanting in relation to the child sex-abuse scandal in Rotherham.

Of course, criticism of Ofsted by MPs on the Communities and Local Government Committee should not detract from the fact that the lion’s share of the blame for the rape and abuse of at least 1,400 children in the town lies with the perpetrators.

However, like Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police whose repeated failures allowed the abuse to take place, Ofsted is culpable because, despite repeated visits, inspectors failed to find anything wrong with 
the way in which the council’s childcare system operated.

Considering the growing evidence that this pattern of abuse is being repeated in towns and cities across the country, with Sheffield the latest to come to light, the suggestion that Ofsted has been malfunctioning so badly is of grave concern.

Certainly the MPs’ criticism that Ofsted is wedded to a rigid orthodoxy, attuned to look for known types of failure but lacking the vision to spot new problems, chimes with other evidence that the organisation is enslaved to a narrow, politically correct viewpoint. The recent example of Ofsted marking down rural English schools for being insufficiently multi-cultural is a case in point.

As Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said yesterday, when political correctness is an end in itself, it becomes very damaging. When it overshadows valid and important points – or, in the Rotherham case, crucial evidence of wrongdoing – political correctness has a corrosive and negative effect which in this case contributed to the abuse of hundreds of young girls being overlooked.

If Ofsted has any sort of future, therefore, it must now demonstrate clearly that it has changed.

MPs’ interests

Shapps has questions to answer

UNLESS it is clearly demonstrated that Grant Shapps was lying when he claimed wrongly that he did not pursue outside business interests after becoming an MP, the chairman of the Conservative Party has done nothing wrong.

There is, after all, nothing in Parliament’s regulations to prevent MPs holding second jobs and Mr Shapps’s defence is that there was nothing sinister in his repeated denials, he had merely made a mistake in recalling certain dates.

As with so many politicians, however, it is not the original deed that is the problem, but the whiff of a cover-up. Mr Shapps insisted, time and again, that he had not continued with his former line of work after becoming an MP. Yet, confronted with evidence that he was wrong, he now claims he made a mistake.

If it is shown that Mr Shapps lied over this matter, then clearly his career in frontline politics is over. He will have embarrassed both himself and his party, with the Tories desperate to present a clean image to voters ahead of a General Election in which the character of politicians is under scrutiny as never before.

In the meantime, however, the Tory chairman’s predicament is yet further evidence of the potential perils presented by the present regulations which allow MPs to pursue outside interests. Not only do second jobs divert an MP’s attention from his or her responsibilities, but they can also throw up situations which can forever damage an MP’s reputation even when they have done nothing wrong.

Once the election is over, therefore, it is imperative that there is a proper discussion of what precisely an MP’s role should be.

Tackle the trolls

Tragedy shamelessly exploited

TO MOST people, the death of Grace Dyson is an appalling tragedy. Knocked into the road when her fiancé was struggling with his umbrella as they were walking near Holmfirth, a terrible coincidence saw her run over and killed by a van driven by her uncle.

To the growing army of so-called internet trolls, however, Grace’s death was not a tragedy but an opportunity – a chance to make jokes, to level false accusations and to make unbelievably upsetting comments. As a result, Miss Dyson’s fiance, Jason Booth, has launched a spirited and eloquent attack on the type of online bullying which is becoming distressingly common.

The internet has provided the malignant side of human nature with boundless opportunities to foment hatred. It is now high time that the inventive potential of humanity was harnessed to find an effective way of stopping this.