Inspectors call for improvement as service continues to struggle

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CHILDREN’S services inspectors have identified a series of areas for improvement in a new report on a South Yorkshire council which inspectors say is only meeting the minimum standard required.

Ofsted, the body which inspects facilities for youngsters, has released an annual report on Barnsley Council, which although positive in some areas, raises concerns about the pace of change and improvement.

The document praises some areas of work with younger children, but says that in other areas there are “areas of concern” which are dragging the authority down on its overall inspection mark. In a letter to the authority, inspector Juliet Winstanley said children’s services were “acceptable” overall, one step above the lowest “poor” category and below “performs well” and “excellent”.

Ms Winstanley added: “Children’s services in Barnsley perform adequately as they did in 2010. There have been some improvements made in early years and childcare provision, post-16 settings and fostering.

“However, the quality of secondary schools is still too low, as are the attainment levels, particularly at the age of 16 and by the age of 19.”

Ms Winstanley’s findings will be examined by members of the council’s ruling cabinet at a meeting next week, where officers will outline plans to improve the services offered to children and parents.

Judith Harwood, the authority’s executive director for children, young people and families will present a report, which highlights the strengths of the service, but also admits that standards need to rise.

The report says: “While the borough can take great pride from the quality of provision indicated in the report, steps will continue to be taken to ensure improvements are made.

“While standards remain adrift of the national average, the annual assessment does make reference to gradual improvements in attainment which continue to take place in the borough.

“Raising standards further will be driven through the priorities in our children and young people’s plan and in specific activity with secondary schools and on skills development for 19-year-olds.”

Barnsley is in a similar position to both Rotherham and Doncaster councils which have both been graded as performing adequately in 2011. Sheffield Council’s children’s services are graded as performing well.

According to the inspector’s letter, the long-standing problems suffered by Barnsley in its secondary schools are still dogging staff, although primary schools are now just below the national average. “Improving the quality of secondary schools remains a key area for development. The local authority recognises this as its top priority,” Ms Winstanley said.

“Much change has taken place or is due to happen over the next few months to establish Advanced Learning Centres.

“However, three of the 12 local authority schools are in an Ofsted category of concern and only three schools inspected have been judged to be good.”

She added: “Ofsted monitoring visits to schools note improvements in behaviour and report that good and effective support from the local authority is having a positive impact on improving the quality of provision. This has yet to be translated into improved inspections for all secondary schools, with the overall percentage that are good or better remaining very low.

“There has been slow but steady improvement in the proportion of 16-year-olds gaining five GCSEs at A* to C including English and mathematics, but this remains well below that found in similar areas and nationally, although provisional data for 2011 indicates further improvement.”

Barnsley Council’s cabinet will discuss the findings of the report at a meeting on Wednesday, December 7 at the offices of the South Yorkshire Joint Secretariat, in Regent Street, Barnsley.