Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fictions Of The Commissariat

How were we to know?

Christine Gilbert (above), the head of Ofsted, has finally admitted her organisation's shameful role in the death of Baby P.

As we blogged here, even after Baby P's death in August 2007, Ofsted's official inspection report on Haringey Social Services in December still rated them as "good". It was a shocking failure, and Gilbert now says:
"I am concerned that we look at the way this is happening ... we're looking at the review of Haringey we undertook to see if there are any lessons we can learn. I would say that I am concerned.

I think that if the grades that we gave last December gave a false assurance we have to take some responsibility for that. That's one of the reasons that I'm saying we're looking again at our proposals [to reform inspections]. We need to do all we can from our position so I'm absolutely not washing my hands of it."

Gilbert certainly deserves some credit for stepping up to the plate, even if she's only admitting what we'd already worked out for ourselves, and even if she's still pointing the moral culpability finger firmly at Haringey.

But there are a couple of crucial points to highlight.

The first is the irredeemably incestuous nature of Commissariat rule. We've noted before that Christine Gilbert is married to insufferable government minister Tony McNulty. They met while she was Director of Education at Harrow and he was a local councillor. Since then, he's become the local MP, and she's worked at another London borough, Tower Hamlets, where she became CEO.

Now, we may be assured that all necessary constitutional niceties were observed when Gilbert was appointed to head Ofsted in 2006. But does it sound right? Does it sound like a good idea to have a government minister and a senior official sharing the same bed and the same bank account? Especially when the official is the chief inspector of a sensitive government service, whose public criticisms might very well be most unhelpful to said minister's government.

In truth, it stinks. And yet it's entirely representative of how our big government now works. Officials and politicos are intimately entwined, and the politicisation of top jobs has gone further under Labour than ever before.

They are all part of a seamless Commissariat, and the idea that we can have confidence in the Commissariat inspecting itself is a Soviet fiction.

Which brings us to the second point.

Following the Baby P case, everyone can now see how a supposedly rigorous and independent inspection regime is actually no more than a misleading and dangerous box-ticking exercise. Christine Gilbert seems surprised that Haringey officials fabricated and lied their way though her box-ticking self-assessment forms, but WTF did she expect? We've been blogging precisely this point ever since we started BOM. It's not exactly rocket science.

Gilbert now admits other councils are probably also fabricating their self-assessments on social services. We're quite sure they are. But the problem goes way beyond social services.

Schools, hospitals, and councils are all "inspected" using large dollops of self-assessment. And they've all learned how to tick the right boxes. Or even worse, to arrange their entire business simply in order to tick the right boxes (eg the notorious exam triage system, whereby schools meet their Ofsted grade quotas at the expense of thousands of their pupils - see this blog).

From everything we've uncovered on BOM, we'd say that virtually all of these government inspection systems are useless and/or dangerous.

They are there to produce fiction. The highly convenient - for the Commissars - fiction that things are getting better.

Gilbert says she'll improve her inspection regime by placing less reliance on self-assessment, and mounting more unannounced visits by real live inspectors.

But don't hold your breath. As we've blogged many times, Stalin bolstered his inspection regime with unannounced summary executions.

It still didn't work.


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