THE head of Cheshire East’s children’s services has said she should have known ‘things were not as good as they needed to be’ in response to the ‘inadequate’ rating by Ofsted.

Deborah Woodcock, executive director of children’s services, was speaking as councillors fired question after question at her during yesterday’s (Monday) meeting of the children and families committee.

But she said the one which was most difficult to answer – put by deputy chair Emma Gilman (Macclesfield, Ind) – related to Ofsted’s finding that ‘senior leaders had not recognised, until this inspection, the extent of improvement required in services for care leavers’.

Ms Woodcock, who had earlier in the meeting outlined at length the oversight, scrutiny and practices which are reviewed on an annual basis, told the meeting that it ‘wasn’t sufficient and it wasn’t sufficiently focused on those young experienced adults who leave our services up to 25’.

Northwich Guardian: Deborah WoodcockDeborah Woodcock (Image: Cheshire East Council)

“I could sit here and give you lots of reasons as to why that might have happened but, ultimately I have to say to you, it shouldn’t have,” she said.

“We should have known the extent of the issues in relation to our care leavers.

“And whilst I could say it's a small group of young people, many of them are adults, that isn’t good enough because we have a statutory duty.

“I could say it was our inexperienced workforce who were talking to the inspectors, they were confident about what they were saying, but perhaps inexperienced.

“But again, that's not good enough because, as a leader of our system, I should have known that things were not as good as they needed to be.”

She said since the inspection ‘we have relentlessly focused on the improvements in that area’.

Northwich Guardian: Cllr Carol BulmanCllr Carol Bulman (Image: Cheshire East Council)

Committee chair Carol Bulman (Middlewich, Lab), who had been urged to resign by the Conservatives following publication of the report last month, came under fire again at yesterday’s meeting.

She was asked by Cllr Jos Saunders (Poynton, Con), why the improvement processes and plans implemented in 2019 hadn’t been continued when what is now being proposed is virtually identical.

Cllr Saunders pointed out that Ms Woodcock was not in post in 2019 ‘and I think it’s very hard for a senior officer to explain why something wasn’t in place when she wasn’t actually here’.

Cllr Bulman said she was not the lead member for children and families at that time.

She also told the committee she had prepared for the inspection but hadn’t been aware the council was now responsible for monitoring care leavers up to the age of 25.

Cllr Bulman added: “I do think I should have been more professionally curious to discover the impact of our actions.”

The Ofsted report said improvements in some areas of practice had been made since the last inspection in 2019.

It rated three of the four of the areas inspected as ‘requires improvement to be good’.

But it found the quality of practice and the experience and progress of children and young people is too variable, and for care leavers it is inadequate.

This resulted in an overall rating of inadequate.

Yesterday the committee agreed the recommendations, which included to hold a task and finish workshop for the children and families committee next month to review and scrutinise the draft improvement plan.

They also agreed to refer the improvement plan for approval at full council on July 17 and agreed there should be regular updates to the committee on the progress and impact measured against the agreed improvement plan.