How can a school be judged to be "outstanding" and 12 months latter the same school, with the same teachers,the same head and the same governors be re assessed as "inadequate"? How can a local authority children's service be judge "serving most children well with good prospects for improvements" and then following a death in care be places in special measures? How come some social service departments end up in special measures and others also at the bottom of the performance table don't?
The suspicion is that reports are subject to ministerial interference. I am a were of inspection reports shared in draft with the organisation for factual accuracy,which appear to be indicating a good or satisfactory service, when published have changed in tone, have high lighted minor criticisms into major concerns and produced a final judgement of "poor" or "inadequate".
The inspectors may have rigorously followed their tick box process, the quotes from service users,staff and partner agencies may be valid ( all be it out of context) their performance data may be accurate ( if selective) but the final judgement needs to be signed off by their boss who knows what the minister expects.
Chief inspectors get frequent briefings from senior civil servants explaining what the minister expects. Ministers have been accused of sending in inspectors to find the evidence to support their view that a hospital board is resisting centralising services, the school would be better off as an academy or that the local authority is opposing opening up services to the private sector.This has led some inspectors in health to describing the process as more like a lynch mob than professional regulators.
Whether it's Ofsted or CQC the inspectors judgments are frequently dismissed as arbitrary and subjective and in reply the inspectors accuse hospitals and schools of being defensive and more concerned with protecting their reputation than addressing areas for improvement.
Inspectors say they are given insufficient time to undertake inspections. What you get is not management consultants advising on how to improve services but a snap shot of a service and a distilling of a lot of complex information into a very simplistic statement to which too much importance is then attached.
Minister need to resist the temptation to interfere in inspections and stop using them to promote a party political agenda. Inspectors need to be seen as impartial and need to be resourced to under take in-depth inspections, three weeks not three days. Hospitals, social services and schools need to accept positive criticism but the whole process would be more beneficial to service users, patients and parents if the out come was a list of strengths and areas for improvements not a one word judgement.
Blair McPherson author and commentator on the public sector www.blairmcpherson.co.uk