Radio Sandwell Local News

Sir Michael Wilshaw: 'Birmingham is a national disgrace'

2013-10-16 21:06:02

Sir Michael Wilshaw
Sir Michael Wilshaw branded Birmingham 'a
national disgrace'

Birmingham has been branded a 'national disgrace' by Ofsted's chief inspector, who said the city is one of the worst places to grow up in the developed world.

Sir Michael Wilshaw highlighted the infant mortality rate in Britain's second city, which is higher than Cuba's and almost twice the national average.

He singled Birmingham out in a scathing report that found 20 areas in England where councils do not have 'the most basic acceptable practice in place'.

Sir Michael blamed Birmingham, where a third of children live in poverty, for 'failure of corporate governance on a grand scale'.

Birmingham recently published a review of the cruel murder of two-year-old Keanu Williams by his mother in 2011. His case was dealt with by unqualified staff and students.

Birmingham City Council, one of the 20 to be classed as 'inadequate', has now failed on seven inspection judgements, Ofsted said.

Sir Michael said: 'It is an absolute disgrace and government needs to look at this with real urgency. If better governance means breaking [the department] up so children are better protected, then that's what needs to happen.'

He added: 'Why is it that nearly a third of children in the city live in households on low incomes? Why is it that infant mortality is almost twice the national average, worse than in Cuba and on a par with Latvia and Chile?

'These are shocking statistics and a national disgrace. They are a testament to failure of corporate governance on a grand scale.

'What is shocking is that this is the city council with responsibility for more children than any other, our second city, the largest unitary local authority in the country.

'This is a city that should be nipping at London's heels for power, status and influence.'

He implied that the council would work better to protect children if it was smaller, saying: 'As somebody said about the banks not so long ago, if they are too big to fail, they are too big. The same could be said about this council.

Keanu Williams and Rebecca Shuttleworth
Two-year-old Keanu Williams (left) was beaten to death by his mother Rebecca Shuttleworth (right). A review
into his death found his case was dealt with by unqualified staff and students

'It is an absolute disgrace and government needs to look at this with real urgency. If better governance means breaking it up so that children are better protected, then that's what needs to happen.'

The chief inspector spoke as Ofsted released its first report on England's 152 children's services departments.

Just 3 per cent of councils were rated as 'outstanding' and 86 - more than half - were deemed to be 'less than good'.

The report highlights that across England 700,000 children live in a home with an alcoholic parent, 100,000 children have parents who are being treated for a hard drug addiction, 130,000 live in domestically violent homes and there are 17,000 children living with a parent who has a severe or enduring mental illness.

Sir Michael said children's services had been undermined because one in three departmental directors have either quit or been sacked in the past year – 50 out of 152.

'Incompetent and ineffective leadership must be addressed quickly,' he added.

'But where those in leadership positions have capacity and potential, this must be recognised and nurtured.'

Birmingham City Council
Birmingham City Council has now failed on seven inspection judgements. Pictured: Council buildings

The report found 86 of the 152 councils had children's services that were 'less than good'.

A spokesman for Birmingham council said: 'We are already on record as saying that we have failed to meet the basic expectation of keeping vulnerable children in this city safe.

'This is a long-standing problem which we acknowledge and the leader has said that improving children's services is his number one priority.

'While we can only agree with the seriousness of what Sir Michael has said with regard to children's services - indeed we have said it ourselves - we now need improvement rather than further diagnosis lacking any offer of solutions.

'We must work with Ofsted on this and we repeat our determination to improve the safety of children in this city as the highest priority for this council.'

The 20 judged inadequate were Barnsley, Bexley, Birmingham, Blackpool, Calderdale, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire East, Cumbria, Devon, Doncaster, Herefordshire, Isle of Wight, Kingston on Thames, Medway, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Rochdale, Sandwell, Slough and Somerset.


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