Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on how Croydon’s replacement as the head of its failed Children’s Services department is someone who last year presided over another very troubling inspectors’ report
Jo Negrini, Croydon’s chief executive, has announced today that the person expected to turn round the council’s failed and failing Children’s Services department is Eleni Ioannides, a woman who in a similar role in Middlesbrough 12 months ago saw Ofsted inspectors fail that local authority’s provision for children with special educational needs.
Indeed, Ioannides’s CV shows that she also had a spell in charge of Birmingham City Council’s Children’s Services department, appointed there in 2014, after it had been declared “inadequate” by Ofsted inspectors for six years.
In an internal email to council staff sent out at lunchtime today, Negrini failed to mention Middlesbrough, or Birmingham. She only mentioned that Ioannides had worked previously at Bury, a position she left eight years ago in order to take “early retirement”. Negrini did not mention that, either.
Ioannides has been recruited by Croydon as a consequence of the abrupt departure of Barbara Peacock, announced two weeks ago.
Peacock was appointed in 2016 to be the executive director of housing, education and social care. But gthis month it was announced that Peacock would stand down as part of a “reorganisation”. The departure of Peacock, of course, has nothing to do with Ofsted last summer finding Croydon’s Children’s Services to be “inadequate”, the poor standard of care even judged to be endangering some children. Most recently, the Department for Education has placed Croydon in special measures, and handed oversight of the department to Camden social workers for at least the next two years.
Peacock had arrived at the job in Croydon after presiding over a failed Ofsted inspection report at Medway.
That Ioannides was so recently overseeing similar failures at another local authority does not appear to have been a worry for Negrini.
Perhaps it is Ioannides’s track record in issuing bland statements of concern over council failures which make her so ably qualified to work in Croydon. According to the BBC, when Ofsted failed Middlesbrough’s SEND service last June, Ioannides said the council would use the report as a “moment of opportunity” to work out how to “do this better”. Seriously.
“We’re obviously disappointed that the feedback was negative in part and that we’re not meeting the needs of children and families in Middlesbrough as well as we could do,” Ioannides said then, perhaps rehearsing for when in the role in Croydon.
Consistent with the growing impression of incompetence surrounding the £200,000 chief executive, Negrini’s written announcement of the appointment today managed to misspell Ioannides’s name in its very first sentence.
“I am pleased to announce the appointment of Eleni Loannides [sic] into the role of interim director of children’s services,” Negrini’s email to staff began.
“Eleni will join Croydon on 23 May, enabling her to have a handover with Barbara Peacock, prior to her departure at the end of the month. Her appointment follows my earlier announcement about reshaping the organisation in order to take a more proactive and preventative approach to how we work – this includes creating a director of children’s services post reporting directly to me.
“Eleni brings with her a wealth of director level experience, with a strong focus on children and families. She previously worked as director of social services, health and housing for Bury Metropolitan Borough Council and has several years of experience in interim roles at various local authorities.”
Negrini’s email then “went on a journey”, as these things have a habit of doing. This time, though, and unlike the council’s rose-tinted announcement of the latest developments last week, the chief exec did make a grudging acknowledgement “that we still have a long way to go”.
Putting more spin on the situation than her Aussie countryman Shane Warne ever managed, Negrini wrote that Ioannides “… joins us as we continue our children’s services improvement journey – last week I was happy to report encouraging feedback from Ofsted following their latest visit in March, which in particular, recognised consistently impressive work of our front-line social workers.
“However, inspectors were clear, as we all are, that we still have a long way to go in our improvement journey. Eleni will focus on building upon the solid foundations of the past six months and continuing the essential service improvement work while she is with us.
“She is committed to the engagement of and hearing from front line staff, so I’m sure many of you will be hearing from her directly in the next few weeks. For now, I hope you all will join me in welcoming her when she arrives next week.”
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