New Children’s Services director and a record of Ofsted failures

Town Hall reporter KEN LEE has found another instance where Croydon’s newest director has received strongly critical reports from Ofsted

Further details have emerged of the of the career of the woman hired to fix Croydon’s failing Children’s Services department.

It now appears that Eleni Ioannides, before she was hired by Croydon Council, had held similar posts at three local authorities, all of which were reported by Ofsted to have serious failures.

Indeed, Ioannides has been in charge at two local authorities since 2017 which were both severely criticised following visits from inspectors from Ofsted, the government’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

Earlier this month, we reported how Jo Negrini, the council chief executive, had introduced her appointee to council staff and that, as well as mis-spelling her new employee’s name on an internal email, managed to mention only that Ioannides had once worked at a local authority in Bury, a job she left in 2010 to take “early retirement”.

Missing from Negrini’s introductory email was any mention that 12 months ago Ioannides had presided over a failed Ofsted inspection of Middlesbrough’s provision for children with special educational needs.

Nor did Negrini think it in any way relevant to bother to inform staff that Ioannides 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.

Now, a big of gentle digging has unearthed details of what may have been Ioannides’ most recent job.

Eleni Ioannides: interesting CV

It is hard to keep track of Ioannides’s career, as she has had a succession of apparently short-term and “interim” posts. It is not known – certainly, it did not figure in Negrini’s introductory email – but it could be that Ioannides has specialised, since leaving Bury, in acting as a local authority “trouble-shooter”, taking on hard cases.

It seems that from November 2017 to late March this year, Ioannides was the interim director of Children’s Services at Wakefield council in Yorkshire, where in February 2018 they had a focused visit from Ofsted inspectors who outlined a series of serious concerns.

The letter to Ioannides from Ofsted’s Manchester office, dated March 22 this year, will make familiar, and troubling, reading for those in Croydon who have been following the trials and tribulations of our own local council’s Children’s Services department, which was deemed “inadequate” after a visit from inspectors last summer.

After reviewing Wakefield’s Children’s Services provision, the Ofsted inspectors wrote: “There are significant weaknesses in the quality of children’s services in Wakefield, resulting in some children not being appropriately safeguarded or having their needs met.

“There are delays in allocating cases, visiting children and their families, carrying out assessments and in taking the appropriate action to protect children.

“Management oversight, including supervision, is variable and in some cases not evident. Social work recording is too often missing and quality assurance and performance management systems are not sufficiently robust to ensure that managers are fully aware of the quality of services and the experiences of individual children and their families…

“… At the time of the focused visit there was insufficient capacity at all levels of the service, and the issues of poor practice were so widespread that it will be a significant challenge for … plans to result in children being sufficiently safeguarded in the immediate future.”

Although Jo Negrini didn’t think that Ofsted’s recent visit report at Wakefield was worth a mention when introducing her new appointee in Croydon, you can read their letter to Ioannides in full here.

The letter includes some increasingly familiar phrases such as, “Social work teams have insufficient capacity to meet the needs of children and families” – meaning that a local authority has been unable to recruit or retain sufficient social workers to deliver the care expected and needed in their communities.

This seems to underline that the impact of eight years of Tory austerity on councils across the country is putting many youngsters at serious risk. Lacking adequate funding, social work departments around the country are at breaking point.

Something to hide? Jo Negrini failed to mention Ioannides’ previous jobs in Birmingham, Middlesbrough and Wakefield

And given her time in Birmingham, Middlesbrough and now, as Inside Croydon has discovered, Wakefield, Ioannides has much experience of being in charge of a failing Children’s Services department. Indeed, she may be most ably qualified to deal with the situation she inherits in Fisher’s Folly.

It’s just odd that her new boss, Negrini, failed to mention any of this in her round-robin to council staff.

Indeed, according to Katharine Street sources, Ioannides’s recruitment and appointment seems to have been barely discussed with the Town Hall’s political leaders – clearly, Tony Newman, the council leader, was far too busy over-seeing his underwhelming local election campaign.

Ioannides – who is expected to be on a salary scale between £95,000 and £120,000 – has been recruited by Croydon as a consequence of the abrupt departure of Barbara Peacock, announced at the start of this month.

Peacock was appointed in 2016 to be the executive director of a new super-department, in charge of the large responsibilities for housing, education and social care. She arrivedd in Croydon after presiding over a failed Ofsted inspection report at Medway. On £170,000, Peacock was the second-best paid council employee; only Negrini earns more at Croydon Council.

But Peacock is now leaving as part of a “reorganisation”. The departure of Peacock, of course, has nothing to do with the Department for Education placing Croydon in special measures, handing oversight of the department to Camden social workers for at least the next two years.

As she takes the reins, given her background in Birmingham, Middlesbrough and Wakefield, Ioannides at least does not have the excuse of being too inexperienced with the issues that are to confront her in Croydon.

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This entry was posted in Barbara Peacock, Children's Services, Croydon Council, Eleni Ioannides, Jo Negrini and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to New Children’s Services director and a record of Ofsted failures

  1. Almost beyond belief that Croydon has recruited someone with this CV ?

  2. Ian Geary says:

    Hmm…I would prefer not to jump to conclusions.

    Nothing written above suggests the new Director was in charge in the run up to those Councils receiving poor ofsted findings.

    And assuming she did join after those services had hit bottom, I don’t think anyone would expect the service to go rocketing back upwards after just a few months.

    There are definitely questions about a career based on hopping out before things go wrong (or, in this case, hopping out before things get better). But if you are the sort of individual who enjoys the challenge of taking on a failed service, I can see how the ongoing management of that improvement might not be their cup of tea. Settling down for 3-5 years of steady hand at the tiller might not appeal to someone who – apparently- is good at getting the short term solutions identified.

    Who knows? People don’t usually make their career decisions public knowledge, especially when anything said will be picked over ad infinitum.

    Nor would I blame Jo for choosing to emphasise parts of the new Director’s CV. It was presumably a message to inform and encourage staff. I doubt she was trying to host “this is your life”.

    The new appointment has no doubt satisfied Jo that her skills are up to the job, and a manger’s role is to support their employees, not hang them out to dry before they even started.

    Finally, perhaps people could spare time to consider what pool of potential candidates might exist for a role like this? Someone who has been through the ofsted process does have distinct advantages. Directors who preside over a “good” service elsewhere might well just be fortunate in having wealthier boroughs, less demand, lower caseloads, more able to retain staff. What’s to say they could magically recreate that situation in Croydon?

    Who knows? This is all just speculation, but I think in fairness people can speculate either way.

    • The point is surely, Ian, not that Ioannides has all this experience of being hired as an interim director at authorities that have systemic issues, but that Negrini chose to try to sno-pak over that element of her CV, mentioning only a (Ofsted blemish-free) job she left seven years ago.

      Just what did our council’s unaccountable chief executive think she might achieve by denying reality in this way?

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