Article in CYPN: Critics Accuse DfE of 'Sinking to New Low' over revised consultation results
14 September 2020
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Article in CYPN: CRITICS ACCUSE DFE OF ‘SINKING TO NEW LOW’ OVER REVISED CONSULTATION RESULTS
Thursday, September 10, 2020
Campaigners have accused the Department for Education of “sinking to a new low” after responses were missed out of a consultation over the extension of children’s social care exemptions.
Article 39 director Carolyne Willow calls for an independent audit of responses.
A document published by the government last week detailed the results of a consultation over plans to extend controversial ammendments to children's social care legislation until 2021.
The controversial measures, which were introduced in April at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and are due to expire on 25 September, had already come under fire over a lack of public consultation.
The document confirmed the consultation had received 189 responses and said several amendments, introduced via the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, also known as Statutory Instrument 445, would remain in place.
However, DfE later published a revised document which it said had been “updated to reflect all responses” after critics feared those submitted via email rather than through an online questionnaire had been “ignored”.
The DfE initially described responses submitted via email as “campaign responses”, described as “organised responses to influence the results of the consultation”.
Social work association Nagalro said it was concerned that it had not been included on a list of respondents published as part of the consultation results despite submitting a response via email.
It had chosen to respond via email due to points raised in a damning academic review about the wording of the online questionnaire.
A statement said: “The academics conclude that 'the online survey document is so methodologically compromised that it is not valid as a genuine consultation'. We note that the government’s response and their summary of responses received does not mention the serious concerns raised by the academics.
“Nagalro suggests that if the DfE is going to genuinely consult on its proposals that it should address the issues raised by the academics in their paper and, furthermore, comply with its own internal guidance on consultations.”
Others blasted the move as a “shambles” and accused DfE of “sinking to a new low”.
Carolyne Willow, director of Article 39, is currently awaiting a judgement from the Court of Appeal over the result of an unsuccessful judicial review to revoke the Statutory Instrument 445.
She said: “Even with this revised document, the numbers still don’t add up.
“What we now need is an independent audit of all of the consultation responses and a report which can command respect and help to rebuild trust. I have alerted our legal team to this latest development because government lawyers put the consultation document before the Court of Appeal, together with Article 39’s response.”
Ray Jones, social worker and emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University said “there was already a lack of trust about the behaviour of civil servants in the DfE”.
He added: “The shocking shambles of the DfE publishing an erroneous report on its consultation about removing statutory safeguards for children, which had already been noted to be riddled with biased questions, is of serious concern.
“For civil servants to decide to categorise some responses as 'campaign responses' and then not to include them in its analysis generates incredulity.
“It has not only created confusion and concern but raises significant questions about the competence and credibility of senior civil servants in the DfE advising government on children and families and social work.”
Robin Sen, honourary research fellow at Sheffield University, said "the DfE's initial decision to class all email responses as 'campaign responses' is concerning”.
The DfE’s online questionnaire designed to collect responses to the consultation was “clearly loaded", he added.
Sen said: “[It was] such that participants' ability to articulate support for the immediate and complete revocation of Statutory Instrument 445 was heavily restricted. It appears that the current leadership of the DfE sees policy making in children's services as a win/lose negative sum game, where it strategises to get what it wants, rather than seeking to work in partnership with those in the sector.
“Few would deny systemic change is needed in children's services, but will the DfE have the courage and integrity to establish trust and genuinely engage with all stakeholders as to what that change should be, without seeking to prejudice the outcome of that engagement? Or, will it continue on its current path? Much now depends on the choices it makes in that regard."
Published in Children & Young People Now