A young offenders facility near Bristol has defended itself against criticism from Ofsted, saying the watchdog has secretly “moved the goalposts”.
However, Ofsted says it would never change its inspection standards without telling providers.
Vinney Green Secure Unit, in Emersons Green, is home to some of the most troubled young people in the country.
The South Gloucestershire facility is commissioned by the Youth Custody Service to provide care, education and health for up to 24 youths aged between 10 and 18 who have either been convicted or are being held on remand.
The unit was judged “requires improvement” by Ofsted in July after it emerged that 144 assaults took place at the facility last year.
The report from the education watchdog reserved its harshest criticism for Vinney Green’s management and leadership, deeming it inadequate.
But the facility’s bosses have accused Ofsted of secretly “raising the bar” in the wake of a national sex abuse inquiry which they said “heavily criticised” the watchdog’s failure to detect areas of concern.
Ofsted has denied the charge, saying: “We wouldn’t update a framework or change the way we inspect without consulting providers first.”
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse made “no direct criticism” of Ofsted in its report into children in custodial institutions, a spokeswoman added.
The inquiry found that children in custodial and secure units are “not safe from physical or sexual abuse”.
During the inquiry it was alleged in February 2010 a member of staff at Vinney Green told a female resident she had a “nice arse” and asked if she would “like to be part of a threesome”.
Ofsted inspectors who visited Vinney Green in June found that its health provision was good but that it needed to improve how well it helps, protects and educates children and young people.
The facility was criticised for its “high” use of restraint, locking children in their rooms “without good reason”, leaving some children to sleep on plastic mattresses, and rooms that were defaced with graffiti and toothpaste.
The report concluded: “The children’s home is not yet delivering good help and care for children and young people. However, there are no serious or widespread failures that result in their welfare not being safeguarded or promoted.”
The manager of Vinney Green, Alison Sykes, told a South Gloucestershire Council scrutiny commission on Wednesday (September 18) that the unit had begun making changes and was already seeing improvements.
She said the facility had faced numerous challenges in the past year, not least of which had been a heavily depleted senior management team.
Staff sickness, trouble recruiting staff, “not enough communal space” and the rising complexity of the needs of their “volatile” young residents had only compounded the difficulty of providing the £6million-a-year service, Ms Sykes said.
Ofsted inspections had become noticeably “harder” and “more critical” since the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, she added.
“You will be aware that, in that inquiry, Ofsted were heavily criticised for inspections that they had carried out that hadn’t identified areas of concern that the inquiry felt they should have identified,” she said.
“Since then we have noticed a significant change in our Ofsted inspections.”
Ratings of ‘requires improvement’ are now “more commonplace rather than unusual”, she said.
Sonya Miller, the outgoing head of the council’s children’s services and the person responsible for Vinney Green, agreed.
“Ofsted moved the goalposts significantly in this inspection in response to the national child abuse enquiry,” Ms Miller said.
“They upped their game…in terms of robustness without telling us what the rules of the game were.
“They haven’t re-issued their standards, so Alison and her team didn’t actually know what they would be measured against.
“The bar has changed but that bar still hasn’t been defined.”
A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: “Secure children’s homes are inspected under the social care common inspection framework (SCCIF), which was introduced in 2017 and has only had minor updates since.
“The framework changed slightly in April 2018, when Ofsted began to carry out inspections of secure children’s homes alongside the Care Quality Commission.
“This happened following consultation with the secure accommodation network and secure children’s homes.
“England’s three secure training centres are inspected under the secure training centres framework, which was updated in April 2019 following consultation with the sector and our partner inspectorates.”
Vinney Green is one of 15 secure children’s homes in England and Wales.
A report to South Gloucestershire Council last year described the youths in Vinney Green as “amongst the most troubled and troublesome in the country”.
Ofsted is due to make another inspection of the unit in December.
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