Ofsted 'lacked focus' to spot Rotherham child sexual exploitation
Ofsted inspectors lacked the focus to target child abuse in Rotherham because they had a "limited" understanding of it, an ex-watchdog director told MPs.
John Goldup, the former deputy chief inspector and national director of social care, apologised for the organisation's failure.
He said: "We did not get it right on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham... and I apologise for that."
About 1,400 children were abused in the town from 1997 to 2013 a report found.
'Raped and abused'
Appearing before the Communities and Local Government Committee, Mr Goldup said: "Inspection up to the latter part of 2012 did not have the focus on child sexual exploitation that it would have and should have had if we had known and understood then what we understand now.
"What Ofsted would and should have focussed on is, giving that it [sexual exploitation] is happening, how effectively is the local authority working to try and disrupt and interrupt it to protect the children that were being raped and abused."
He said it was not until events in late 2012, including the publication of a report in the Times newspaper highlighting the issue in Rotherham, that Ofsted fully understood the problem.
He said: "Our understanding of child sexual exploitation was limited. We knew it happened, we knew it was wicked and hugely damaging to children but it was widely perceived as a localised issue."
However, he said that it was when Ofsted first directly went in to do a social care inspection in Rotherham in 2009 that the authority was exposed as a failing authority.
"I think that does also say something about the strength and the robustness of Ofsted inspection then and subsequently, but I absolutely accept that we didn't have the focus on child sexual exploitation that we certainly would and should have now."
Mr Goldup told the committee that, until 2012, Ofsted operated under a framework which focused on the danger of child abuse within homes, rather than exploitation by adults outside the care setting.
'Like a pitbull'
Committee member Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, said Ofsted inspectors should have been aware of previous child exploitation scandals in places like Derby, where nine men were convicted of systematically grooming and sexually abusing teenage girls.
"You guys are paid to be on top of this subject," Mr Danczuk said.
"It's your profession to know that this type of abuse goes on, to think 'It's happened in Derby, it could happen in other parts of the country, perhaps we should design a framework that tries to get to the detail of this'.
"But you took to 2012 to accept that the rape of children might be occurring outside the home. I don't get it."
He went on to claim that inspectors failed to react to social workers dismissing exploitation as a "lifestyle choice" of the teenage girls and boys in their care.
However, Mr Goldup said: "If they had encountered that attitude from a single social worker, they would have followed that up like a pitbull in the inspection."
In November, the Communities and Local Government Committee criticised Ofsted for "failing to protect children in Rotherham" and announced plans to call the watchdog in to face questions.
Last month Debbie Jones, Ofsted's director of social care, appeared before the committee and admitted that its inspections of children's services in Rotherham was "not good enough".
Ms Jones said: "We at Ofsted feel that what we have done is not good enough. Of course we're sorry - we're sorry along with, I'm sure, everybody else who has been in front of this committee."
She also acknowledged that past inspection frameworks had lacked focus.