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'Satisfactory grade' to be replaced by 'requires improvement' at Sure Start Children’s Centres

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

has launched a consultation on proposals for a revised framework for the inspection of Sure Start Children’s Centres.

The proposals will mean the ‘satisfactory’ grade will be replaced by ‘requires improvement'.

A short notice period of no more than two days will continue and Ofsted inspectors will carry out inspections of a number of centres in the same geographical area simultaneously.

Many local authorities now group their centres geographically, so that they can offer a wider range of services by pooling resources across a larger area.

The number of inspection judgements will be significantly reduced from 20 to three key judgements.

National director of education, Susan Gregory said: “The best children’s centres help families access the services they need to help young children make a good start in life. It is vital that inspection focusses on what makes the greatest difference to those families most in need of support and assures the quality of services for all young children and families who use children’s centres.

“We hope that all those who have an interest in children’s centres will take part in the consultation as these views will help to shape the new framework.”

In order to align with the way some local authorities are now delivering services, Ofsted is proposing to deploy a larger team of inspectors to inspect a number of children’s centres operating individually or as groups across a geographical area simultaneously.

These proposals include a single inspection and report where a group of centres share leadership and management.

It is proposed that the number of inspection judgements is significantly reduced from 20 to three key judgements – access to services for young children and their families; the quality and impact of practice and services; the effectiveness of leadership, governance and management - and a judgement for overall effectiveness.

The revised framework will look at how well children’s centres identify the families with young children in the community, including those families who are most in need of help and support, provide services that meet the needs of those families, and know what difference those services have made.

Any centre that is not good or better needs to improve to provide experiences that help all children develop, especially where children need early help. Therefore it is proposed that the ‘satisfactory’ grade will be replaced by ‘requires improvement.’ The new framework will describe what the good grade means so that it is clear what has to be achieved in order to be good or better or what needs improvement.

During inspection Ofsted said it is important that inspectors can make arrangements to meet with key partners of the centre, whose staff might otherwise not be available.

For this reason it is proposed that a short notice period of no more than two days is retained. Inspecting a number of centres in the same geographical area simultaneously will reduce the number of meetings needed with local authorities and key partners delivering services and avoid any unnecessary duplication.

Inspection reports will include a short summary that parents can use when deciding whether to use services at a centre or group of centres.

The reports will also be clear in setting out what actions need to be taken for the centre to improve, especially where the centre is not at least good.

The proposals will be tested in a variety of centres and groups of centres. The information collected from the pilot inspections and from a number of consultation events will help to shape the revised arrangements for inspection.

The closing date for the consultation is 11 January 2013.

The consultation for the inspection of Sure Start Children’s Centres can be found on the Ofsted website at


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