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Children's centres 'undermined' by lack of Ofsted inspections

Article By: Michaela Chirgwin

Over 1,000 children’s centres in England have not been inspected for over five years, resulting in inadequate services and an increase in centre closures, according to a new report by Action for Children.

Credit: Mita stock images/

Charities and early years practitioners are calling for the scrapping of a ‘temporary’ suspension of children’s centre inspections, and advocate that long overdue consultations about children's centres should finally go ahead.

Before the Government suspension in 2015, inspections were meant to be carried out no later than five years after the previous inspection. This means that there are a large number that haven’t been inspected for over five years. Furthermore, the consultation process that it was part of, seems long forgotten.

All of this has meant that children’s centres are becoming less visible to local Government, and, consequently, more vulnerable to budget cuts. A lack of inspections has also lead to uneven services, and centres don’t know how to improve without adequate guidance, says Action for Children.

No ‘clear national standards or framework’ for inspections

Chief executive of Action for Children, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said: “The Government acknowledges that children’s centres have an ‘important role to play’ in ensuring all children get the best possible start in life, but the ongoing freeze of Ofsted inspections is undermining them.

“Without evidence from Ofsted about how centres can improve, central government has left local authorities with no clear national standards or framework for these vital services.

“How are we to know how well families are being supported, or the impact of the £1bn of public money spent on children’s centres since 2015? Would we allow all schools and hospitals to go uninspected for so long?"

It was in September 2015 that the Government first announced it was going to have a consultation about the future of children’s centres. Part of this consultation was going to be on how to improve Ofsted inspections of the centres, so it made sense that they were temporarily put on hold.

However, in 2018 there has been no further mention of the consultation, and as a result, the inspection suspension still stands. This is even though there was supposed to be a final outcome to the consultation in Spring 2016.

Mr Hawkhead called on the Government to “push through its overdue review of early years services”, to get the standards of children’s centres back on track. He said: “While it continues to drag its feet, central government is letting down tens of thousands of children and families who need support now.

“It urgently needs to push through its overdue review of early years services so children’s centres have clarity about how they should be working, what they should be achieving and the accountability framework they are working to.”

Temporary measures were meant to have taken place whilst the suspension exists. Ofsted is still the Government body responsible for emergency inspections if a safeguarding concern is raised. However, a Freedom of Information request sent to the inspectorate by Action for Children, in July 2017, revealed no such emergency inspections were carried out as none were required.

Since the abeyance of regular Ofsted inspections in 2015, it has been estimated by Action for Children that 969 children’s centres would have by now been routinely assessed. This equates to about 40 per cent in total.

Consultation on Children’s centres ‘has dragged on for long enough’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance said: "It is completely unacceptable that so many children centres have been left uninspected for such a prolonged period of time as a result of Government inaction.

“This was meant to be a temporary pause while ministers consulted on the future on the children’s centres - but more than two years later, such plans seem to have disappeared without a trace, leaving those both working in and using such services completely in the dark about their future."

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson responded to the report by saying: 'All early years provision in children’s centres is subject to robust and regular Ofsted inspection. Local authorities who manage children’s centres must also ensure that other services provided in the centres have appropriate safeguards in place.”


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