Standalone children’s centres faring worse than merged centres

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Close to half of standalone children’s centres were judged as ‘Requires Improvement’, the latest Ofsted figures show.

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The Ofsted statistics show individual centres are fairing much worse in inspectionsthan group providers

The newest figures are in stark contrast on the previous statistics, which showed that merged children’s centres were performing much worse in their Ofsted inspections than individual centres.

The ‘Children’s Centres Inspections and Outcomes’ statistics reveal that of the 112 single centre providers that were inspected between 1 November 2013 and 31 March 2014, 46 per cent (51) were found to require improvement.

This is an increase of 17 percentage points on the previous six months when 29 per cent (37) of standalone children’s centres were given this rating by Ofsted.

The latest figures also show that fewer individual centres were judged to be good or outstanding in comparison to those inspected between 1 April and 31 October 2013, while marginally fewer were found to be inadequate.

In contrast, group providers, children’s centres that have been merged, fared significantly better than in the six months prior.

A total of 76 group centres were inspected during the latest inspection cycle. For the group provider inspections more than half of centres were judged as good and two outstanding.

In comparison to the previous six months when 65 per cent of group providers were found to require improvement, the latest statistics show this time 37 per cent of centres received this grade.

Fewer group providers were also rated inadequate than the six months prior.

Ofsted suggest the reason for the reverse in outcomes for single and group centres could be that group providers are demonstrating at inspection they are meeting the needs of the local area.

The latest statistics also show that of the total number of inspections, just six centres were found to be outstanding.

Ofsted began inspecting children’s centres in April 2010, and by 31 March 2014 had inspected 2,035.

The inspectorate changed the way it inspected centres by bringing in a new inspections framework in April last year.

An Ofsted spokesperson said, ‘Many children’s centres provide a good and better service for parents, and help prepare their children for school. The best have excellent knowledge of their needs and target services to meet them.

‘We are currently considering how best to inspect children’s centres from September 2015 onwards.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘It is encouraging to see such an improvement in the outcomes of group children’s centres, given that the number of centres working in such an arrangement is steadily increasing. However, more than half of all centres remain less than ‘good’ and given the pivotal role that children’s centres play within the childcare sector, it is important that the trend of improvement continues across the board.

‘While the government has said that it recognises the value of the service that children’s centres provide, this in itself is not enough. It is vital that they are given the support that they need – both financial and practical – to enable them to provide a high-quality service to the children and families who access them.’

Dr Julian Grenier, Early Education's national chair, said, 'We continue to be very concerned about the scale of cuts and the pace of change affecting the children's centre programme. The sharp change in inspection outcomes between one period and the next suggests that the situation is very turbulent. We are also concerned about the current Ofsted inspection framework: some Centres with excellent practice are being judged to "require improvement" because they cannot meet all of the numerical targets in the Ofsted framework.

'In the absence of a clear vision from government, it is being left to Ofsted both to define what a children's centre is for, as well as inspect it. That cannot be right. We agree with the Parliamentary Select Committee's recommendation that the  Department for Education should clarify the core purpose of a children's centre . Otherwise, it appears that the Department for Education has abdicated its responsibilities to Ofsted, leaving many centres is the precarious position of having to manage significant financial cuts whilst being unclear exactly what their role is.'