To the point - Let's report ourselves

Karen Walker, head of children's services, London Early Years Foundation
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The axes are beginning to fall and slowly the extent of the cuts to services for children are being made known across the country. We are finally beginning to get a sense of what importance this Government places on early years, and perhaps we are beginning to realise the extent of our own foolishness in not being better prepared to strengthen the argument for high quality early years care and education.

The years of plenty are well and truly over and the years of famine are just beginning! The Government has thrown down its gauntlet with an early intervention grant that is not ring-fenced, so now we see which local authority really believes that giving every young child an opportunity of experiencing well-funded, high-calibre early years provision will enable those children to lift themselves out of the poverty trap when they are older.

We need to gather evidence of how much impact our particular services can make to children and their families and that information needs to be collected and collated in such a way that it gives a sense of what has really been achieved and is not just anecdotal.

The impact of services delivered from children's centres has not been correctly gathered or reported on. This means the information we have been given about the 'reach' of a centre has simply been a set of meaningless numbers which in no way addresses the possible impact a centre has had and the children and families it has 'reached'. This Government wants to understand the outcomes for the children in a neighbourhood because there is a children's centre in it; they don't just want to know that every child has been contacted at some point during the years the centre has been open.

So every childcare professional needs to be prepared to support their own sector by thinking differently about the services they are offering. How do we measure that service and the outcomes it achieves in order to prove its worth to those who hold the budgets? This means continuing to measure the impact long after a child has left the centre, but is still benefiting from an early years experience that enables them to grow into confident young adults.

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