Children's centre group found inadequate by Ofsted

Olivia McCrea-Hedley
Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ofsted has rated children’s centre services in South Somerset as 'inadequate' in its most recent inspection.

Inspectors criticised some sessions for being unsafe, poorly planned and not reaching enough families and priority groups.

The inspection revealed 'the local authority has failed to address serious weaknesses in the group’s work' and criticises the recent restructuring of children's centre services earlier this year.

The report said, 'The local authority has managed change badly. Key information about good practice and effective systems was lost during the recent reorganisation. There were shambolic circumstances in March when contracts with commissioned partners had ended.'

The centres underwent a significant reorganisation in June and now operate as 'getset' hub family centres. They were previously run by Action for Children.

The Ofsted report covers Birchfield, Chard, Little Marsh in Ilchester, Oaklands and Reckleford Children’s Centres in Yeovil and Chard Children’s Centre.

The catchment area is widespread with nearly 9,000 children under five, and covers 370 square miles.

The report was published as the county council announced that Rose Collinson will take on the role of interim director of children’s services until a permanent appointment is made in early 2015. Improving performance in children’s centre services will be her key responsibility.

‘I’m keen to make sure that staff have up to date and useful information about local needs, we’ve got good partnership working for children and we can evidence the difference we are making,' said Ms Collinson.

The report raised concerns for the children’s safety, noting that not all sessions and premises were sufficiently secured, with an instance in which a gate was left open.

It highlighted that staff did not prevent parents from using mobile phones and cameras to take photographs at centre sessions. This could result in children’s safety being compromised, as these images could be shared without permission beyond the parents’ and groups’ control, it said.

Play sessions were critiqued, as inspectors observed that they were 'poorly planned and do not help children improve their learning and development so they will be ready for school'. Ofsted therefore recommended that the group develop closer links with schools and Early Years providers to ensure their children are well prepared for school.

While the report found that a few families benefitted from using the service centres (some referred to them as a 'lifeline'), only a minority of priority groups currently use the children’s centre services. Inspectors consequently advised increasing the number of families who use the services, 'so at least a large majority of identified priority groups and those most in need can regularly benefit from [them]'.

The report covered additional services provided at ‘getset’ centres in Crewkerne (Ashlands), Ilminster (Ile Valley) and Langport (The Levels). Inspectors also looked at outreach work at a number of locations.

Councillor Frances Nicholson, cabinet member for children’s services, said that the council is looking closely at the points raised in the 'disappointing' report and are making the necessary improvements suggested by the inspectors.

'We had already identified many of the issues ourselves – for example the need to target services more at those in most need – and taken steps to address them through the recent restructuring of services,' said Councillor Nicholson.

This 'restructuring' refers to the council’s new approach to providing help and support for children, young people and families. This comes in the form of ‘getset’ services, which have been previously praised by Ofsted. Ms Collinson described the concept as 'an important part of the solution to swiftly and sustainably improve services for children and families in South Somerset.'

The council said that the nurseries that share sites with some of the children’s centres and ‘getset’ centres did not form part of this inspection.


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