Local authorities to pilot payment-by-results in children's centres

Catherine Gaunt
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Children's centres will be paid according to the take-up of free nursery education among disadvantaged two and three-year-olds, in plans unveiled by children's minister Sarah Teather.

The Department for Education has also launched a consultation on statutory guidance for Sure Start children’s centres.

The draft revised guidance states that local authorities must have sufficient children’s centres to meet the needs of young children and parents in the area, particularly those in most need of support.

A range of measures will be trialled in children’s centres in 26 local authorities, which will reward them for reducing inequalities between children in terms of their development, school readiness and health, as well as improving parenting.

Measures for the payment by results trials are:

increasing school readiness of young children by narrowing the gap in attainment through the EYFS profile, increasing the take-up of the two-year-old entitlement and that of disadvantaged three-year-olds;

improving health and child development by increasing the prevalence of breast feeding at six- to eight-weeks-old;

improving parenting skills and support provided to families in need by increasing the number of families in greatest need completing evidence-based parenting programmes and increasing the number of families with under-fives who are identified as being ‘in greatest need’ and have ‘sustained contact’ with children’s centres.

The department said that evidence from the trial would be used to inform decisions about the potential rollout of the scheme nationally.

Later this year the DfE will announce how the trial reward system will work so that pilot local authorities understand the potential level of reward they can achieve.

Children’s minister Sarah Teather said, ‘We know high quality early years support can have a lasting impact on children's lives and we are committed to maintaining a national network of Sure Start centres that help families in greatest need.

‘We understand that local authorities are facing difficult decisions. Our revised guidance makes clear that they should concentrate on improving outcomes for some of the most disadvantaged young people and families.

‘It is about the quality of services to support children and families, particularly the most disadvantaged.

‘I want our payment by results approach to incentivise local authorities to reduce inequality. It will reward local areas for targeting those who will benefit most from the excellent support children's centres can offer.’

Last week, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sure Start warned in its interim report of confusion among local authorities on what now constitutes a children’s centre, and a lack of transparency that could impact on them meeting their statutory duties.

Chief executive of 4Children Anne Longfield said, ‘This consultation provides a space for debate on how children’s centres can be better enabled to serve their core purpose -  reaching the most vulnerable families in our communities to give the most vulnerable children get the best start in life.

‘4Children would also like to see the scope of the consultation extended to provide guidance on how parents can be better informed, and how local and central government might better provide clarity over the scale and scope of services offered by Children’s Centres, which must remain a cornerstone in the architecture of early intervention.’

Commenting on the payment by results trials, Ms Longfield said that the measures chosen would focus on crucial areas of children’s development and would enable centres to demonstrate their effectiveness and design their children’s centre systems and partnerships around these important factors. 

She added, ‘But this is still part of a trial which is testing effectiveness and feasibility and it will require local authorities to work closely with their partners – especially health professionals and the voluntary sector to establish positive ways of constantly improving practice, measuring impact and integrating with wider services. 

‘Testing out how the ‘payments’ will work in practice will be a crucial next step – importantly ensuring that they get to the end provider in a way that does not disadvantage the voluntary sector.’

4Children also said they would soon be announcing details of a partnership with Sir Michael Marmot, professor of Epidemiology & Public Health and his team at UCL, to set up a national outcomes framework for children’s centres.

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