In its first inspection since merging, Ofsted found the leadership and governance of Radcliffe Children's Centre Cluster in Bury to be inadequate and that too few children and families in the area were benefiting from its services.
The centres were also unable to demonstrate their impact upon local levels of rates of obesity and preparing children for school.
A decision to merge the three children's centres - Coronation Road, High Meadow and Stepping Stones - was made by Bury Council in a bid to make 'substantial' savings following a cut in Government funding.
The centres began working together as a cluster in December 2011 and this was formalised in April this year.
Prior to the formation of the cluster, both Coronation Road and Stepping Stones children's centres had been judged as ‘satisfactory’ by Ofsted. High Meadow Children's Centre had not been inspected.
The cluster's Ofsted report goes on to say that the children's centres had not yet established a parent forum and there was a lack of engagement with the local community, despite increased parental involvement being recommended in Coronation Road Children Centre's previous inspection.
The inspectorate also found that the cluster was not using data effectively to plan and record levels of engagement with the community and support from the local authority, Bury Council, has not had enough impact on the centres' performance.Levels of attainment at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage and school readiness of young children were identified as an area for improvement.
Ofsted also recommended that Bury Council improve its support to the cluster.
Councillor Gill Campbell, cabinet member for children and families at Bury Council, said, 'This was the first inspection in Bury of cluster arrangements by Ofsted and it is recognised that the new framework is more challenging than the previous one.
'The clustering of children's centres in the Radcliffe area and across Bury, was made necessary due to the need to find substantial savings from the local authority budget due to national Government financial cuts imposed on local authorities. Inevitably the change would cause an element of disruption as the cluster arrangements develop.
'We have been working to establish a greater presence in the community, while maintaining a focus on the safeguarding of vulnerable children in the area. Ofsted did acknowledge the good practice that they observed across the cluster but this was overshadowed by the relatively low take-up of services. We have now strengthened the leadership, management and governance of the cluster following the inspection.'
She added, 'We are addressing all the actions in the report and are actively consulting with parents living in Radcliffe to ensure that the services on offer at the centres better reflect local need.'
Despite the judgement, the Department for Education (DfE) has defended the intoduction of cluster inspections.
A spokesperson for the DfE said, ‘Ofsted introduced the new cluster inspection arrangements following a wide and open consultation process. Clusters can act as an incentive to drive up standards across the group, resulting in better outcomes for children and families in that area.’