Children's centre inspections suspended, while Ofsted grades rise slightly

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Children’s centre inspections have been put on hold pending the Department for Education’s consultation into children’s centres, due to take place before the end of the year.

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Children's centre grades have risen slightly among centres that are organised as group providers

According to the latest Ofsted statistics published today, the education secretary ‘does not consider it appropriate to start a new inspection cycle under a framework which is likely to change.’

The consultation, announced in Nursery World in July by children’s minister Sam Gyimah, will also consider new accountability arrangements.

The inspection of children’s centres has therefore been suspended pending the outcome of the consultation.

The latest children’s centre inspection outcome statistics (including inspections up to the 31 August) show that the number of children’s centre groups has fallen from 214 as of 31 March to 196 as of 31 August.

At the end of August there were 2,030 open and inspected single children’s centres.

Children’s centres that have closed or have not been inspected are not included in these statistics, which means that closures and reorganization of children’s centre groups can affect the grade profile of the sector, Ofsted said.

While the proportion of children’s centre groups rated good or outstanding has increased by four percentage points since the end of March to 56 per cent, 39 per cent of groups are graded as ‘require improvement’ and six per cent are ‘inadequate’.

There has been no change in the proportion of single children’s centre sites judged good or outstanding, which is 67 per cent.

Children’s centres in the North East have the highest number of good or outstanding centres at 81 per cent, compared to the lowest perfoming region, which is the South West. Just 53 per cent of centres are good or outstanding in this area.

Commenting on the latest inspection figures, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘Given the increasing shift towards a group children’s centre model, the news that the proportion of such centres rated “good” or “outstanding” has increased is to be welcomed.

‘However, the fact remains that nearly half of group children’s centres, and over a third of all centres, are less than “good”, an issue that must be addressed as a matter of urgency if we are to ensure that children and families, and especially those most in need, continue to have access to high-quality local support services.

‘It’s now four months since the Government announced plans to consult on the future of children’s centres, but we remain none the wiser on how it plans to tackle the significant challenges facing these services.

‘Given that children’s centre inspections have been suspended until after the consultation has concluded, it is critical that the Government doesn’t drag its feet on this issue.’

Consultation

Children’s minister Sam Gyimah has said that ‘not enough children’s centres are good or outstanding, and as a result they aren’t helping families in the way they should be. We have to collectively look into why that is the case.’

Ofsted said that it would continue to inspect early years provision based on children’s centres sites as part of the new Common Inspection Framework, and to ‘respond swiftly to any complaints or safeguarding concerns in children’s centres’.

He added, ‘Getting the accountability framework right is absolutely essential to deliver the support families deserve. I don't want to see Ofsted having to inspect children’s centres through a framework that is out of date, no longer fit for purpose and doesn't reflect the reality on the ground.’

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