Editor's view - Heading for a fall

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Why are children's centre inspection grades dropping and what effect could that have?

liz-roberts

Liz Roberts

Every time that inspection results are released for nurseries and childminders there is quite a fanfare and lots of comment.

Things are generally improving, we are told, but even with three-quarters or more of settings achieving 'good' or 'outstanding', there is still a lot of work to be done.

Fair enough. But meanwhile, no-one seems to be paying much attention to the inspection results of children's centres, which have declined dramatically. Fewer than half the centres inspected recently received 'good' or 'outstanding' compared to 75 per cent for the final quarter of 2010.

Our Analysis piece in this issue examines what is happening (pages 12-13). In some ways, the drop in grades is no surprise - drastically declining budgets allied to tougher, changing targets and criteria, plus cutbacks to management in the move to the hub model, are causing huge pressures.

It seems also that the shift away from universal provision is actually making it harder to meet targets.

The danger is that falling grades can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, giving more justification to cash-strapped councils considering closing centres.

Recently, Haringey Council's discussions about the future of children's centres queried whether what they described as 'static premises' were the best way to provide services. Might it not be better to go to where families gather, for example supermarkets?

So this is what the children's centre programme, so full of promise for supporting young children and their families, has come to - shoestring budgets, disparagingly described as 'static premises' and downgraded for failing to do the almost impossible.

Some pre-election pledges on their future would be most welcome.

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