Ministers accused of undermining children's centres

New analysis by Action for Children has reported that approximately 1,000 children’s centres across England have not been inspected for over five years, as the government is ‘undermining’ them.

Had Ofsted inspections not been suspended in September 2015, the children’s charity predicts that 969 children’s centres, representing 40 per cent of the total network, would now have been assessed for quality of performance and impact. Inspections were suspended ‘on a short-term basis’ pending a consultation on the future of the services.

With the suspension in place, Ofsted retains responsibility for emergency inspections of centres if a safeguarding concern is raised. However, data, found via freedom of information requests to the inspectorate by Action for Children in July 2017, revealed that no emergency inspections were carried out as none were required.

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “The government acknowledges that children’s centres have an ‘important role to play’ in ensuring all children get the best possible start in life, but the ongoing freeze of Ofsted inspections is undermining them. Without evidence from Ofsted about how centres can improve, central government has left local authorities with no clear national standards or framework for these vital services.

“How are we to know how well families are being supported, or the impact of the £1 billion of public money spent on children’s centres since 2015? Would we allow all schools and hospitals to go uninspected for so long? While it continues to drag its feet, central government is letting down tens of thousands of children and families who need support now. It urgently needs to push through its overdue review of early years services so children’s centres have clarity about how they should be working, what they should be achieving and the accountability framework they are working to.”