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09.12.16

Sure Start closures almost double in one year

Sure Start early-years centres closed at an unprecedented rate in the past year, the government has revealed.

A written question by Dan Jarvis, the Labour MP for Barnsley North, revealed that 156 Sure Start centres closed in 2015, compared to 85 in 2014.

There were no closures in 2010, but the rate has been growing every year since then, with 12 in 2011, 27 in 2012 and 33 in 2013.

Jarvis said: “A child’s earliest years are critical to their future life chances. So early interventions like Sure Start should be the priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will give children the best start in life.

“With child poverty set to rise by 50% over this Parliament, thousands of families will be affected by these closures. We will all pay for this failure in years to come.”

Early years minister Caroline Dinenage, who answered Jarvis’ question, said that there are currently 3,259 centres open.

But Neil Leitch, chief executive of charity the Pre-School Learning Alliance, argued: “Children’s centres are a vital source of advice and practical support for families – especially those more disadvantaged families – and so for so many to be disappearing at a time when there is so much government rhetoric on ‘closing the gap’ and improving children’s life chances seems completely contradictory.”

He added that the children’s centres that remain open increasingly offer “a skeleton service” and called on the government to produce its “long overdue” children’s centres strategy.

Last year, a PSE investigation revealed that local authorities have cut their funding to children’s centres by nearly a third over the last five years.

But a Department for Education spokesperson argued that the closures could be down to councils “merging centres to allow services to be delivered more efficiently”.

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